Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Saba Mahmood, and Peter G. Danchin (Eds.)

in Middle East Law and Governance

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Politics of Religious Freedom, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, ix + 350 pages.

In this ambitious collection of essays, Sullivan, Hurd, Mahmood and Danchin call into question not only the definition of religious freedom, but also the ethical value with which that concept is imbued in contemporary liberal and democratic states. This is a valuable collection for anyone interested in ongoing conversations about the protections and limits of religious freedom. Individually, these essays highlight various manifestations of the fraught relationship between the modern state which seeks to preserve it’s supremacy as guardian and legislator of the nation, and the commitment to religious freedom that – however ill-defined – often provides part of the authorization for that prerogative. But in the aftermath of the November 2015 massacres in Beirut and Paris, and the panicked calls to restrict the religious practices, and immigration, of Muslims in the West, this text also reminds the reader that ‘religious freedom’ has always been the rhetorical title under which religion is not only protected, but restricted. The 21st century is not the first time that states have felt threatened by religion; it may be the first time that the response to that threat must negotiate the value placed upon religious freedom and heterogeneity as values in themselves. Just as explicit calls for racial purity have become unacceptable to Western nations, so has any explicit call for religious homogeneity. However shocked the world has been by contemporary terrorism inflicted on cosmopolitan centers, and however vitriolic the response of Western pundits has been, a repeat of the Spanish Expulsion remains fairly unlikely.

One of the many questions that has arisen in the aftermath of the November 2015 massacres is whether freedom of religion is compatible with the freedom and security of the community. To put it bluntly, if some Muslim religious institutions and communities in Europe and North America have become safe havens for individuals who plan to engage in acts of violence against fellow citizens, is it not the right or even duty of the government to infringe upon the religious freedom of some – and maybe the majority – of Muslim citizens in the service of the community a whole? At the same time, the perception that “Muslims” are a threat has contributed to the worst refugee crisis since wwii – and which, if not resolved, may soon pass that horrifying benchmark.

One of the most important contributions of Politics of Religious Freedom is the unflinching gaze the contributors train upon commonly accepted associations between religious freedom, human rights, and equality. Many of the essays in this volume (in particular those of Hurd, Haefali, Mahmood, Danchin, Laborde and Agrama) point to the tensions between these rights, and the conflict – played out in courtrooms and on bodies – that can arise when these tensions congeal into legal conflicts. The tendency of organizations concerned with civil and human rights to collapse religious freedom, human rights, and equality into an easily portable and appealing carry-all shows little sign of abating, even when it is accompanied by the (often self-conscious) recognition of potential conflicts.

In September 2015, just after the publication of this collection, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (inclo) published a report entitled “Drawing the Line: Tackling Tensions Between Religious Freedom and Equality.”1 The report states that the goal of the inclo is to advocate “freedom of religion and conscience as a fundamental human right to be valued, defended and protected.” The analysis undertaken by the inclo is guided by the principle that “religious freedom means the right to our beliefs. That right is fundamental and must be vigorously defended. But religious freedom does not give us the right to impose our views on others, including by discriminating against or otherwise harming them.”2 The conclusions of the report uphold this initial definition, holding that when the religious practices of an individual involve discrimination against others, the state should infringe upon the religious freedom of the individual or group. It is, overall, a wholly lucid and internally logical report, largely in line with the conclusion of Charles Taylor et al that deeply held religious beliefs must be respected as such while remaining subject to evaluation on the basis of the harm principle in contemporary liberal societies.3 Michael Ignatieff, who agrees that rights belong to the individual, seems to suggest that it is collective rights that must be infringed upon if they come into conflict with individual rights:

Rights are only meaningful if they confer entitlements and immunities on individuals; they only have force and bite if they can be enforced against institutions like the family, the state, and the church. This remains true even when the rights in question are collective or group rights like the right to speak your own language or practice your own religion…. But the ultimate purpose and justification of group rights is not the protection of the group as such, but the protection of the individuals who compose it.4

Even these two, who agree that rights belong to the individual, place different emphasis on whether it is the role of the state to protect individual rights from the pressure of various communitites, or the role of the state to restrain the individual from exercising their rights in a way that infringes upon the community.

If religious freedom is a human right, then by Ignatieff’s reckoning it is the responsibility of the state to restrict practices that infringe upon the right of the individual to choose what they will do – including practices of the state itself. The liberal state stands or falls upon its ability to create a community of equals. In this Taylor, Ignatieff, and the inclo are all theoretically in agreement. But the role that religious freedom is supposed to play in creating this idyllic society is rather more assumed than historically justified. There are a number of important challenges to this claim – one of which is made by Sabah Mahmood’s essay (Chapter 12) in this volume. Mahmood highlights contexts in which advocacy of religious freedom has served the interests of imperial and colonialist projects. Claims that rely upon the importance of religious liberty have been used to undermine the idyllic liberal view of religious freedom as key to the equal co-existence of heterogeneous individuals and groups in a community. This, of course, is far from the only way that liberal commitments to religious freedom seem somewhat idealistic, if not woefully ignorant. If the commitment of the liberal state is to instantiate equality among all of its citizens, and if the vehicle for this equality is the law that treats all citizens equally, then the commitment of the liberal state to religious freedom for its citizens must necessarily be predicated on a clear-sighted Lady Justice whose legal determinations are radically secular in their independence from any metaphysical patrimony. But in the still relatively short history of the nation-state there has yet to emerge a liberal state that is fully and truly secular.

What harm consists of, and who is most deserving of protection, are always judgments inflected by the religious ghosts of the state. In some of the places where the debate over religious freedom has been most energetic – specifically in the United States, Canada, and France – the state has distanced itself from religious roots as a matter of practice. The ghosts of faithful ancestors who haunt such states are no longer religious – they are ‘cultural.’ As we shall see, this rephrasing by no means does away with the tensions surrounding religious freedom in a heterodox and heteropraxic democracy.

Who Legislates Religious Freedom?

Debates regarding the role of religious freedom in the modern world take as a given the contemporary world of nation-states. One of the most important prerogatives of the modern nation-state is the bestowal and protection of national identity through citizenship. In the vast majority of countries, religious affiliation or heterodox practice per se is not a de jure barrier to citizenship. The modern nation state encompasses a population with a variety of confessional commitments. The prestige of the nation is at least partially derived from its ability to defend and protect its diverse citizenry; it is the nation’s half of the bargain of loyalty between citizen and state. The protection of religious minorities and the defense of religion are significant duties of modern states. In other words, states not only authorize religion by declaring its value and right to protection, but also acquire moral force from the commitments that they make and fulfill to religion. Cécile Laborde (Chapter 22) points out that the legislative advocacy of religious freedom is a declaration on the part of the state that they are responsible both to and for religion – responsible for limiting what are considered excesses of practice, and to provide religious adherence with freedom from pressure by other forces, including those of the state itself. While there are innumerable ways that governments attempt to negotiate these tensions, Greg Johnson (Chapter 6) provides an eloquent way to organize them into categories for analysis: “No cake, the whole cake, or just our slice of cake.” In other words, governments may attempt to reject all religion and religiosity in public life; try to incorporate and protect a diversity of religious practices to the greatest extent that it believes is commensurate with other obligations; or select specifically which traditions will be protected to the exclusion of others.

In order for religion to become a responsibility of the state – that is, for the state to feel an obligation to both respect and discipline religion – religion must be distinct from the state. Without such a division, the allocation of rights and protections to religious minorities and heterodox traditions is primarily a matter of (state) determination. As the essays by Evan Haefali (Chapter 8), David Sorkin (Chapter 9), and Samual Moyn (Chapter 11) point out, the reasons for a religiously affiliated government to provide for minorities has historically ranged from the pragmatic (ensuring peace in the case of sizeable minorities, encouraging economic participation and development) to the ideological (for example, that particular form of Christian anti-Semitism which sees the continued existence of the Jews as a necessary element of the messianic narrative). But in all these cases the protection of religious minorities extended only as far as the need of the government. Convivencia – whether in the Andalusian context, in tsarist Russia, or in the Ottoman Empire – was not premised on any intrinsic value imputed to religious diversity. Rather, it recognized diversity as a fact on the ground and acted to accommodate that diversity insofar as such accommodation served the needs of the state, and without infringing upon the superiority and prerogative of the (religious) tradition of the state itself.

In the nationalism of the American and French Revolutions, the authority of the state is legitimized by its ability to uphold the rights of its citizens. Waheeda Amien (Chapter 15) divides regimes with a commitment to secularism into two categories: exclusive secularists seeking to exclude all religion from the public sphere, and inclusive secularists who want to provide a space for all religions to some degree – or at least equally – within the public sphere. Canada and the United States are two inclusive secularist democracies, while France stands, until today, as a paradigmatic example of the exclusive secularist.

If religious freedom is a matter of legislation in the contemporary world, and if debates about religious freedom often take the place when the difference between people reveals that the equal application of a law can result in inequality, we must take seriously the context in which such laws are drafted. Broadly speaking, regimes in the modern world first choose to define themselves as either professedly secular or professedly confessional; in the subsequent stage of political mitoses, the regime determines whether it is exclusive or inclusive. Avowedly secular regimes must determine whether they follow the “no cake” or “all cake” policy; confessional regimes, having already privileged a particular flavor, (“our cake”), still must decide the degree of protection that they will extend to non-state desserts.

A number of the essays in the volume (particularly those of Laborde, Sullivan (Chapter 19) and Ali Agrama (Chapter 25)) eloquently point out that even the most notably secular democracies in the modern world are less secular than they are heavily veiled. A ghost of the faithful forefathers always seems to linger. It is, in the world of the modern nation-state, usually a Christian ghost.5 Even in an actively secularizing state like France, an image of the crucifixion hovers above the legislature, a circumscribed religious symbol dominant and privileged enough that, exiled from direct political power, a seat is reserved for it at the table of culture. The same is true of Canada (where both Franco-Quebec and Anglo-Ontario reserve a particular status for Catholic schools) and in the United States and Europe, where public holidays (and the closure of public services) inevitably invoke the Christian liturgical year. It could be convincingly argued that the ghosts of Christianity behind Sunday closures in the United States, for example, are simply a natural – even democratic! – outgrowth of a population whose majority still has some, if often nominal, affiliation with Christianity. I would not disagree with such an argument per se. But if some conditioning of national social life by the majority tradition is inevitable, claims to secularism per se are somewhat disingenuous – or at least more motivated by the perceived cache of ‘secular democracy’ than the actual existence of such a regime. And, of course, the consequence of the claim to secularism is that in many cases minority religions are unable to present claims or complaints on the basis of a violation of an establishment clause; if the religious revenant has been reincarnated as ‘cultural,’ then the claims of minority groups to equality under religious freedom equality clauses are no longer prosecutable. In Quebec, claims that laws against the public display of religious symbols unfairly target Islam and Judaism (hijab, kippot, etc.) while privileged Christian symbols (the crucifix) are invalidated by rendering the crucifix cultural rather than religious. In some cases, such as Ontario’s Sunday Closing Laws, the religious revenants have been brought out into the open – but in that case, the result was a mitigation of the adverse effects of the revenant on the minority group, rather than an actual exorcism.

In liberal and self-describedly secular governments the government remains haunted, inevitably thus far, by something of religion, and the consequences of such hauntings for minority communities are not insignificant. The religious conditioning of the structures of life result in different experiences, requiring many minority religious groups to negotiate – and therefore be made aware of – their minority status in innumerable contexts. A person may be entitled, in such a context, to believe that they must not work on certain days, that they must dress a certain way, or that they must eat and not eat according to particular regulations. These beliefs are all protected. But the practices that result from such beliefs, while usually protected to some degree, require members of these groups to make choices about what kind of careers they will pursue, where they will live, and what social conventions they will include or exclude themselves from. These are decisions that are often significantly less problematic and weighted for members of the majority traditions, for whom the ‘secular’ calendar naturally accommodates observance. As Lori Beaman (Chapter 17) writes, “the pretense of disestablishment’s accomplishment …. facilitates a certain dampening of religious freedom.” Further on she concludes, “Culture becomes the safe space for majoritarian religion.”6

Defending the right to belief while extending unequal, ambiguous, and often unstable protections to practices reveals the Christian character of these ghosts. Under the veiled Christian regime of many secular governments, the de facto requirement of religious minorities is that, at least in public, they allow their distinctions to disappear. They may believe whatever they like, but the presence of those beliefs in a material form renders them subject to examination, and sometimes legislation. This has recently been the case in Quebec, where the Parti Québécois introduced Bill 60 in 2013, which came to be known as the Quebec Charter of Values. The most controversial component of the bill involved restricting public sector employees from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols; in a state-funded system like Quebec, this would have included the majority of university professors. The Bill, which died just over six months after it was put forward, would have allowed Christians, Muslims, and Jews to wear “inconspicuous” signs of religious affiliation. Examples of such inconspicuous displays involved a smallish crucifix for Christians, a ring with a Star of David for Jews, and earrings with a new moon for Muslims. Of these three symbols, only one – the crucifix – has any roots in theology. Neither the new moon or the Star of David demonstrate any devotion on the part of observant Muslims and Jews to a particular belief, unlike symbols that would be forbidden under such legislation – the kippah, the hijab, the mitpacha, the long skirt or tunic. All of these are elements of religiosity that reflect a commitment to a practice, at least as much as commitment to a belief. In April 2015 the Washington Post reported that a Muslim girl was sent home from school in France because her skirt was considered too long. The troubling part of the story involved the fact that, had the girl been completely secular, her hemline would have raised no questions whatsoever. It was because she was known to be religious that her clothing required additional regulation. Jews and Muslims in such a situation are called upon to fold religion up into what can be internalized – which is to say, to Christianize their religion.

The alternative to an avowedly secular state troubled by such hauntings would seem to be a non-secular state – which is to say, a democratic regime which has specific confessional commitments. This may take the form of an explicit religious conditioning of state institutions – for example, an explicit statement in the constitution defining a tradition as the basis of the legal system – or it may identify the nation with a tradition without committing state institutions to the support and/or promulgation of that tradition. But such states cannot be called liberal in any traditional meaning of the term.

State traditions are inherently privileged, and so are their adherents. At a minimum, affiliation with the state implicates the state tradition in the protection of minorities, and therefore proclaims itself a tradition to which minorities ought to have some degree of gratitude. The criticism of religious or confessional governments by secular regimes is that a confessional foundation to the state hobbles if not fundamentally undermines the ability of the state to provide equal rights and protections to all citizens. In the end, the confessional state will come down on the side of the tradition that the state espouses. I do not argue with such a criticism. It appears to be universal – at least so far – that as rigorously as confessional states work to protect the interests and independence of religious minorities, they will end up defaulting in cases of doubt to the authority of state tradition. Religious minorities in a confessional state often face far greater insecurity than their co-religionists in secular states, with implications that are life-and-death as well as onerous – for example, in the system of sectarian civil courts in Egypt (as well as other Middle Eastern countries) civil cases that involve a Muslim and a non-Muslim generally revert to the authority of the Muslim court.

The accumulation of historical evidence suggests that both secular and confessional states are fail to generate stable, equitable relationships between the state and the heterogeneous communities within their borders. Secular states are in fact no such thing, and claims to secularism which mask a religious orientation can undermine the ability of religiously heterodox groups to prosecute discrimination cases, and allow a particularly insidious form of prejudice to fester behind the veil of ‘cultural pride;’ confessional regimes are inherently prejudiced, and the freedom of minority religious traditions is explicitly or implicitly limited by the state’s commitment to a given tradition, rendering the confessional state fundamentally incapable of actualizing equality before the law across various traditions. In actuality neither the secular not the confessional state balances the demands of freedom and religion, but sacrifices one to the other as necessary to maintain the status-quo and authority of the state itself.

In light of such dramatic juxtapositions, Politics of Religious Freedom provides valuable counter-examples for a great many generalizations. There are essays in this text that discuss the seemingly inevitable failure of states to fulfill the amorphous promise of religious freedom, and there are others that remind the reader that religious freedom can be a valuable weapon in the fight for recognition and wider rights. In Johnson’s essay (Chapter 6) a minority group is able to prosecute claims against the majority religion precisely by appealing to the avowed secularity of the law. In Schonthal’s discussion of religious freedom in the negotiating of colonial constitutions (Chapter 13), enshrining religious freedom in the law is a way to fight for the rights of a population not from an oppressive religious force, but from imperial and colonial power. Pedagogically, reading this chapter along with Sullivan’s essay (Chapter 19) could be an effective way of examining the ways that an appeal to religious freedom has been used by dominant traditions to reassert their privilege and authority.

What this collection of essays boasts, when read as a whole, is more than a rigorous and valuable questioning of the moral value of religious freedom. Drawing largely from the disciplines of political science, anthropology, and law, the essays offer a pragmatic gaze, one too often missing from our analysis of values that have been construed as a ‘human right.’ To make the case that “Religious freedom is a human right (or at least moral good) which should protected” is to use a form of rhetorical argument that relies upon an agreed-upon premise. In Aristotle, the enthymeme is something of a sermon to a choir, an argument made to those who already agree, and it was understood among medieval Jewish and Islamic philosophers to be one of the more flexible forms of syllogism. The major premise is a generally agreed-upon principle: “Religious freedom is a human right.” The conclusion is that, “Religious freedom should be protected.” The uniqueness of the enthymeme, in the classical formulations offal-Farabi and Ibn Rushd, is that the minor premise – the point in the middle that connects the major premise and the conclusion – is elided. The reasons for this elision are multiple but for the sake of brevity suffice it to say that the enthymeme is the ideal syllogism when the goal is to persuade the audience. The minor premise is elided because the information that it provides might raise questions and therefore doubts. Laborde’s essay speaks to this inclination to agree with the major term, and questions why, exactly, religious freedom has the status of a right. This strikes at a premise that has become foundational in discourse on religion and rights in the liberal state – and as Ignatieff writes, “Foundational beliefs, unmixed with humility, have been a longstanding menace to the human rights of ordinary individuals.”7

The essays in this volume question the ability of states to promote religious freedom, and the received wisdom that they should do so, while reminding us of the extent to which the pursuit of religious freedom, however imperfect, has indeed resulted in a greater degree of equality among heterodox populations than existed previously. Demystifying religious freedom allows us to look at the variety of ways that religious freedom is employed by states, groups, and individuals, and at the way that religious freedom is a technology of power which conditions states, groups and individuals. If religious freedom has no intrinsic superiority beyond what it does, then it might be interesting to consider what it would look like if a state disavowed an effervescent love for the principle and instead focused on the management of religious behavior. In such a regime, religion – all religion – would be subject to toleration by a government which feels no lingering love for the traditions of any fathers or any mothers, a government in which having a ‘Christmas’ holiday is recognized as a convenient relic that corresponds to the current majority population, but which, in the event of a population shift, would have no particular problem with moving to a moon-based calendar. When it comes to the world that we are forced or choose to live in – the world where lack of freedom actually impacts our freedom of movement and expression and dress – it is how infringements and protections are balanced that renders them tolerable. Of course, the very suggestion that religion does not have a special status would raise a hue and cry from which some states (the United States perhaps first among them) would have difficulty recovering.

It has become something of a trend in academic circles to emphasize that not all tensions are resolvable, and to point to the potential richness of an approach that seeks to develop strategies of negotiation rather than finality and conclusion. There are innumerable anthropological accounts of how effective strategies of negotiation can be. But I am wary of advocating that we embrace the tensions and challenges that the value of religious freedom forces us to confront in the modern liberal state, if only because we risk forgetting that these tensions and challenges are explosive. Many if not most of the essays in this collection address directly or indirectly, how, why, and with what effect legislative regimes engage in the regulation of religious freedom – what motivates that legislation, and how the commitment of the legislative regime to a particular confessional or secular tradition impacts the nature of religious freedom legislation in a given context. Other essays focus on the way that individuals or groups mobilize the legislation and rhetoric of religious freedom for their own purposes, even against the state itself. There is remarkable material in this text about Janus-faced interactions between governments and religious groups. But there is little about the particular problem of religious freedom in a place where one claim to religious freedom is incompatible – materially rather than theologically – with another group’s minimum requirements.

As I write this, Jerusalem has – once again – been convulsed with violence. It would be easy enough to dismiss violence in Jerusalem as something intrinsic to a city with remarkably, if not uniquely, violent urban dna. Some make the argument that violence in Jerusalem today is less religious than it is a manifestation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Under this rubric the Crusader Wars should be classified as more colonial than Christian or Muslim). Within the broad field of Religious Studies, a great deal of ink has been spilled on whether conflicts like that over the Temple Mount should be considered ‘religious’ or ‘political.’ It is a debate that shows no sign of being resolved; at play in the conversation are questions about the experience of the participants in the conflict and the extent to which they identify their needs and demands as religious in nature (and of course, the more recent critique of using such experience-based evaluations of a situation to ground analysis of events).8

Does political conflict provide the rhetorical ground for violence and mobilizing religious vocabulary, or is it religion that provides the political conflict with a moral value? On the Temple Mount, has the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with its oft-impenetrable layers of history, colonialism, myth, and militarism, authorized a conflict between Judaism and Islam that has no basis in religion? Or have the claims in the name of religion authorized adherents to undertake political projects and activities that from a distance are jaw-droppingly absurd and heart-breakingly violent? Like the majority of swiftly-penned articles in the period after the recent massacres in Beirut and Paris, responses to the question of whether violence on the Temple Mount is ‘political’ or ‘religious’ tend to offer more insight into the commitments of the author than into the violence under analysis, revealing which the author considers more fundamental: religion or politics. It is not a question that would have occurred in another era. For the majority of known human history – from Plato’s Athens to al-Farabi’s city, up Augustine’s hill to Martin Luther’s door – the religious nature of politics, and the political nature of religion, has been something taken for granted.

In Jerusalem, the ethical and theoretical implications of the relationship between religion and politics are compressed – often into a single area that covers roughly 37 acres. In Canada and the United States, and in Europe (Eastern and Western), the primary challenge is negotiating moments when religious practices challenge secular – almost always de facto Christian – practice or belief. There is plenty of space, both metaphorically and figuratively, for church bells and the call of the muezzin to stake their own claim. And in North America at least, no one – with the exception of the almost entirely marginalized First Nations and Native populations – has a claim that reaches back farther than three hundred years – a mere blip in the history of religions. Sites of religious significance are young in the West, and by and large they are relatively simple. There is no claim on the part of Jews to the Crypt of Brother Andre in Montreal, and while many Christian groups regard Mormons with some suspicion, they are by-and-large welcome to build as many churches as they like in Utah. The Prophet Muhammad received no revelations from the bell tower of Notre Dame, and Westminster Abbey contains no remains of Biblical prophets. The ‘politics of religious freedom’ are a politics between religious individuals or groups and the states, not, by and large, between different traditions and their adherents. There is little competition for what I can only call religious resources: the space to build a house of worship, or access to a particular space.

The danger is that the religious practices of one infringe upon the civil rights of another, not – for the most parts – a collision of incompatible religious practices themselves.

On the Temple Mount there is no space. For Jews, it is where Abraham expressed his absolute devotion to God through his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, as well as the site of the Temple around which Jewish religious and political life centered for thousands of years, and the location of the futural Temple whose re-dedication will herald the advent of the Messianic era. For Muslims it is the landing-place of the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey, the place where many of the most important revelations – revelations that pertain specifically to religious practices – were revealed to the Messenger. The Temple Mount is a spiritual nexus. Though there are groups in both faiths who believe that the importance of the Temple Mount has become over-emphasized as a result of its historical and political centrality in contemporary nationalist narratives, a significant proportion of both groups are deeply invested in the religious importance of this location to their tradition and practice. Many Jews who would not describe themselves as religious and do not engage in many traditionally practices find it offensive and unfair that Jews are not allowed to pray on the Mount; many Muslims with a similar relationship to religion believe that allowing non-Muslims to pray in that space – not to mention the restrictions imposed upon Muslim worshippers by the Israeli and explicitly non-Muslim government – constitute untenable infringements upon fundamental rights and obligations of their tradition. The practices that take place on the Mount cannot be outsourced to another location. For national-religious Jews, praying for the coming of the Messiah on the Mount is not and can not be the same as praying for the Messiah in another location. For Muslims, the Temple Mount is necessarily distinct from other holy places; it is relevant in a different way than the Ka’aba in Mecca. Jerusalem is not simply haunted by religion; it is possessed.

For thousands of years, the submission of one or more religious groups to the sect that holds political power has been the norm – not only in Jerusalem, but across the map of human geography. One religio-political regime conquers a city, exiles or subordinates the existing population, and promulgates laws and practices that privilege their own tradition. Only in the last 150 years has this become intolerable to the international gaze (a gaze which has itself intensified in the last century). The Israeli state (unlike the Roman, the Crusader, or Ottoman) has an obligation to respect the religious traditions of non-Jewish groups. That obligation is not merely pragmatic (though it is most certainly pragmatic as well), but shaded with moral implications. That is to say: a regime with a religious affiliation cannot be considered liberal if it does not enable members of other groups to fulfill their own religious obligations. “The right to religious liberty,” writes Mahmood (Chapter 12), “is widely regarded as a crowning achievement of secular-liberal democracies that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of religiously diverse populations.” What shines forth from Jerusalem, regardless of the state’s claim to liberalism, is a demonstration of the inability of liberalism and religious freedom to co-exist. In a space so small, the illusion that religious freedom might bring about an end to religious violence collapses, and the last aura of redemption clinging to religious freedom as a palliative for our time evaporates.


This is not a particularly uplifting note on which to end a set of reflections on a book which is deeply satisfying both for quality of writing and for quality of scholarship, one which I look forward to using extensively in my work and in the construction of syllabi. But the world feels fairly dark. We do ourselves no favors by looking away from the darkness, and clinging to redemptive possibilities that will eventually have to be acknowledged as false messiahs. The possibility for a peaceful and diverse society in which varieties of religious and political expression are respected and respect one another is not particularly bright, and the weeks after the November Massacres have already generated a remarkable amount of talk about the “crisis” and “disaster” that we are facing.

But in this dark world, the essays contained in Politics of Religious Freedom are even more important. These works illustrate that the violence and manipulation associated with religion, and politics, and their operationalization or instrumentalization of freedom, are nothing new. Be they theoretical or made of flesh and blood, these are conflicts that people around the world have been struggling with for centuries. Whether you use Politics of Religious Freedom in a classroom, for research, or as an antidote to the current wave of apocalyptic rhetoric (both religious and secular) sweeping the world, it is an important text to keep at hand.

1 The inclo is an umbrella organization that includes civil rights organizations from North and South America, the Middle East (Egypt and Israel), Africa, and Eastern and Western Europe.

2 Ibid, 4–5.

3 Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: the Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989); idem., Reconciling the Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993).

4 Michael Ignatieff, “ii. Human Rights as Idolatry,” from The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Delivered at Princeton University, April 4–7, 2000, p. 330.

5 This, of course, may have more to do with the adoption of the secularist nation-state ideology by majoritarian Christian regimes than anything else, in the context where that ideology is specifically a product of the Christian enlightenment that initiated the era of the secularist nation-state.

6 The Saguenay case, which Beaman references, concerned the right of a city council to engage in prayer and the use of religious symbols at the beginning of a council meeting. The Canadian Supreme Court, while ruling that prayer violated state neutrality, dodged the question of whether the council could have a Sacred Heart statue and a crucifix on display in the room. Paragraph 116 of the decision declares that “the state’s duty of neutrality does not require it to abstain from celebrating and preserving its religious heritage,” a limitation to, but still generally concurrent, with the Quebec Court of Appeal’s previous decision. Quoting the appellate court, the Supreme Court wrote: “The Court of Appeal stressed that the state’s duty of neutrality does not require the elimination of every allusion to [TRANSLATION] ‘a society’s historical points of reference’” (para . 98). It held that neutrality does not preclude “historical manifestations of the religious dimension of Quebec society.”

7 Michael Ignatieff, “ii. Human Rights as Idolatry,” from The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Delivered at Princeton University, April 4–7, 2000, page 343.

8 Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” Critical Inquiry 17, no. 4 (Summer, 1991): 773–797.


Joan W. Scott“The Evidence of Experience,” Critical Inquiry 17 no. 4 (Summer 1991): 773–797.

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Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Saba Mahmood, and Peter G. Danchin (Eds.)

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Joan W. Scott“The Evidence of Experience,” Critical Inquiry 17 no. 4 (Summer 1991): 773–797.

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