Regulating Freedoms – Legal Incorporation of Jews and Muslims in Europe

Law is attracting increasing attention in debates about the politics of difference and the incorporation of religious minorities, notably Muslims in Europe. Courts throughout Europe, intepreting norms of religious freedom and non-discrimination, have to settle conflicts over headscarves, halal slaughter, coeducative swimming lessons, or the formal recognition of religious organizations. Parliaments have likewise started to deal with these issues, adopting new, sometimes rather restrictive legislation as in France or several German Länder. Some countries are even experimenting, if hesitantly, with new forms of legal pluralism as current British debates about Muslim arbitration tribunals in family law aptly testify.

Scholars in anthropology and sociology, legal and Islamic studies have started to analyze these controversies over the role of law in the incorporation of religious minorities with various methodologies and from various theoretical perspectives. It seemed time now to bring these disciplinary approaches together in a more systematic way, in order to capture the complex legal dynamics of governing religious diversity in Europe.

Two sets of comparative questions may help organizing these debates. First, adopting broader historical perspectives, it is to be discussed how contemporary modes of minority incorporation differ from those in the 19th century and are shaped by different trajectories of confessionalism, nationalism, and secularism. And second, it is to be analyzed whether – and if so why – administrators, courts, and parliaments react differently to otherwise similar claims by different minority groups, such as Jews or Muslims.

The Lichtenberg-Kolleg workshop was held on 30 June and 1 July 2009. It addressed both questions in order to explore interdisciplinary cooperation and identify innovative research questions. The workshop built upon on-going research in the Faculties of Law, Philosophy, and Social Sciences about law, governance, and religious diversity and continued the dialogue with recognized experts from outside institutions. The workshop was organized around contributions to a recently published volume on Jews and Muslims in Germany, edited by José Brunner and Shai Lavi (Tel Aviv), that compare, in a historical perspective, the legal incorporation of Jewish and Muslim minorities in Germany.

To set up a broader comparative framework, the workshop started with a public lecture by anthropologist John Bowen (Washington University, St Louis) in which cutting-edge research about the role of Shariah norms within the British legal system is presented. And it concluded by discussing, together with invited experts from Bremen, Hamburg, and Paris, potential avenues for further collaborative research in the field of legal incorporation of religious minorities.