Religion, civilization, geography: normative EU studies and eastern enlargement

Richard McMahon

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Taking scholarship on the European Union’s (EU) 2004 eastern enlargement as a case study, this article asks whether EU studies scholars make normative judgements about how far east the EU should expand and whether these judgements involve civilisational thinking. Civilisations are categories devised by scholars to classify peoples into coherent ancient, continental-scale cultural groups, largely defined by shared history and religious tradition. They matter for their supposed political and historical significance. This article finds that normative civilisational references to eastern enlargement are quite common in EU studies but usually marginal. They are implied, for example, in the terms Europe, West and East, or in throwaway remarks in the introductions of scholarly articles. Constructivist scholarship deconstructs normative language in two – competing – civilisational narratives, associated with either the progressive West or traditional Christian Europe, which probably helped persuade Western European leaders to enlarge the EU to the east and are severely damaging Turkey’s candidacy. EU studies also applies a historical sociology approach to culture. They suggest that historical legacies which are deeply embedded in the social structures and practices of specific groups of people over the longue durée create the social and economic conditions that determine suitability for EU membership.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-324
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Contemporary European Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2017


  • EU studies
  • EU enlargement
  • normativity
  • European identity
  • civilisation


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