Liberté, Laïcité, Pluralité: Towards a Theology of Principled Pluralism

In: International Journal of Public Theology
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  • 1 Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics (KLICE), Cambridge, UK

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While the Charlie Hebdo attacks unleashed a highly distinctive national debate within France, that debate also serves to throw into sharp relief the deepening tensions generated by increasingly complex relationships between the state and religion across much of Europe, not least due to the arrival of immigrant minority faiths wishing to advance claims in what is widely assumed to be ‘secular’ public space. After reviewing these tensions, the article distinguishes five current European responses to them and proposes a model of ‘principled pluralism’ as a theologically defensible option. The original theological roots of such a model are outlined and six indicative contemporary practical implications proposed.

  • 1

    Emmanuel Todd, Who is Charlie? Xenophobia and the New Middle Class (Cambridge: Polity, 2015).

  • 3

    Todd, Who is Charlie?, p. 68.

  • 4

    Ibid., pp. 48–9. The term ‘zombie Catholicism’ refers to a section of the French Left which has abandoned a commitment to equality; it is ‘the anthropological and social force that emerged from the final disintegration of Catholicism in its traditional bastions’ (p. 39) and it is ‘finally moving, abruptly, into the boundless void of a godless and atheist world’ (p. 49).

  • 6

    Olivier Roy, Secularism Confronts Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).

  • 7

    See Jess McHugh, ‘Halal Meals In French Schools: Court Rules In Favor of Chalon-Sur-Saône Mayor’s Plan To Eliminate Non-Pork Alternatives For Muslim, Jewish Students’, International Business Times 13 August 2015, para. 1–7, Î> [accessed 6 September 2015].

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  • 8

    Angelique Crisafis, ‘Talk of the town: French mayor’s “laboratory of the far right” ’, Guardian 29 August 2015, para. 1–21, Î> [accessed 7 September 2015].

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  • 9

    Rowan Williams, Faith in the Public Square (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), p. 37. As Roy puts it: ‘the [French] republic is never far from the authoritarian temptation’. Roy, Secularism, p. 26.

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  • 12

    Roy, Secularism, xii.

  • 13

    See Baroness Cox, A Parallel World? Confronting the abuse of many Muslim women in Britain today (London: Bow Group, 2015), Î> [accessed 5 May 2015]; Robin Griffiths-Jones, ed., Islam and English Law: Rights, Responsibilities and the Place of Shari’a (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Rex Ahdar and Nicholas Aroney, eds, Shari’a in the West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); International Journal of Public Theology [special issue on Rowan Williams’ lecture, ‘Civil and Religious Law in England: A Religious Perspective’] 2:4 (2008).

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  • 14

    David Cameron, ‘My faith in the Church of England’, Church Times, 16 April 2014. The letter (‘David Cameron fosters division by calling Britain a “Christian country” ’) was published on 20 April 2014.

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  • 15

    See, for example: Paul Weller et al, Religion or Belief, Discrimination and Equality: Britain in Global Contexts (London: Bloomsbury, 2013); Gavin D’Costa et al, eds, Religion in a Liberal State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer and Jonathan Van Antwerpen, eds, Rethinking Secularism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); W Cole Durham et al, eds, Islam, Europe and Emerging Legal Issues (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012); Roger Trigg, Equality, Freedom and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Silvio Ferrari and Sabrina Pastorelli, eds, Religion in Public Spaces: A European Perspective (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012); Lorenzo Zucca and Camil Ungureanu, eds, Law, State and Religion in the New Europe: Debates and Dilemmas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Ronan McCrea, Religion and the Public Order of the European Union (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Thomas A. Byrnes and Peter J. Katzenstein, eds, Religion in an Expanding Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

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  • 16

    Williams, Faith in the Public Square, p. 26.

  • 17

    Roy, Secularism, p. xii; cf. pp. 16–20.

  • 21

    See, for example: Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (London: Allen Lane, 2014); John Witte, The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Jeremy Waldron, God, Locke and Equality: Christian Foundations in Locke’s Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: rediscovering the roots of political theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Thomas O. Heuglin, Early Modern Concepts for a Late Modern World: Althusius on Community and Federalism (Waterloo, on: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1999); Brian Tierney, The Idea of Natural Rights: Studies on Natural Rights, Natural Law, and Church Law, 1150–1625 (Grand Rapids, mi: Eerdmans, 1997); Graham Maddox, Religion and the Rise of Democracy (London: Routledge, 1996).

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  • 22

    José Casanova, Public Religion in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), ch. 1; Calhoun, Juergensmeyer and Van Antwerpen, eds, Rethinking Secularism.

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  • 23

    Williams, Faith in the Public Square, 32.

  • 25

    Timothy Larsen, Friends of Religious Equality: Nonconformist Politics in Mid-Victorian England (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 1999). Liberal supporters include William Galston, The Practice of Liberal Pluralism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

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  • 26

    James D. Bratt, Abraham Kuyper, Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013); James W. Skillen, ‘From Covenant of Grace to Equitable Public Pluralism: The Dutch Calvinist Contribution’, Calvin Theological Journal, 31 (1996), 67–96.

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  • 29

    Williams, Faith in the Public Square, p. 27.

  • 30

    Ibid., p. 135.

  • 31

    Ibid., p. 108. A Christian account of principled pluralism also converges practically with what theorist of multiculturalism Tariq Modood calls ‘moderate secularism’. Tariq Modood, ‘Muslims, religious equality and secularism’, in Geoffrey Brahm Levey and Tariq Modood, eds, Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 164–185.

  • 32

    Lorenzo Zucca, A Secular Europe: Law and Religion in the European Constitutional Landscape (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. xx.

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  • 33

    Ibid., pp. xix.

  • 34

    Ibid., p. 36.

  • 35

    Ibid., p. 30.

  • 36

    Ibid., p. 68.

  • 37

    Ibid., p. 88. It also resembles what Jean-Paul Willaime terms a ‘laïcité of recognition’. See Jean-Paul Willaime, ‘European Integration, Laïcité and Religion’, in Lucian N. Leustean and John T. S. Madeley, eds, Religion, Politics and Law in the European Union: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2010), pp. 17–29 at p. 25. Willaime wishes to detach the concept of laïcité from its typical association with France and to claim it as a truly European ideal. His account of it converges quite closely with the ‘cooperationist’ regimes mentioned earlier.

  • 39

    Zagorin, Idea of Religious Toleration, p. 82.

  • 42

    Nicholas Wolterstorff, The Mighty and the Almighty: An Essay in Political Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 123.

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  • 44

    See, for example, Tariq Ramadan, Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Tariq Ramadan, Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation (New York : Oxford University Press, 2009); Sohail H. Hashmi, ed., Islamic Political Ethics: Civil Society, Pluralism, and Conflict (Cambridge, ma: Princeton University Press, 2002).

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  • 48

    See, for example, S. M. Atif Amtiaz, Wandering Lonely in a Crowd: Reflections on the Muslim Condition in the West (Markfield, Leics: Kube Publishing, 2011).

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  • 49

    See Nigel Biggar and Linda Hogan, eds, Religious Voices in Public Places (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

  • 56

    See Sebastian C. H. Kim, ‘Freedom or Respect? Public Theology and the Debate over the Danish Cartoons’, in International Journal of Public Theology, 1:2 (2007), 249–269.

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  • 59

    Modood, ‘Muslims, religious equality and secularism’, p. 226.

  • 60

    Anshuman A. Mondal, Islam and Controversy: The Politics of Free Speech After Rushdie (Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), p. 211.

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  • 62

    Quoted in Mondal, Islam and Controversy, pp. 150–1. Modal notes that Rose here invokes another consequentialist argument for freedom of expression, namely that it is good for democracy. He rightly points out that, if such freedom is inherently valuable (as Rose thinks), then its consequences for democracy are ‘immaterial’ and ‘incidental’ (p. 52); and that, in any case, ‘it remains to be explained how abusing, insulting and demeaning sections of the citizenry contributes to an overall strengthening of the democratic culture’ rather than a weakening of it by causing the exclusion and alienation of such citizens (pp. 52–3).

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  • 64

    Glen Newy, ‘Unlike a scotch egg’, London Review of Books, 35:23 (5 December 2013), 22. Quoted in Mondal, Islam and Controversy, p. 209.

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  • 66

    Williams, Faith in the Public Square, p. 147.

  • 67

    Ibid., 148. This theme is addressed in detail in Mondal, Islam and Controversy.

  • 69

    Williams, Faith in the Public Square, p. 146.

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