Europe from an Identity and Cultural-History Perspective


For centuries, Europe has been an idea, holding out hope of peace and understanding. That hope has been fulfilled. European unification has made peace and prosperity possible. It has brought about a sense of community and overcome differences [...]. European integration shows that we have learnt the painful lessons of a history marked by bloody conflict. Today, we live together as was never possible before.' Such is the wording of the introduction to the Berlin Declaration of March 2007, issued by the European leaders to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. The formulation represents an understanding that identity and history underline the processes that have led to the current EU. It is stressed that the Europe of today is a community of values whose background straddles both the bright and the dark sides of a long history.
 We wish to focus on Europe as a special modus vivendi, which unfolds and changes not just over time, but also within a particular geographic space, the inner and outer borders of which are not set in stone but continue to be discussed, and determine what is part of identity and what is not. As such, the focus is on Europe as a particular way of organising and of thinking about the world.
 It is characteristic of Europe that, far from being formed by one-track development in the prosecution of a single idea, it has followed several tracks, not to mention fault lines, thereby leading to a number of dualities and contrasts in the European self-perception. We intend to follow these dual tracks, all of which have contributed to the construction of European identity. For example, the relationship between secularisation and religion, and the dialectic between tradition and contemporaneity, recognition and rejection, love and hate, inclusion and exclusion, cultural heritage and innovation, freedoms and values, memory and expectations, information and alienation, democracy and dictatorship, variety and unity – all have, in different ways, formed the European ‘soul’ and laid down fertile soil for the dynamism and self-knowledge that forms the framework of an inclusive, rather than limited, concept of identity. It is important to explore this issue at a time when Europe has to both find its own footing in a global society and assimilate many different possible understandings of life as a citizen in a potential European 'state'. 
 After the experiences of what has been called ‘the great European civil war’ (1914–1945/1991) and the subsequent decolonisation of the European empires, a Europe emerged that established peace on the continent, but which also had to come to terms with a less dominant place in the world, one further diminished by the Cold War until 1989. These new circumstances have not just given rise to an interest in the outsider's view of Europe, but have also necessitated major attention being paid to the construction of Europe's social, political, cultural and religious identities, as well as to the challenges, opportunities and problems presented by transnational conditions and trends.
 The European identity construct is internally flexible, stratified and hybrid in the sense that the history of European identity and culture has divided the continent into different languages, cultures, religions and nations. Outwardly, this process of identity construction, has been accompanied by clashes and meetings of cultures, characterised by war, obliteration and economic exploitation, but also by diplomacy, negotiation, aid and responsiveness. Throughout its long history, the modern Europe combines a state and economic model that has brought significant growth opportunities, but which is also characterised by a marked propensity for violence and a built-in Machiavellianism, which under the auspices of modernisation has led to the dissolution of traditional ways of life, both inside and outside Europe. However, despite an ongoing and continuous tradition of Christianity, since the Renaissance’s ‘civil humanism’ and the Enlightenment, Europe has also fostered a concept of universal human rights, which has become increasingly important in Europe's dialogue with itself and with others. Most recently, in the Berlin Declaration mentioned by way of introduction, it says of Europe as a community of values: 'In the European Union, we are turning our common ideals into reality: for us the individual is paramount. The individual is inviolable. The individual’s rights are inalienable. Women and men enjoy equal rights.'


Karl Christian Lammers (History)
Gert Sørensen (Italian).

Additional members:
Morten Dyssel Mortensen (German),
Carsten Meiner (French),
Anna Vind (Theology),
Birthe Hoffmann (German),
Martin Mau (ph.d., German),
Hans Julio Casado Jensen (Spanish),
Lars K. Bruun (Religious History),
Tine Ravnsted-Larsen Reeh (Theology),
Adam Paulsen (ph.d., German),
Bent Holm (Theatre Research),
Morten Heiberg (Spanish).


The work of the group has so far resulted in the organisation of an international seminar entitled:

The Crisis of Europe and European Self-reflection 1914-1991 (14-16 May 2009

In addition the group is running a study circle. 

Interested CEMES colleagues are velcome to participate the group and the and long-term work. Please contact Gert Sørensen ( for more infomation on the group, how to join and information on the next group meeting, which will likely take place in the middle of November 08.