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Note: This is an update to a post published June 6, Share this link:. If such examples may be regarded as merely symbolic, it may further be noted that British governments of centre-right and centre-left have felt the need to create multi-faith consultative bodies. The Conservatives created an Inner Cities Religious Council in , chaired by a junior minister; in , the New Labour government replaced this with a body with the Faith Communities Consultative Council , which had a much broader remit.
Moreover, after the election of which resulted in the formation of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, a division devoted to faith communities was created under the new department of communities and local government which is represented in the cabinet. By contrast, the new institutional accommodation of minority or marginal faiths runs with the grain of mainstream western European historic practice of secularism.
This practice has its imperfections, and like much else in Europe today, has to be pluralised.
There is an influential image of religion as organisations or communities around competing truths, which are mutually intolerant - perhaps even hate each other. This has some occasional empirical basis; but a very different indeed opposite reality is far more prevalent.
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Let me illustrate this by reference to the decision of my late father, a devout and pious Muslim, that I should attend the daily Christian non-denominational worship at my secondary school. I told him that I could be exempted from it, like the Jewish children, if he sent in a letter requesting this. He asked what the other exempted children did during this time each morning.
When I replied that some read comics, some took the opportunity to catch up with homework and some even arrived late, he said I should join the assembly. The respect for religion can be found amongst contemporary Muslims in the west. This valuing of religion and respect for the religion of others, even while not requiring participation, is based on a sense that religion is a fundamental good as part of a shared humanity at a personal, social and civilisational level: as well as an ethical good, and so to be respected as a feature of human character - just as other such features truth-seeking, the cultivation of the intellect or the imagination, artistic creativity, or self-discipline might be respected, and not just because of its utility or even truth.
It is possible to think religion as a good of this sort regardless of whether or not one is a believer, just as we music or science can be considered a good whether or not one is musical or scientific. A person, a society, a culture, or a country would be poorer without religion.
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It is part of good living, and while not all can cultivate it fully it is good that some do, and they should be honoured and supported by others. There may indeed have been a time in Europe when a powerful, authoritarian church or churches stifled dissent, individuality, free debate, science, and pluralism; but that is not the present danger. Increasingly since the s, European cultural, intellectual and political life - the public sphere in the fullest sense of the word - has become dominated by secularism, with secularist networks and organisations controlling most of the levers of power.
The accommodative character of secularism itself is being dismissed as archaic, especially on the centre-left. Thus respect for religion is made difficult and seems outlandish, but it may be necessary as one of the sources of counter-hegemony and a more genuine pluralism.
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Hence, respect for religion is compatible with and may be a requirement of a democratic political culture. For in this idea that the state may wish to show respect for religion I am going beyond not just toleration and freedom of religion but also beyond civic recognition.
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Nor am I simply pointing to the existence of overlaps and linkages between the state and religion. After all, the autonomy of politics is the privileging of the non-religious, so this is perhaps qualifying that non-secular privileging. Moreover, it is far from an exclusive privileging.
So, if showing respect for religion is a privileging of religion, it is of a multiplex, multi-logical sort; and it is based on the recognition that the secular is already dominant in many contemporary states.
The above trends are grounds for optimism in relation to a multi-faith and multiculturalist society, but contemporary counter-trends exist. An overt one is the considerable negative reaction to Muslims. In the main this involves a racialisation of Muslims in terms of culture, politics and terrorism, but it is manifested also in relation to religion, secularism and the institutional accommodation of Muslims.
States, religious diversity, and the crisis of secularism
This Brief looks at the illustrative case of the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India, with the aim of understanding the dynamics of lived secularism as it exists in traditional multi-faith societies such as India. The data analyzed in this Brief comprise many interviews, conducted amidst Hindus and Muslims, with respondents of both sexes living in slum and middle class regions in the city of Mumbai.