Judging Faith workshop: an international dialogue on the jurisprudence on religion in courts


How American and European courts confront the problem of reconciling secular democratic principles with increasingly assertive faith identities?

The aim of the workshop is to bring together a small group of distinguished judges, scholars and advocates to discuss the tensions between faith-based practices and secular ideals.

One of the most salient features of the new millennium is the assertiveness of religious faith in current and former secular states.  Nations and states are struggling to accommodate the claims of citizens who increasingly insist that their religious faith forms part of their public identities, and not merely their private consciences. The clash between faith-based practices and secular ideals has revolved centrally around issues of religious doctrine and symbols in public education, claims of bodily integrity and genital cutting, sexual equality versus gendered roles, animal rights and ritual butchering practices.  A new twist, however, to these conflicts, has been the deployment of religious liberty claims as speaking to the standing of communities in relation to the state, as opposed to the traditional frame of an individual right of conscience.

There are no easy practical or theoretical resolutions to these conflicts, given citizens’ firm anchors in faith, and Western (and Mediterranean) anchors in secularism.  While the tensions have been well explored in a burgeoning literature in the social sciences, their treatment in law has necessarily remained theoretically underdeveloped, since they are addressed case-by-case by judges.  Our goal is that initiating a series of conversations that cut both across disciplines, and within and without the courtroom will enrich both legal decision making and scholarship.

This increasing role of the state and the courts on religious issues presents an extraordinary opportunity for discussions among scholars, judges and policymakers in both North America and Europe.  The moment is extraordinary because it reflects a shared and urgent topic that has been addressed on each side of the Atlantic. It represents, moreover, a wonderful opportunity for American judges and policy makers to learn lessons from Europe, where religion-based clashes with the ideals of the state have been more present, or at least more visible, than in the US.  At the same time, the rich American jurisprudence of social equality, a product of its history of slavery, can contribute to European and African understandings of the needs of minority faiths.

The workshop will consist of several seminar-style discussions over 1.5 days, ending Saturday September 21th by noon. See program as attached

On invitation only: please contact hriss@berkeley.edu.

The workshop is jointly sponsored by  IIS-Center on Institutions and Governance, the Law School’s Kadish Center for Morality, Law and Public Affairs, the Robbins Collection, theReliogWest project of the Robert Schuman Center in Florence, the Institute of Governmental Studies, the IGS Anglo-American Studies program and  the" Politics of Religious Freedom Contested Norms and Local Practices project". 



The last session of the workshop on Saturday 20th from 11:00 to 12 will be open to the public