Spending a semester studying in Madrid, Spain, opened my eyes to a few things I hadn’t fully considered before my abroad experience, particularly in contrast to my American upbringing. Through classes, travel, and engagement with locals, two key themes emerged: first, the intersection of religion and public life in a secular state with such a solid Catholic legacy; second, the geopolitical ties between Europe and North Africa, especially in light of global conflict and immigration patterns in recent decades.

Delving into Spain’s history, from its Catholic past to its diverse religious present, provided a compelling background for my study of the role of religion in public life. Comparing my experiences in Spain to my previous research on France’s secularization and migrant communities sparked a new intellectual curiosity. This led me to consider how religion influences societal norms, national identities, and political attitudes and how these dynamics differ among the EU member states.

With its Mediterranean Sea border and historical ties to North African countries, Spain occupies a unique geostrategic location that brings the connections between Europe and North Africa into sharp focus. The Mediterranean region, a nucleus of international conflicts and dynamic immigration patterns, emerged as a crucial point of convergence for European and North African interests. This convergence is essentially encapsulated within the comprehensive framework of EU-Mediterranean policy, which addresses various issues from trade to security cooperation to cross-border movement and forms the cornerstone of my research.

I was interested in combining these ideas to uncover more about how they affect one another. EU-Mediterranean policy shares a focus with the individual EU member-states on immigration, facilitating interfaith coexistence and communication as people bring their diverse religions and cultural backgrounds to the EU. This led me naturally to consider the effects of EU-Mediterranean policy on interfaith communication in the EU, especially considering the differences between individual countries’ approaches and experiences.

Already, I have begun to see the connections between diplomatic EU-Mediterranean policy, human rights concerns, immigration policy, religious policy at the supranational and national levels, and interfaith communication. I have seen how drastic events such as those experienced during the Arab Spring affect not only those geographically located in the heart of the conflicts but also the regions around them at risk of experiencing spillover effects. I have encountered numerous perspectives and attitudes toward third-country immigration into the EU from various sources, ranging from EU citizens to immigrants to their children and families born in the EU or joining them years later. With so many elements at play, this research requires careful consideration of EU documents and policies, surveys and statistics, and academic discussions while making sure the voices of refugees, migrants, and religious minorities are not overshadowed. 

As I continue my research journey, I am committed to delving deeper into the intersection between religion, geopolitics, and immigration concerning EU-Mediterranean policy and the region’s relationship. By combining academic analysis with a nuanced understanding of lived experiences and cultural environments, I aim to contribute a clearer picture of exactly how EU-Mediterranean policy, particularly as it relates to third-country immigration into the EU, affects interfaith relationships and communication on the personal, local, national, and supranational levels. 

Author: Natalie Dolenga