European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation – Venice School of Human Rights
July 11-12, 2011 – We held our first workshop in Europe, which remains one of the most influential centers for thinking about different models of religious pluralism and religious liberty. Given its variegated history of church-state relations, legal traditions, and layered jurisdictions, Europe is a crucial site for re-thinking the history and politics of the right to religious freedom. This first workshop explored contemporary legal and political debates, conflicts, and ongoing practical projects concerning religious freedom in Europe.
The European Court of Human Rights’ post-2000 religious freedom jurisprudence has raised anew the question of the relationship between religion and public order. In its reasoning, the Court has constructed competing normative accounts of notions such as “secularism,” “neutrality,” and “equality” either to accept or deny claims to religious liberty while at the same time granting the state a wide “margin of appreciation” to accommodate majoritarian religious sensibilities in the name of public order. In a nation-state system and European transnational space in which Christianity has been the dominant religious tradition and where state and state law continue to reflect this heritage and ongoing relationship, contradictions and tensions with modern accounts of state neutrality and liberal rights have surfaced. In these cases, a complex historical and normative relationship between Christianity and secularism can be seen to continue to define the modern contours and shape of the European public sphere and the right to religious liberty. Assertions of claims of right by Muslims and other religious communities have made visible both the historical contingency and cultural particularity of these norms and forms of legal ordering in Europe.
Religious freedom, not unlike other fundamental freedoms invented in the last century, is a contested and multivalent historical construct that has taken on new lives of its own in the world. This project seeks to investigate these new lives. Some of the broader questions that we addressed both in Europe and in other parts of the world are:
- What models of religious freedom can be identified in a world of plural landscapes of religious co-existence?
- Who mobilizes them, and toward what ends?
- How are local practices of religious co-existence being transformed by the introduction of Western discourses on religious freedom?
- What are the differences and incommensurabilities between state-centered notions of religious freedom and forms of religious co-existence practiced by communities?
- What kinds of religious subjects are presumed and created by the various formulations of religious freedom that have assumed hegemony in past decades?
- In what ways is religious freedom intertwined with other regimes of power and knowledge, such as geopolitics, international law and international human rights, and with what effects?
- What can international religious freedom signify in a context in which Euro-American understandings of religion have diversified far beyond the protestant forms around which they were originally articulated and institutionalized?
- And finally, is it possible to imagine forms of religious/non-religious freedom that do not become a mode of exercising power through the claim that (Christian or Protestant) secular practices of religious freedom are neutral and universalizable?