Lichtenberg-Kolleg - The Göttingen Institute for Advanced Study
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Workshop: Religious freedom and the varieties of religious establishment: National identities, public morals and cultural values

9th and 10th June

Religious diversity has become the object of intense public controversies and contested judicial decisions. Constitutional courts and human rights bodies throughout the world are regularly called to adjudicate on questions of religious symbols, the accommodation of religious practices and the recognition of religious identities. Relying on notions of religious freedom as enshrined in major national and international bills of rights and using doctrines of proportionality, they have tried to balance individual rights and state interests. A burgeoning literature, which often focused on landmark decisions, has explored the judicial politics of religious freedom by analyzing its legal-normative foundations and by theorizing its implications for formal church-state relations in light of neutrality requirements of the secular state.

As research has amply shown, religion has been involved in state-formation and nation-building processes. As a consequence, even where no formal establishment exists in the form of state churches, official religion, or public religious law, we see varieties of informal religious establishment. Religious imaginaries continue to shape conceptions of the national "us", and religious ethics continue to permeate public morality and shared cultural values. While Lautsi v Italy at the European Court of Human Rights is the most widely discussed legal case concerning these issues, the complex terrain of how the scope and content of religious freedom relates to religiously informed national identities, cultural values and public morals is far from being mapped. This workshop aims to advance debates on the judicial politics of religious freedom by focusing precisely on these complex relationships. Organized by the research group "Human Rights, Constitutional Politics and Religious Diversity" at the Lichtenberg Kolleg, the Institute of Advanced Study at Göttingen University, the workshop will bring together scholars from various disciplines with distinctive regional expertise in order to jointly examine questions of religious freedom and its relationship with claims about issues of national identity, public morals or shared cultural values.

In order to grasp these complex relationships, the workshop examines how religious claims-making constitutes an element and/or mobilizing factor in the formation of national identities, public morality, and cultural values, thereby surpassing the widespread preoccupation with an ideal-type or, indeed, ideal of "secular statehood". Moreover, the workshop adopts a comparative perspective by conjoining the experiences of European countries with those of the MENA region. In both settings alike, majority religions have indeed played an important role in state-formation and nation-building, shaping configurations of symbolic boundaries and axes of social inclusion/exclusion. In such settings, claims to accommodate differing religious practices or to recognize differing religious identities often appear as challenges to the very "identity" of the nation itself. In fact, partly in response to the alleged "threats" posed by religious minorities, some states have recently reaffirmed national identities or the necessity to accept shared cultural values. In doing so, religion has often be repackaged as "a key component of culture", thus linking the "survival" of the state to a specific religious identity, and the prosperity of the nation to the maintenance of a moral-cultural tradition. Even in the context of formally secular states, such religious counter-claims have been reformulated either as postulates of public order that limit religious freedom of others or as fundamental rights claims in themselves. In the course of these debates, religious freedom claims often undergo a process of culturalisation, facilitating the "secular" and "neutral" state to enforce cultural integration requirement vis-à-vis minorities or to privilege the majority's religious culture.

The workshop focuses, in particular, on three inter-related questions:

a) What is the role of religion in constituting national identity, public morals or cultural values across diverse polities?
b) How do references to national identity or cultural-moral traditions constrain religious freedom and other fundamental rights?
c) How do references to national identity or cultural-moral traditions affect aspirations of minority religious groups for accommodation and public recognition?

To explore these questions, the workshop starts with two conceptual panels, followed by three thematic panels. The first panel will conceptualize the role of religion in national identity formation. In view of the contested normative framework of religious freedom under international law and in national legal orders, the panel intends to address how the concept of religious freedom was historically interrelated with nation-building processes across various Western and non-Western states, and how it has been (re)formulated in view of contemporary challenges. The second panel examines religion as part of commonly shared values or public morals which are often conceived as part of national identity or of national cultural heritage. In order to do so, the workshop shall examine in a historical perspective to what extent allegedly shared cultural values or public morals have a religious underpinning and to what extent they permeate state legislation or judicial decisions. Particular focus will be on how religious underpinnings of the state affect the aspirations for accommodation of "dissenters" - minority religious or non-religious groups who often find themselves being reproached for lacking equal moral worth.
Having engaged in broader conceptual discussion, the workshop will then analyze different cases of judicial politics where the various manifestations of religious establishment can be observed empirically. The third panel addresses religious symbols and oaths, asking how the religious-cultural framing of national identity and/or the endorsement of a "moral establishment" by the state manifests itself in official state celebrations, government holidays, and historic references as well as in religious oaths, prayers or symbols in public service institutions. The fourth panel continues by focusing on the role of religion in public service institutions, notably in the field of public education through which citizens are socialized. What is the role attributed to religion in public education and to what extent does it help to preserve the nation's cultural heritage or its national identity? The fifth panel focuses on issues related to sexuality, gender and reproductive rights, asking how religious concepts endorsed by the state affect these issues.

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