08 September 2011

NOTICE: Law and Religion in the 21st Century Conference

A conference on Law and Religion in the 21st Century will be held on Friday, 23 September from 9:30-18:30. The conference is chaired by Prof. dr. H.S. Taekema and will be held at Huub Bals Zaal, Hotel New York, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Attendance is free, but places are limited. If you wish to attend, you should register by e-mail with Wouter de Been: debeen@law.eur.nl:

In recent years the separation of church and state has become a topical issue once more. With the arrival of sizable groups of immigrants for whom religion remains an integral part of their identity and the emergence of new forms of transcendence and spirituality, religion is back in the public square. In his recent work Habermas even speaks of the rise of a post-secular society, a society that needs to adjust to the enduring presence of religion even under conditions of continuing modernization.

This renewed vitality of religion, in turn, has elicited a vehement defense of the separation of church and state from defenders of secularism. The separation of church and state, they believe, is an historical achievement of the Enlightenment that should not be sold out to accommodate Muslim immigrants, evangelicals, or new age religionists.



The question is, however, whether the revival of religion confronts us with a familiar phenomenon that we can describe and analyze in tried-and-tested categories, or whether religious experience has transformed into something altogether different, which demands a new approach, a new legal understanding of the relationship between state and church, religion and the public sphere? As Ian Buruma put it pointedly with respect to one of the hot issues of today, does it make sense to talk about the headscarf, as if it “represented a similar threat to the secular republic as the full might of the eighteenth century Catholic Church”? This question is interesting against the backdrop of a number of trends. The notion that modernization implies secularization has been called into question. There may very well be multiple modernities in different cultural settings, alternative modernities that do not necessarily vitiate against religiosity. In an era of globalization and mass migration these inevitably come into contact. Moreover, the revolution in communication technology ensures that religious diasporas can remain connected and keep their form of religion alive even in secular societies of the West. Finally, there seems to be a certain deinsitutionalization of religion. Long-standing state and congregational churches with their focus on tradition, on hierarchy, on organization and on established doctrine seem to be giving way to more personal forms of spirituality, to an individual search for religious purity distrustful of the guardianship of ecclesiastical elites.

The question we would like to address in this conference is whether the post-secular world demands a recalibration of the relationship between church and state.

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