RPS Workshop Papers
This paper scrutinizes the latest round in the protracted French foulard affairs, which is about restricting the integral veil throughout public space. In a case study of the so-called “Burqa Commission” convened by the French parliament in the second half of 2009, I flag the legal difficulties that the French state (or for that matter, any liberal state) faces in outlawing the “burqa”. Special attention is given to the shift from “laicity” to “human dignity” and “public order” as legal-normative grounds for opposing (this variant of) female Muslim wear, which were all found wanting by the jurists testifying before the commission and, eventually, in two consecutive opinions of the Conseil d’Etat (France’s highest administrative court). If the French government still insists on legislating, this is an open challenge to constitutional constraints on democratic politics, justified as “taking responsibility”. The burqa dispute thus opens a window into a new and unprecedented phase of “constitutional politics”, where the political state seeks to impose itself over the legal state.
If Quebec’s state institutions are secular, some symbols and practices inherited from the province’s Catholic history remain in many of them (i.e: Assemblée Nationale; hospitals; City halls…). While the Supreme Court of Canada has long defined the principle of separation between Church and State, the presence of crucifixes or catholic rituals within these institutions certainly challenges the reality of State neutrality. Drawing upon juridical and political data (i.e: jurisprudence ; parliamentary debates ; public reports), I examine the dialectic relationship between juridical reasoning and recent political debates about the visibility of Catholic religious convictions in government institutions. In so doing, the research questions the equilibrium between the historical heritage of the majority of the population and the openness to religious diversity, thereby shedding a new light on state neutrality.
The presentation is based on a book to be published. See synopsis below.
After the fall of the Berlin wall, the trial which took place in London against Salman Rushdie and Viking Penguin for The Satanic Verses opened a new age. The United Kingdom was confronted by a religious challenge which concerned the increasingly God-free British society and also the new multi-religious landscape of the country.
India, Rushdie’s motherland, was also challenged during the same period. That country faced a momentous change in its economy. Prompted by the collapse of communism, the socialist, emancipated India of Nehru faded away as a market-oriented India arose. But beyond the economy, religion represented a further challenge. Was modernisation compatible with endemic religious division and conflict? And was the constitutional principle of secularism an adequate tool for the country, now that socialism was a lost cause? Wasn’t it better for India to give up on a secular and multi-religious state and embrace political Hinduism as the best path towards development? The demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 translated the question into practice and set the tone for a long period of tension and violence. As was happening with secular and multi-religious Britain, religion challenged both secular and multi-religious India.
The aftermath of 1989 proved to be crucial in South Africa as well. In November 1990, Christian leaders representing 85 different denominations met in Rustenburg, Transvaal under the auspices of President de Klerk. The National Conference of Church Leaders in South Africa resulted in an historic moment. Religious justification of apartheid was denounced as heresy. Churches fully engaged in the transition to post-apartheid democratic South Africa. A multi-religious South Africa was rising from the ashes of traditional white Christian domination. A secular South African society and state was also taking shape as the natural outcome of free circulation of individuals and goods. Religion had challenged apartheid and was now challenging new secular and multi-religious South Africa. Was more religion needed in order to heal memory and start anew? Or was less religion needed in order not to delegate to God choices better left to human beings?
Three trials and momentous decisions delivered by the three supreme tribunals of India, South Africa and United Kingdom encapsulated the challenge and the response to the challenge while providing the evidence for interaction between the three countries as a key aspect of their approach to secular and multi-religious societies from 1989 to 2009.
The first case concerned Hindu and Muslim family laws in India. In 1992 Sushmita Ghosh, a twenty-six-year-old Indian woman who had been married under Hindu law since 1984, was asked by her husband to consent to divorce. Confronted with Sushmita’s refusal, the husband converted to Islam in order to marry a second wife under Islamic Law. Sushmita filed a lawsuit before the Indian Supreme Court, alleging the husband had half-heartedly converted to Islam solely for the purpose of re-marrying and had no real faith in Islam. The Supreme Court decided first in 1995 and definitively in 2000.
The second case involved the rights of minorities and marginal believers in South Africa. Between 1995 and 2002, post-apartheid South Africa witnessed the struggle of Gareth Prince, a young candidate to the bar, who claimed before the Constitutional Court his right to make licit use of cannabis because of his allegiance to the Rastafarian religion. A final decision was given in 2007 by the UN Human Rights Committee.
The third case addressed limits to individual cultural and religious freedom in Britain. On September 3, 2002, fourteen-year-old Shabina Begum claimed it her fundamental right as a Muslim to wear a long coat-like garment, a jilbab, instead of the uniform required by her school. With Cheryl Blair serving as Shabina’s counsel, her controversy with the Denbigh High School in Luton ended up before the House of Lords, which decided the case four years later, in 2006.
The three cases pointed toward tensions already well-known to Indians, South Africans and Britons. The defence of Islamic prerogatives against the imposition of a common secular family law was at stake in the Indian case. Freedom for marginal believers and practices to threaten security and social stability was at the core of the South African case. The place for diversity in multicultural Britain was the issue in the case of Shabina Begum.
Though deeply rooted in the respective national debates on religion, the repercussions of the cases resonated beyond national borders. Religious marriages also mattered to South Africans and Britons. The issue of religious minorities and individual faith-based claims was crucial in all the three countries. But interdependence was not limited to the trans-national nature of the issues at stake. The historical background tying together the three countries played a heavy role. Precedents and doctrine from the other countries influenced the very approach of courts involved: judicial borrowing from one national court to another translated interdependence in legal terms.
Interdependence also enabled philosophers, legal scholars and social scientists to transform the cases of Ghosh, Prince and Begum into abstractions and theories. Tenants of secularism and supporters of religious exceptionalism read the Indian case as the metaphor of their own clash. Defenders of outsiders and security hardliners did the same with the South African case. Shabina Begum came to be identified as the icon of multiculturalism.
But connections and implications were richer still. The real cases of Sushmita Ghosh, Gareth Prince and Shabina Begum outstripped national politics, rhetoric on the public role of religion in the new millennium and trendy conceptualisations.
The cases embodied two decades of civil struggle with religion and religious strife over secularization. The stories of Sushmita, Gareth and Shabina were telling fragments of a greater picture. The successful response of India, South Africa and Britain to the religious challenge of 1989 was captured in the three cases: in their broader sense as well as in the details and narrative.
After twenty years, the final page has yet to be written. Religion still challenges the three countries. But the secular and multi-religious character of India, Britain and South Africa is more mature and substantial. Moreover, the three countries represent a common space where a secular and multi-religious society is possible. In 1989, a multi-religious society still recalled the inequalities of the British Empire and a secular society still evoked the capitalist-communist divide in which the British Commonwealth had developed. Twenty years later, religion contributed much in forging a new common, secular and multi-religious space.
In two decades, thanks to their interdependence, Indians, South Africans and the British evolved towards a vital combination of secularization and multi-religiosity. A dynamism was fuelled which did not entirely neutralize conflict and violence, but which expressed the determination of the three peoples not to yield. It was possible for a nation to treasure a simultaneously secular and multi-religious society as the best legacy of the past and the finest pledge for the future. This was achieved through bitter conflict. The cases of Sushmita, Prince and Shabina incarnated that conflict. But they also contributed to an outcome which is likely to carry on inspiring India, South Africa and Britain, and possibly others, towards further achievements.
Our paper will draw on a critical discussion of the assumptions underlying both the secularization thesis as well as the contemporary discussion of religion in the public sphere. Building on our own research as well as a report we co-authored (as part of a wider team) for the UK government, we will demonstrate both the need for a paradigmatic shift in understanding how religion and secularity relate to each other and highlight practical policy benefits of adopting such an approach. We will challenge the validity of the secularization thesis for explaining the relationship between the religious and the secular, and suggest instead that revisiting and providing a new perspective on the ‘sacred’ can move us from our current position of stand-off between the two. By looking at how debates take place both within and between differing ideological positions, we will show how current assumptions based on the secularization thesis problematize rather than solve debates around faith and belief in modern pluralist societies. Drawing on cognitive and spatial approaches for studying religious phenomena in secular spaces, we will argue that the focus of academics and policy-makers is best directed towards the ‘sacred’, to the arena of non-negotiable beliefs and values. Such sacred values and beliefs are as likely to be found in secular, even atheist, discourses as within religious ones: hence our argument that what we refer to as the ‘sacred’ never really left Western society, but was merely re-configured in alternative, including secular, paradigms.
In the debate about Turkish accession to the European Union, the training of imams is one of the most sensitive issues as it highlights the role of the state in religious affairs. My thesis project is a study of religion-state relations in Turkey that explores the role of a state institution named Diyanet İşleri Baskanlığı (Directorate of Religious Affairs, hereafter Diyanet). The focus of my research is to explore how the Diyanet has the potential to shape the religious landscape through the authority which it gives to its civil servants in Turkey and in a transnational context. As I am only at the beginning of my research, the content of my presentation will be more an empirical one.
In the Malaysian context, the culture of the majority is exclusively mirrored by Islam, the social norms are based on Islamic values. Mobility between communities, and more specifically between Muslims and non-Muslims, is rare if not impossible. Islamic norms have an impact on social behavior and what’s acceptable or not: Halal or Haram. In a way Islamic norms distorted the equality given by citizenship. Hence, citizens are divided along religious lines as Muslims and non-Muslims, a differentiation that is being reinforced by the dual legal system (Islamic and secular law). As a counter-reaction to the phenomenon of “Islamization” of Malaysian society, non-Muslims struggle for recognition of their own identities through their own religions. Malaysia is an understudied case that can offer a new perspective on minority governance and religious issues that have arisen in Western countries. This paper addresses questions about the correlation between culture, religion and identity in pluralist country. It is an attempt to answer universal questions concerning the role of religious minorities in the public sphere (contemporary politics and society), and the relationship between freedom of religion and citizenship.
Although the imams are key actors in French Islam, they remain considerably neglected (as an area of study), specially as they focus the essentialism which undermines the debates on Islam in France in particular. However, the contemporary developments of the imamate in France are only comprehensible if we agree to submit them to the same questionings which enrich the knowledge of other religions. The standardization the imams’ role takes place in interaction with this process of diversification of the religious field (as a functional division of work), authorizing a multiplicity of possibilities (from the imam-president to the ritualistic imam) keeping pace with the organizational flexibility of the imamate. The exercise of the Islamic regulation (role and speeches of imams) reveals the appearance of an imam-islamologist. That is the creation of an original exercise of the Islamic leadership dominated by logic of explanation and of justification of religiosities, which can be compared to the declericalization of the priesthood and recent evolutions of the pastorate. Facing secularization and deculturation, pluralism and democratization of authority, the authorities of each religion can make two choices: adopt a fallback position or agree to compose within these parameters. Some investigations in mosques in the United States have revealed certain similar points, and it would be crucial to observe how ‘ulamâ’ in Muslim countries manage these transformations in the West, as well as to widen this hypothesis to other religions to observe how they react to it, according to their own resources.
Vast majorities in France (82%), in Germany (71%), in Britain (62%) and in Spain (59%) approve of a ban on Muslim women wearing full veils in public, including schools, hospitals and government offices. European public opinions seem thus to be quite consensual, from the perspective of the policy makers, or from the public opinion standpoint. Why is it that contrasted regimes of citizenship and traditionally opposed “models of integration” have given rise to similar public discussions on the Islamic headscarf in the European Union? Moreover, how can this general adhesion to a restrictive standpoint (banning specific religious dresses) be understood? What do female Islamic dresses stand for? Answers are of course complex as the debates surrounding the headscarf tend to touch upon numerous broader issues: the challenge to multiculturalism, the validity of secularism as a way of organizing the pacific co-existence of different religions in European contexts, the securitization of cultural markers and increasing Islamophobia, the loyalty of Muslim European citizens (converted or not) because of their alleged essential differences and ‘otherness’, the impact of foreign affair policies on domestic spaces, etc. Instead of looking at the hypothetical relevance of national norms of citizenship and national norms regarding the relationship between religion and the state (aspects that have been well documented by social scientists), I wish to develop the following two hypothesis: a. The ‘Burka bashing’ current moment illustrates the climax of a racialization process of Muslims in Europe; b. Racialization of Muslims is made possible in the European context because religion remains unintelligible to European public imaginaries and politics. Referring to recent episodes taken from different contexts, I argue that, exactly as the “fiction of race” has mixed science with common sense and traded on the complicity between them, the “fiction of religion” (here Islam) operates similarly: the external signs of belonging to Islam (headscarf and burka) help ranking human beings by reference to selected embodied properties so as to exclude them.
This paper addresses the role that the Salafi satellite channels play in the integration of salafi religious criteria in the community and hence in re-structuring public sphere. Many of the salafi channels aim to reinforce a retrospective religious vision into the Islamic community by setting standards for what is believed to be the "correct" practice of "pure" Islam. In instituting such standards, these channels are less interested in the social milieu of the communities where these criteria are being integrated than in the religious practices of the salafist actor. The salafi channels are supposed to be setting example for people to follow through re-enacting the practices of the "salaf" in the far-away past.