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From the ban on minarets in Switzerland to the question of crucifixes in public schools in Italy and the English High Court ruling on Jewish identity in the case of admission to an orthodox Jewish high school, the sacred has emerged into secular democratic politics. The RPS international scholarly network will analyze the call by people of all faiths for greater recognition of religious norms by governments, legislatures, and schools.It is a joint initiative of iGov and the Robert Schuman Center.
The issue of Muslim integration in the West has become much more pressing over the last decade. This increasing visibility has had two simultaneous but contradictory effects. While it has led to a polarized debate between adherents of the “clash of civilization” thesis and their opponents, it has also raised interest about Islam and religion among the general public. Muslims’ presence in the West has resulted in an unexpectedly large number of issues that have been addressed differently in different nations, according to the particularity of the culture and history of each national context. For example, while the Islamic headscarf been the center of debate in the public sphere in France since 1989, in the U.K. the discussion has centered primarily on the role of Islamic tribunals in shaping family law.
Despite the differences between the ways in which Western governments have approached Muslims’ identities and needs, a common awareness has developed over the years on the necessity to take these issues seriously. President Obama’s address to Muslims around the world in Cairo, last spring is a significant illustration in the general policy shift towards a more inclusive view of Islam in secular-liberal policy. These efforts have been complicated, however, by the difficulty in distinguishing between cultural and ethnic integration, on the one hand, and integration of religious norms (including Islamic norms) into Western politics and society, on the other. Governments, social institutions and even the public opinion in the West have had great difficulty accepting the demand among many Muslims in the West to be considered as a faith community, not an ethnic minority, and as a result have regularly implemented policies that fail to acknowledge the distinction.
For example, second and third generation Muslims in the West tend to dissociate themselves from the cultures of their parents: they adopt western languages and many social and cultural patterns of the West. Most of them consider themselves as Western citizens. The believers and born-again among these new generations have increasingly recast Islam as a “pure religion” and built faith communities based on voluntary and free individual commitments. This acculturation of Islam is enforced by the phenomenon of conversions in both directions, and by secularization, which isolates religion from the surrounding culture. This trend manifests itself in a spectrum of new theological positions, from “liberal” reformed Islam to neo-fundamentalist rejection of political and cultural compromise.
While many studies have documented the question of Islam and secular liberalism, previous studies have offered only a fragmentary vision of this complex issue, as well as the way it is a facet in a larger set of questions about the relation of religion to liberal democratic politics. The originality of this project is threefold:
Confronted with this resurgence of new religious movements, Western societies have adopted different strategies to format them into a common paradigm. Different countries have used alternate standards to define what acceptable religious practices should be. This formatting effect might be done wither under an interventionists pattern of state control (France) or under the principles of a general right to the freedom of religion (USA) or according to the tenets of multiculturalism (Canada), but in all the cases it has had a comparable effect of aligning the new and minority religions under a common national paradigm.
We will study how courts, lawmakers, and social workers contribute to this formatting. But we will also analyze how public debate, widely publicized polemics – such as the ban of minarets in Switzerland – media campaigns, and academic expertise contribute to produce specific paradigms. Local actors, including Muslim imams and political activists, also play a role in either trying to resist social pressure or to accommodate their religious practices to these pressures. Liberal societies confronted alternate systems of thinking cannot force religions to reform or to become liberal, due to the principle of freedom of religion. However liberal societies have often intervened to regulate the public sphere, and even when accepting new practices outside the mainstream, these societies nonetheless play a powerful role in shaping and constraining religions into a formal and acceptable paradigm of what a religion should be.
The Network on Religious Norms in the Public Sphere (RPS) will explore these paradigms in different contexts and work on the following issues, among others:
Policy makers and the public will greatly benefit from the work of an international and interdisciplinary network of leading scholars who can answer these key questions about Islam in the public sphere and promote research-based policy and public education about this complex and nuanced issue.
The transatlantic collaboration between UC Berkeley and the Robert Schuman Center provide ideal dual anchors for this network: each is itself a vibrant internationally pre-eminent and interdisciplinary research community; taken together scholars at both institutions can leverage their existing connections together scholars to create a truly global research project on a truly global set of issues. The Kadish Center for Law, Morality, and Public Affairs, at Berkeley’s Law School, provides already a focal point for scholars who work across the social and humanistic disciplines, and bridge both policy and theoretical research. Moreover, the scholars at both institutions enjoy important connections to influential politicians, journalists, think-tanks and foundations that have shown an interest in the topic.
For more information please visit: rps.berkeley.edu
Past RPS Events
|December 16, 2010 - December 17, 2010||Religious Norms in the Public Sphere Network (RPS): Florence Workshop|
|December 10, 2009 - December 12, 2009||Religious Norms in the Public Sphere (RPS): Florence|
|May 7, 2009 - May 8, 2009||Religious Norms in the Public Sphere (RPS) 2009|
|September 7, 2007 - September 8, 2007||Racing the Republic: Ethnicity and Inequality in France in American and World Perspective|
|January 25, 2007||Olivier Roy: Western Muslims or Muslims in the West?|
|May 18, 2006||Understanding Recent Unrest in France|
|April 22, 2005||Democracy and Global Islam|