Secular states and their underlying ideology, political secularism, appear to be under siege everywhere. They were severely jolted with the establishment of the first modern theocracy in 1979 in Iran. By the late 1980s, Islamic political movements had emerged in Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Chad, Senegal, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even in Bangladesh. Movements challenging secular states were hardly restricted to Muslim societies. Protestant movements decrying secularism emerged in Kenya, Guatemala and the Philippines. Protestant fundamentalism became a force in American politics. Singhalese Buddhist nationalists in Sri Lanka, Hindu nationalists in India, religious ultra-orthodoxy in Israel and Sikh nationalists in the state of Punjab in India, as well as among diasporic communities in Canada and Britain, began to question the separation of state and religion. Even the largely secular-humanist ethos of Western Europe did not remain untouched by this public challenge. The migration from former colonies and an intensified globalisation has thrown together on western public spaces pre-Christian faiths, Christianity and Islam . The cumulative result is unprecedented religious diversity, the weakening of public monopoly of single religions, and the generation of mutual suspicion, distrust, hostility and conflict. This is evident in Germany and Britain but was dramatically highlighted by the headscarf issue in France and the murder of film-maker Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands shortly after the release of his controversial film about Islamic culture.
But what precisely is the conception that is in crisis? The dominant self-understanding of secularism is that it is a universal doctrine requiring the strict separation (exclusion) of church/religion and state for the sake of individualistically conceived moral or ethical values. This self-understanding takes two forms, one inspired by an idealized version of the American model of separation and the other of the equally idealized French mode. I argue that both these available mainstream conceptions of western secularism are likely to meet neither the challenge of the vibrant public presence of religion nor of increasing religious diversity. In order to deal with this emergent diversity, the West must modify its conception either by going back in time and looking for resources in its own past or turning attention to other conceptions of secularism and patterns of religion State relationship developed outside the West. The model developed in the sub continent, especially in India, provides one such alternative conception. Without taking it as a blue print, the West must examine the Indian conception and possibly learn from it.
The history of notions such as secularization and laïcité is centuries old, and the debate on political secularism has been relevant throughout the history of social sciences. Indeed, several scholars have studied the way in which political secularism has been set in different historical and geographical contexts, identifying different paths and degrees of secularism, and mostly focusing on its normative level. Nowadays, given the huge changes affecting contemporary societies and politics, as well as the transformations of religions and religious attitudes, the notion of political secularism appears to be at stake. The lecture gives an overview of the theories of political secularism, (1) underlining the different criteria of analysis and classification scholars have used for analyzing the boundaries between religions and politics; and (2) highlighting the paths and the outcomes of empirical analysis of political secularism. In addition, specific attention is paid to (3) religious and (4) political changes, in order to explore the opportunities for further analysis. The aim of this lecture is to clarify the definition of political secularism in different disciplines and studies, to examine the empirical usefulness of this analytical category, and to analyze the open questions related to political secularism.
In this session we focus on the gendered dimension in theorizing religion in relation to cultural and ethnic diversity in contemporary Europe. Erstwhile neglected or marginalized in gender and feminist social and political theory, religion has returned to centre stage in the wake of what feminist philosopher Rosi Braidotti had called the ‘postsecular turn’ in feminism. Formerly seen by many as antithetical to both liberal and more postmodern approaches regarding the question of women’s emancipation, recent work focuses on the agentic potentialities religious praxis and identity politics may hold for many women (and men) and as such, is challenging the idea that secular modernity automatically promises or is aligned with gender equality. Against this background, and from a comparative perspective, we take a closer look at the different ways in which the relationship between gender, religion and secularism is politically and ideologically being played out in contemporary culturally, religiously and ethnically diverse European nation-states. In particular we will focus on religious and secular body politics and sexuality (including veiling/hijab; honour-related violence and homonationalism).
Western discourses on secularization seem to be grounded in dichotomies between: “world” and “religion”, “reason” and “emotion”, “developed” and non-developed worlds”. One of the most important contributions of feminisms to the debate on these dichotomies has been and still is in its critical approach to the impact of these visions of reality upon the representations of women in culture, philosophy, politics and political science and theology. However, these critical approaches have not always taken into account the possibility of a critical reading of religion and of secularism both from within a religious and a secular-democratic perspective. In so doing, feminist criticism has sometimes repeated the same dichotomies it intended to deconstruct and to avoid. One of the objectives of feminist theologies is to contribute to overcoming the dichotomies emphasized in modern (also feminist) discourses on secularity and religion by reinterpreting the relevance of religion for the secular emancipation of women. In this session we will look into and discuss some texts both from Christian and Islamic feminists in order to understand their contributions to overcome dichotomies between religion and secular experiences and struggles for emancipation.
My texts from 1999 and 2010 try to make plausible that and why we should drop "secularism" from our normative language, particularly when we discuss constitutional and legal issues, and replace it by Liberal-Democratic Constitutionalism. In the selected texts from 2003 and 2009 I focus more on institutional arrangements appropriate for accommodating wide and deep religious diversity. In a comparative institutionalist approach I try to show that "democratic institutional pluralism" generally, associational governance of religious diversity in particular have considerable advantages compared with existing "secularist/laicist" and "selective cooperation" regimes. The session should focus on a critical discussion of these proposals and check whether the most important "realist" objections can be met. If not, "associative democracy" would also remain one of the many utopias or dystopias not fit for the real world. In my presentation I will give a brief summary of the important realist objections and try to discuss them in a comparative perspective (based on chapter 9 of my book on Secularism or Democracy? (2007) "A realistic defence of associative democracy").
In this session we will look into recent debates in political philosophy on Rawlsian public reason, and how they have been influencing the conceptualizations of secularism in liberal political regimes. Special emphasis will be paid to the following questions: How is the state today supposed to deal with the claims of religious citizens? In what way can religious citizens articulate their concerns in the public sphere without endangering democracy? Should their contributions to the public sphere be translated into a generally accessible language? What kind of respect, if any, must non-believers cultivate when they are responding to, and engaging with, arguments exclusively grounded in religion? These and other issues will be discussed through a close reading of seminal texts that have invigorated the current debate. Further, an important goal of the session will be to contextualize theoretical interventions and expose the socio-political background against which they are formulated. To achieve this end, examples from contexts close to home shall be introduced so as to break the abstract reflections in the literature down to empirical tests.