Major New Report by the National Secular Society: Rethinking Religion and Belief in Public Life

architecture-2892_1280

‘The report says that Britain’s “drift away from Christianity” coupled with the rise in minority religions and increasing non-religiosity demands a “long term, sustainable settlement on the relationship between religion and the state”.

Rethinking religion and belief in public life: a manifesto for change has been sent to all MPs as part of a major drive by the Society to encourage policymakers and citizens of all faiths and none to find common cause in promoting principles of secularism.

It calls for Britain to evolve into a secular democracy with a clear separation between religion and state and criticises the prevailing multi-faithist approach as being “at odds with the increasing religious indifference” in Britain.

Terry Sanderson, National Secular Society president, said: “Vast swathes of the population are simply not interested in religion, it doesn’t play a part in their lives, but the state refuses to recognise this. Britain is now one of the most religiously diverse and, at the same time, non-religious nations in the world. Rather than burying its head in the sand, the state needs to respond to these fundamental cultural changes. Our report sets out constructive and specific proposals to fundamentally reform the role of religion in public life to ensure that every citizen can be treated fairly and valued equally, irrespective of their religious outlook.”‘

Source: http://www.secularism.org.uk/rethinking-religion-and-belief-i.html. Here you can also read, and endorse, the report.

In my forthcoming book I write that it is not just meant for readers who could be expected to sympathise with some or all of the theoretical starting points set out in the introduction, but also as a modest invitation precisely to dissenters to engage in a “respectful academic conversation” similar to what Founding Director of the Center for Christian Studies at Gordon College (now the Center for Faith and Inquiry) Harold Heie calls a “respectful political conversation”. Should this not, or no longer, be possible, then it will also prove difficult to uphold the ideal of a pluralistic public square as part of one’s democracy conception, as advocated in the book.

This is the fifth post in a new series introducing my forthcoming book on Constitutionalism, Democracy and Religious Freedom. To be Fully Human (Routledge, 2017).

For the first four posts, please see:

Symposium on Christian Democracy and America: ‘Can Christian Democracy Be America’s Next European Import?’

Journalist Ben Judah, Author of This is London (2016): ‘I Found Faith Everywhere’

The Washington Post on Why Religious Freedom Could Become the Major Religion Story of 2017

Book on Constitutionalism, Democracy and Religious Freedom. To Be Fully Human (Routledge) now available for pre-order

The Washington Post on Why Religious Freedom Could Become the Major Religion Story of 2017

newspaper-63189__480

‘The new year could be turbulent for religion in America.

Several hot-button issues — including immigration, abortion, poverty, health care, gay rights and education — will put religion near the center of public life and debate.

But the issue that could especially flare up? In a Trump administration, “religious freedom” is expected to either flourish — or come under attack — depending on who defines religious freedom.’

You can read why religion reporter Sarah Pullman Bailey believes this to be the case, here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/01/03/heres-what-we-think-will-be-the-biggest-religion-stories-in-2017/?utm_term=.05bd61a37c30.

This is the second post in a new series introducing my forthcoming book on Constitutionalism, Democracy and Religious Freedom. To be Fully Human (Routledge, 2017).

For the first post, please see:

Book on Constitutionalism, Democracy and Religious Freedom. To Be Fully Human (Routledge) now available for pre-order

Upcoming Speaking Engagement, Journal of Law, Religion & State International Conference: Rule of Law – Religious Perspectives, Bar-Ilan University School of Law, Ramat-Gan, Israel

35699

‘The encounter of religion with the rule of law may generate tension but also mutual inspiration. The rule of law implies law’s supremacy over other normative systems and personal commitments. It also implies that law applies to everyone equally. Religion represents a normative system that may in some areas be different from – and stand in opposition to – state law. Religion may deny the supremacy of state law and pose divine law as supreme instead. It may, alternatively, seek exemptions from state law in those matters where the two conflict.

TOPICS: In this conference we seek to study this tension and discuss the following questions:
– Does religion (in general or a specific religion) accept the rule of state law?
– What are the boundaries (if any) of such acceptance?
– In what cases would religion challenge state law and in what cases would it seek exemptions?
– Can a policy of multiculturalism and of legal pluralism, which give more room to religious freedom, be reconciled with the rule of law or does it undermine it?
– What other policies should states follow in response to these tensions?

Religion may not only compete with state law but also inspire it, which leads us to investigate religion’s various understandings of the rule of law. Here is just one example. The concept of law in the context of the rule of law is ambiguous and open to different interpretations. Some (positivists) understand law as a set of rules fixed by social institutions, and others (natural law advocates) understand law as if it includes fundamental principles of justice and morality. Religions may take a position in that debate and contribute not only to the abstract understanding of law, but also to the identification of those moral principles that are part of law. We therefore also plan to explore the following:
– What is the position of religion with regard to the concept of law and the rule of law?
– Many religions developed partial or comprehensive legal systems of their own. Did religions also develop a concept of rule of law? What is its scope and meaning?
– The concept of rule of law also may be used in theological context as a metaphor to understand the boundaries of divine actions and intervention in the world. Is God constrained by law – and by what kind of law: law of nature, morality?

These and similar questions will be discussed in an international conference that will be held at Bar-Ilan University School of Law, Ramat-Gan, Israel, on November 20-22, 2016.’

Source: http://www.ssrn.com/update/lsn/lsnann/ann16021.html. More information will follow.

Lid, promotiecommissie, D. van der Blom, ‘De verhouding van staat en religie in een veranderende Nederlandse samenleving’, 6 juli 2016

Blom

‘Door sterk gewijzigde maatschappelijke ontwikkelingen is voor de verhouding van staat en religie in Nederland de laatste decennia meer publieke belangstelling ontstaan dan ooit kon worden voorzien. Daarnaast is deze belangstelling langzamerhand een vraagstuk geworden die belangrijk is voor zowel de Nederlandse samenleving als andere Europese natiestaten.’

Lees hier meer: https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/onderzoek/onderzoeksoutput/rechtsgeleerdheid/de-verhouding-van-staat-en-religie-in-een-veranderende-nederlandse-samenleving.

Ph.D. Thesis Committee Member For: D. van der Blom, The Relationship between State and Religion in a Changing Dutch Society

In recent decades, the Netherlands’ struggle with multiculturalism has caused an upsurge in public interest in the relationship between state and religion. In this, the Dutch address a subject relevant not just to them, but to all of Europe.’

Read more here: https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/research/research-output/law/the-relationship-between-state-and-religion-in-a-changing-dutch-society.

 

Upcoming Speaking Engagement, Seventh International Conference on Religion & Spirituality in Society, 17-18 April 2017, Imperial College London, London, UK

ReligionFrontCover

‘The Religion and Spirituality in Society knowledge community sets out in its conference, journal, book series and online community, to describe, analyze and interpret the role of religion in society. The community’s intellectual project is neutral with respect to the agendas of particular religions or explicit counterpoints to religion such as agnosticism or atheism.’

‘The Seventh International Conference on Religion & Spirituality in Society features research addressing the following annual themes and the 2017 Special Focus.

THEME 1: RELIGIOUS FOUNDATIONS THEME 2: RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY AND SOCIALIZATION THEME 3: RELIGIOUS COMMONALITIES AND DIFFERENCES THEME 4: THE POLITICS OF RELIGION​ 2017 Special Focus: Respecting Difference, Understanding Globalism’

Source, and more information: http://religioninsociety.com/2017-conference.

My own contribution is entitled ‘The Significance of Institutional Religious Freedom for Liberal Democracy’:

Questions surrounding the institutional dimension of religious freedom are among the most fundamental of our time. The reason for this is that they raise important issues regarding liberal democracy as such. As Jean L. Cohen pointed out, one of the reasons for this is because institutional religious freedom puts the sovereignty of the state, which has already eroded externally, also under pressure internally. As a result, the topic of institutional religious freedom is not just relevant to specialists in the right to freedom of religion or belief, or even human rights for that matter, but also from a more general religious studies point of view. Cohen considers it problematic that state sovereignty comes under pressure from communal religious freedom, because this constitutes a return to Medieval times. According to her, the idea of liberal democracy rests upon a monistic sovereignty conception. Although this is certainly a legitimate proposition, and probably the current dominant one, the proposed paper will argue in favour of a more inclusive conception of liberal democracy. According to this conception, within liberal democracy there is also room for those who adhere to a jurisdictional approach to religious freedom, i.e. recognise multiple sovereignties in a liberal democracy.

See: http://cgpublisher.com/conferences/384/proposals/50/index_html.

Participant, event ‘Research on Religion, crucial for Europe’s societies’, Brussels, 17 March 2016

logoleru

‘The LERU Deans of Theology and Religious Studies have written a statement on the importance of research on religion for Europe’s societies. The event aims at translating this statement into practice by showcasing excellent examples. The event is also meant to discuss the statement with a wider public. Policy makers, research funders or anyone with an interest in SSH research in general or religion research in particular, is very welcome to participate.

Programme

10.30 am Registration

11.00

Welcome by Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of LERU

11.10

Introduction by Johannes Zachhuber, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology, University of Oxford

11.30

Religious recognition, presentation by Risto Saarinen, Professor of Ecumenics, University of Helsinki

12.00

Religion in crisis and Roman Catholic self-definition, presentation by Joris Geldhof, Professor Pastoral and Empirical Theology, Mathijs Lamberigts, Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies and Terrence Merrigan, Professor Systematic Theology and the Study of Religions, KU Leuven

12.30

Lunch

1.00 pm

Healthcare Values Partnership, presentation by Andrew Papanikitas, NIHR Clinical Lecturer in General Practice, University of Oxford

1.30

Muslim-Christian dialogue, presentation by Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Inter-religious Studies and Assistant Principal Religion and Society, University of Edinburgh

2.00

Q&A followed by discussion

3.00

End’

Source: http://www.leru.org/index.php/public/calendar/research-on-religion-crucial-for-europes-societies/.

For the stement by the LERU Deans of Theology and Religious Studies, see: http://www.leru.org/files/general/Research%20on%20Religion%20crucial%20for%20Europe’s%20societies_statement_February%202016_docx1.pdf.

About LERU:

‘Since its founding in 2002, the League of European Research Universities (LERU) has emerged as a prominent advocate for the promotion of basic research at European universities. LERU strongly believes that basic research plays an essential role in the innovation process and significantly contributes to the progress of society.

LERU aims at furthering the understanding and knowledge of politicians, policy makers and opinion leaders about the role and activities of research-intensive universities. Drawing on the impressive academic potential and expertise of its network, LERU has a strong and significant impact on research policy in Europe.’

Upcoming Speaking Engagement: The Cardiff Festival of Law and Religion 2016

logo                      clr_logo

‘Registration is now open for the Cardiff Festival of Law and Religion on May 5th and 6th at Cardiff University. This celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the LLM in Canon Law at Cardiff University, the first degree of its type in a British University since the Reformation.

A number of events are being held to reflect upon how the study of Law and Religion has developed over the last twenty-five years and the likely future trajectory. This includes the 2016 Law and Religion Scholars Network (LARSN) Conference, a keynote address by Professor David Little, a celebratory dinner and the launch of F Cranmer, M Hill, C Kenny and R Sandberg (ed) The Confluence of Law and Religion: Interdisciplinary Reflections on the Work of Norman Doe (Cambridge University Press, 2016).’

The paper I will be presenting is entitled: ‘The “New Critics of Religious Freedom” and the Inspiration they Unintentionally Provide’:

The ‘New Critics of Religious Freedom’ have become increasingly vocal of late. The first part of the proposed paper will summarise their main criticisms, some of which contain a considerable amount of truth, such as that the right to freedom of religion or belief has historically been heavily influenced by Christianity in general and Protestantism in particular.

The second part of the paper will argue that at first sight there also appears to be one major downside to the criticisms. As it turns out to be hardly possible to isolate the right to freedom of religion or belief from the general idea of a democratic constitutional state, what the critics are really questioning is the current state of Western liberal democracy as a whole.

The third part of the paper will propose that the reason for this close connection between religious freedom and the democratic constitutional state lies in the fact that the latter has clearly been influenced by Christianity as well. Still, the new critics of religious freedom may on closer inspection also serve as a source of inspiration for a necessary, theologically driven reform of the central tenets of liberal democracy as it has developed in recent decades.

For the full program of the Festival, see: http://www.law.cf.ac.uk/clr/networks/The%20Cardiff%20Festival%20for%20Law%20and%20Religion%20Full%20Programme.pdf.

For registration, and other information, see: http://www.law.cf.ac.uk/clr/.

Participant, Conference on Religion and Power: New Directions in Social Ethics, Princeton University (March 12 & 13, 2015)

B_6tQyVWgAEOzJ0.jpg-large

‘Questions about power, justice, and the role of religion in social protest remain as vital as ever. This conference provides a timely occasion to address important practical and methodological issues in the field of social ethics. By bringing theorists and practitioners together, we hope to spark fresh conversations about the ways that the actions and relationships of ordinary citizens relate to various social structures, practices, and expressions of power.’

Speakers included:

Ernesto Cortés, Jr., the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) co-director and executive director of the West / Southwest IAF regional network; and

Luke Bretherton, Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School and author of Resurrecting Democracy. Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life (2014).

For the full conference schedule, see:

http://religion.princeton.edu/religionandpower/conference-schedule/.

Respondent, The Atlantic Conversations on Religion and Public Life, St. George’s House, Windsor Castle (2007)

St. George's House

From the ‘Welcome to St. George’s House’:

‘This event is hosted by St George’s House in association with the Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton. Our aim is to bring together a distinguished group of public leaders and scholars from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States of America to foster a trans-Atlantic dialogue on vital questions.

Our theme is topical, complex and challenging. We shall examine, for example:

– whether religion should enjoy any acknowledged role in the public sphere in a modern, pluralist democracy, or be confined to private observance;

– the potential conflict between deep-rooted tradition, tolerance of multi-cultural diversity, and freedom of expression and practice;

– whether the concepts of neutrality and even-handedness have any meaning when the State – any State – needs ethical and moral underpinning for its public values.

Many other important questions will certainly arise in debate. You are attending, not a formal Conference, but a Conversation. As always at St George’s House, all are encouraged – irrespective of any public role or responsibility – to think and speak freely and imaginatively and to be open to new ideas, secure in the knowledge that confidentiality is guaranteed. I hope that original, stimulating and potentially influential insights will emerge – and that the historic and beautiful environment of Windsor Castle will exert on you its special magic and ensure lasting happy memories of your stay.

Andrew Carter

Warden

St. George’s House.’

For the full programme, see:

https://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/354684dc5b129a3305694252.pdf.

Commentator, Conference on ‘Religion, Rights, and Institutions’, Princeton University (2014)

lapa_logo_home_0_0

‘The Conference on Religions, Rights, and Institutions will focus on how institutional design, of both religions and political regimes, affects the relationship between religious practice and activity and human rights. It will examine how the internal organization (formal and informal structures and rules) of religions and religious communities affect therights of members of religious communities and the functioning of religion as a source of human rights. It will investigate the scope of, and limits upon, a just state’s authority to compel changes in the internal aspects of organized religion in the name of human rights. Among the questions it will ask is how do social and political institutions shape religious behavior and affect the human rights of members of religious communities and the society at large.

The conference is co-sponsored by Princeton University’s Program in Law and Public Affairs and the Israel Democracy Institute. It will take place on November 23-24, 2014. Attendance is by invitation only.’

My contribution took place during Session 8 (‘Secular Carve-outs in a Religious World; Religious Carve-outs in a Secular World’. Check out the full conference schedule here:

https://lapa.princeton.edu/content/religions-rights-and-institutions.