Religious Norms in the Public Sphere Network (RPS): Florence Workshop


The Religious Norms in the Public Sphere workshop in Florence, Italy took place from December 16 to December 17 and was co-hosted by iGov.

For the workshop schedule click here: program 

From the ban of minarets in Switzerland, to the question of crucifixes in public schools in Italy, to 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.

This “return to the sacred” encompasses both a re-emergence of religious norms and ideas into public sphere and, as a result of globalization, an increasing disconnect between religious norms and regional cultural markers.

In our post-9/11 world, the media has focused on ‘newly’ discovered Muslim populations in the West, often casting this religious group in ethnic terms. This has led Western governments to use problematic tools and lenses - assimilation, secularization, and multiculturalism - to deal with religious “minorities’” role in the public sphere. These are problematic because they mistake the relation of religion to culture and politics within pluralistic states.

The RPS network, anchored by U.C. - Berkeley and the Robert Schuman Center of the European University Institute (EIU), aims to shed new light on these issues by recasting the supposed tensions between Islam and the West in light of broader questions about religion’s relationship to modern politics and society.  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.

The research will have clear relevance for public policy on both sides of the Atlantic by directly addressing how political demands and religious identities can be respected while still complying with the secular principles underlying Western democratic traditions.

The RPS will work on the following issues among others:

  • Are there common patterns for integrating the personal practice of religion into public life?
  • Who are the actors in this integration and what impact do they have on public policies?
  • What do we mean by the term “Public Religion?” Is it a theological reform or just a recasting of religiosity?
  • How are the changes taking place in Western societies reflected in other traditionally religious societies?
  • How should we think of religion in the public sphere, in a secularized and pluralist environment?
  • How do Western courts or administrative decisions (e.g., appointing Religious chaplains) contribute to shape the notion of “Western Religion?”
  • How do national norms of citizenship and national norms regarding the relationship between religion and the state shape the adoption of different approaches to this issue?
  • How is the integration of religion into public life understood differently across national contexts? Is this understood as a matter of liberty? Of equality? Of some other norm?
  • What is the relationship between religion and culture? How does this relationship vary across the major religious traditions? What is distinctive about religion as a discourse of identity?

RPS has been made possible thanks to the support of the Partner University Fund, the Carnegie Foundation and the Social Science Research Council.


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