Whose Crisis? Secular Liberalism, the Theocratic State and the Political Conseqeunces of Privileging Religion in Pluralist States
Whose Crisis? Secular Liberalism, the Theocratic
State and the Political Consequences of
Privileging Religion in Pluralist States
• 2013 Law and Society Annual Meeting
– An Existential Crisis for Secular Liberalism (Part I)
• Fri May 31 2013, 12:30 to 2:15pm,
– Building/Room: Boston Sheraton Hotel / Room 03
• Larry Catá Backer
– W. Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar & Professor of Law,
– Professor of International Affairs
– Pennsylvania State University
• 239 Lewis Katz Building University Park, PA 16802
• 1.814.863.3640 (direct), email@example.com
• On the one hand Western elites continue to cultivate a broad solicitude for religion—not
merely as individual belief but as an organized force with institutional life.
• On the other, it is increasingly willing to admit (or unable to prevent) the participation of
religion in political life—but protected by the privilege of religion against broad in the give
and take of political contests.
• At the international level this is evidenced in the continuing efforts to develop a consensus
among the community of states that would constitutionalize religious solicitude in the
form of prohibitions against insulting or blaspheming religion and its sacred objects and
• At the domestic level, it is evidenced by a greater willingness to permit the secular state
to be organized within frameworks of religious values.
• This paper considers the issue of the "return" of religion
from a comparative constitutional perspective.
• It argues that where the apparatus of institutional religion
seeks to enter into the political life of a state its religious
beliefs ought not to be accorded any particular deference.
• The interactions of blasphemy, democracy, hierarchy and
religion, then, are the subjects of this essay.
• Part II considers the relationship between rule of law and blasphemy in Pakistan
and its implications.
• Part III the considers the effects of this framework on the democratic
foundations of Pakistan.
• Part IV then extends the analysis to the Sudan and its interrelations with
• Part V then considers the way Western secular states have facilitated this new
role for religion in places like Afghanistan.
• Part VI considers the political consequences in theocratic States and
• Part VII concludes with a consideration of the resulting nature of the dilemma in
Western style states.
Law and blasphemy in Pakistan
Asia Bibi from The State
Blasphemy and Foreigners: Sudan
The Blasphemous Teddy Bear, Time
Western Constructs: Afghanistan
Islam considers conversion to another religion a grave insult to God. In some Muslim states
including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, it is punishable by death. Abdul Rahman, an
Afghan convert toChristianity pictured at right during his trial for apostasy, only escaped death
in 2006 because of an international outcry; he found refuge in Italy.
political consequences: the problem
There was an uproar in Britain recently when Sudan charged a British teacher with blasphemy for allowing her
pupils to name a teddy bear Mohammad. Do you think London should sweep in front of its own door before
criticising blasphemy laws elsewhere? Reuters Jan. 2008
Character of the Crisis of Secular
• Rule of law . . . . . And religion
• Direct democracy. . . . . .and religion
• Apostasy/treason. . . . . And religion
• Interpretation/Participation . . . . . .and religion
• Foreigners/minorities. . . . . . And religion
• Institutional religion is returning to the state to the
• But is it ready to engage in politics without the
protection of its privilege?
• The rise of blasphemy, insulting religion or inciting
religious hatred suggests not.
• The consequence will be transformative.