Hertie School co-launches research project ReLiCon


Postdoc Ivo Gruev to lead the CIVICA-funded study examining democratic backsliding in East Central Europe.

Is religion being used in ways that contribute to the erosion of democracy in European post-communist countries? In collaboration with the Central European University and the European University Institute, the Hertie School has launched the project Religion, Illiberal Constitutionalism and the Retrogression of Fundamental Rights in East Central Europe (ReLiCon) to examine this.Funded by the university alliance CIVICA, the project will study the impact of organised majority and (de facto) state religions on the constitutional and judicial politics of fundamental rights in East Central Europe. The project is led by Hertie School Centre for Fundamental Rights postdoctoral researcher Ivo Gruev in collaboration with Professor of International Law and centre Co-director Başak Çalı.

Amid concerns about democratic backsliding in East Central Europe, ReLiCon researchers set out to explore how Orthodox Christian and Catholic values come before constitutional and supreme courts and what effects they have on the interpretation of fundamental rights. “The rule of law crises in East Central Europe are intrinsically linked to the ongoing ‘culture wars’ that contest, distort and antagonise previously accepted norms of constitutional democratic governance such as the respect for fundamental rights and equality,” says Ivo Gruev. “We are witnessing an unprecedented and intensifying legal mobilisation against these norms which taps into nationalist, majority identitarian and fundamentalist religious sentiments. ReLiCon will study this phenomenon and its transnational implications for the state of democracy and the rule of law in this region.”

The researchers will study instances of legal mobilisation that pit religious narratives against fundamental rights, and the consequences of these efforts for fundamental rights and overall democratic resilience. In doing so, they aim to establish a wider CIVICA-led consortium of experts working at the intersection of religion, constitutionalism, fundamental rights and democratic backsliding from different disciplines and institutions. Their findings will launch an interdisciplinary conversation that will be of interest to legal and comparative constitutional scholars, sociologists and political scientists, among others.

“Developing interdisciplinary research collaborations to study challenges for the protection of fundamental rights is a key objective of the Centre for Fundamental Rights,” says centre Co-director Prof. Çalı. “This project will improve our understanding of one such challenge.”

The ReLiCon project, led by the Centre for Fundamental Rights, has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101017201 and will run for the full 2023 calendar year.

Find out more about ReLiCon.

Written by Clay Johnson (Hertie School editorial team).

Photo credits (banner): Luke Michael (unsplash).