Reconsidering the European Union’s secular identity


Secular Power Europe and Islam argues that secularism is not the central principle of international relations but should be considered as one belief system that influences international politics. Through an exploration of Europe’s secular identity, an identity that is seen erroneously as normative, author Sarah Wolff shows how Islam confronts the EU’s existential anxieties about its security and its secular identity. Islam disrupts Eurocentric assumptions about democracy and revolution and human rights. Through three case studies, Wolff encourages the reader to unpack secularism as a bedrock principle of IR and diplomacy. This book argues that the EU’s interest and diplomacy activities in relation to religion, and to Islam specifically, are shaped by the insistence on a European secular identity that should be reconsidered.

Sarah Wolff is Professor in European Politics and International Relations and Director of the Center for European Research at Queen Mary University of London.

“This book is a timely and inspiring contribution for the understanding of an issue that is here to stay. Sarah Wolff confirms her talent to connect internal and external logics of the European Union.”
—François Foret, Université Libre de Bruxelles

- François Foret

“Sarah Wolff offers the first systematic analysis of how secularism and religion interact within the context of the European Union’s external relations. This is an important study of how implicit normative frameworks shape politics and policy in regional organizations, and should be read by students and scholars of international relations, the European Union, and religious studies.”
—Peter Mandaville, George Mason University

- Peter Mandaville

Secular Power Europe and Islam is a groundbreaking book at the intersection of International Relations (IR) and EU foreign policy which helps us to ‘decenter’ the study of both phenomena. Via an original theoretical framework and rich empirics, Wolff unpacks the ways in which secularism, for better and for worse, is bundled into EU practices, in turn, shaping interactions with Islamic actors, especially in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Arguing that engagement with Islam destabilizes the EU’s secular-liberal self-image, and mapping the strategies that the EU employs to manage insecurities thus generated, this crisply written book is a gift to anyone interested in how culture and identity shape policymaking paradigms.”
—Dr. Nora Fisher-Onar, University of San Francisco

- Nora Fisher-Onar

“An original and innovative study of why and how religious considerations have played an increasingly important role in EU foreign policy. This book is the first to bring conceptual order to a theme that has gradually percolated through EU policies over the last two decades. In addition to a rich theoretical contribution, Wolff offers a thoughtful account of the tensions involved in the EU’s attempt to engage religious actors within an overarching policy frame of liberal-secular politics.”
—Richard Youngs, Carnegie Europe

- Richard Youngs

“This highly innovative work studies the often neglected role of the religious and the secular in EU foreign policy, rooted in a well-researched substantive empirical base. While taking account of the latest theoretical evolution in the field of IR, it contributes to it through a very original non-Eurocentric approach. ”

—Daniela Huber, Head of the Mediterranean and Middle East Programme, Istituto Affari Internazionali, Rome

- Daniela Huber

“Sarah Wolff has again inserted herself and her research in a relevant and very topical way into some of the underlying debates that are gripping Europe. This book will be helpful for European policymakers and diplomats to unpack some of the assumptions and worldviews at play.”
—Merete Bilde, policy advisor at the European External Action Service, EU, Brussels

- Merete Bilde

“This is a highly innovative monograph which stimulates policy debates and advances knowledge on religion and foreign policy in contemporary Europe.”

—Lucian N. Leustean

- Lucian N. Leustean

Winner: 2023 EUSA (European Union Studies Association) Best Book in EU Studies Award 

- EUSA Best Book in EU Studies Award

Read: An Interview with Sarah Wolff by Religion and Diplomacy | 10/06/2021
Watch: A Conversation with Sarah Wolff hosted by Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University | 09/09/21