The Many Faces of Liberalism: Religious Freedom as a Liberal Right

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– It’s my pleasure to welcome you to a panel on religious
freedom as a liberal right. I imagine that our
discussion will encompass issues that we cannot quite anticipate, but among them will
surely be the separation of church and state,
and controversies about whether or not particular religions are inherently illiberal, or what should be done when religious rights conflict with other freedoms or values. Our speakers, whose credentials appear in your program, are Akeel Bilgrami, Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins
and Winnifred Sullivan. Each of our speakers will hold forth for about five minutes, after which they will engage with one another, and then respond to questions from the audience. We’re going to go alphabetically. Akeel Bilgrami will start us off. Akeel. – Thank you, Robert. I’m going to explore seeming paradox, a seeming and vexatious difficulty, in our thinking in the last several decades, which is a product of the rise of multiculturalism, which is basically a phenomenon that emerged in Europe as a result of the migrations to fix a war-devastated economy in many European countries. Multiculturalism grew out of that minoritarian culture that emerged. It came out of a great sympathy for the sufferings of minorities in European countries. This is a phenomenon that, since then, has spread to different and distant parts of the world. Now the paradox really is that sympathy for a minority sometimes extends to the point that one has to, as a result of that sympathy, overlook what seem to us, as sympathizers, to be invidious practices that owe a great deal to the religious grounds for those practices, having to do with gender, mostly, but with attitudes towards other
religions, as well, infidels and so on. That’s the background. That’s the vexing paradox that we have been struggling with
for the last many decades. Now to speak initially to the Indian case, I think it’s just a fact that, so let’s take the gender issue, it’s just a simple fact that Muslim women suffer at the hands of their men in India, but they suffer side by side with their men against Hindu majoritarianism. They are in a position of very often having to put aside their anger at the first frustration in order to focus on the second because it is not chronic. It’s emerged really viciously in the last 20 or 30 years. I like to call that basically the minoritarian mentality. That is, minorities are defined numerically, but what they give rise to is a mentality. I think the idea of a minority is much more interesting when one thinks of it as a mentality, rather than a statistical notion. What I think is remarkable is that within, say, the Muslim
community in India, Muslim peoples in India, most Muslims do not, are not committed to any of the Sharia laws, which are deeply committed to gender inequality, and they’re not committed
to religious practices having to do with divorce,
alimony and so on. But they dare not speak out against it because they feel they’re
letting the side down because the major struggle is with the Hindu majority,
which is very oppressive to its Muslims. That’s just a fact. What I feel when the situation of that kind arises is that there ought to be a way in which we can marginalize, there ought to be an institutional way, in
which we can marginalize the minority voices within a community. If everybody agrees that most Muslims don’t subscribe to these views, and that it’s a very sure but active minority within Muslims who hold these views about the Sharia’s
inviolability and so on, we have to find institutions which make it manifest that this is a small minority. But we have no such institutions. The only institutions that can make clear that a particular voice is a fragmentary voice, a small minority in a population, is formal institutions of democracy, representative institutions. We have representative institutions at the federal level. We have representative institutions at the state level, regional level. We have representative institutions at the municipal level. But we have no idea how to have representative institutions
within a community. Communities are dispersed. If democracy calibrates representation with numbers, and a very small minority of Muslims have this view, most Muslims don’t, we ought to find a way of showing that this is a unrepresentative minority, but we can’t. We have no institutions to do that. I think it’s one of the great neglects of political sociology that they have not theorized, with any depth or detail, how we might democratize, through representative institutions, religious communities. Thank you very much. (audience applauds) – Daniel. Yes. – Thank you. It’s a privilege to be here. Much appreciation to Helena and James for inviting me. It’s awesome to be on this panel. Like with such notions as human rights, humanity, human dignity and free speech, scholars on the left over the last decade, in particular, have been keen to point out the ways in which religious freedom has been used as a liberal means for reactionary, anti-liberal and exclusive political ends. One can simply look at the
European Court of Human Rights, which has made several spectacular rulings on the issue, such as
Dahlab versus Switzerland and Lautsi versus Italy, both of which invoked religious freedom in order to deny it to Muslims. In the first case, the court ruled that banning headscarves in Swiss schools guarantees students’ rights to be free of indoctrination. In the second, it simultaneously approved the hanging of crucifixes
in all Italian schools. The cross, the court maintained, was not a religious artifact, but a symbol of European culture. In the United States, religious liberty has been key in the fight waged by evangelical Christians
against same-sex marriage. In a striking example of this phenomena, last October, Attorney
General Jeff Sessions introduced federal agencies
to exempt believers from anti-discrimination regulations, a measure designed to
allow Christian bakers, florists and others to
refuse to serve gay weddings. Of course, there was the famous case involving the baker from Colorado. Now because of all this,
it’s not surprising that left-leaning
historians, anthropologists and political theorists are arguing that state-directed secularism
or religious freedom almost always breeds injustice. The problem, they argue in part, is that modern and secular states regulate religion in the first place in deciding which religious customs are acceptable and which are dangerous, states inevitably impose
the majority’s own religious expectations. In the liberal West, they do so by relying on questionable understandings of the nature of religion, which, according to this critical literature, is inherently biased in the favor of a rather Protestant
conception of religion, whose proper locus is the individual, his conscious and personal experience. This is in contradistinction to a Jewish or a Muslim view of things, which focuses on rituals and practices. Now as such, religious freedom cases are often biased, so the argument goes, against certain religious practitioners who have a different understanding of the meaning of religion in their day-to-day lives. This literature proves entirely convincing in many instances, which is why it has become so influential. In this regard, I recommend picking up Professor Sullivan’s The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. A new edition of it just came out, where she explains how her thinking on this issue has evolved
over the last 10 years. The question I wanna talk about today, which is really discussed
by this literature, are the practical and
political implications of the claim that religion
freedom is impossible, especially in places of
great religious diversity, such as here in the United States. With the rest of my time,
I just wanna say something about the political context from which these critiques emerge,
which kind of goes back to the first panel. This literature really blossomed during the time of liberal internationalism that marked the Bush and
Obama administrations, and more generally liberalism’s post-1989 global triumph. There can be no doubt that it offers a much-needed critique of
this form of governance, especially in light of
the liberal rhetoric of Bush’s foreign policy that created so much havoc, which in different ways continued on under the
Obama administration. The critique also coincided with a period in the United States where Catholics and evangelicals, in particular, had dropped their theological hostilities to one another, perhaps due to agreements on shared cultural issues,
which led Catholics, long hostile to religious freedom as a heretical ideal of the Reformation and Enlightenment, to an
embrace of religious freedom. Many Catholics today,
though, seem to be turning their back once again
on religious freedom. The times are changing. It is my opinion that this critique of religious freedom might not hold up as well in a world that seems to be moving in a different direction,
away from liberalism, and towards, for instance, Christian anti-liberal authoritarianism, like in the Christian democracy of Orban’s Hungary, for instance. Or if we are to believe academics like Timothy Snyder, the historian Richard Steigmann-Gall
or the political theorist Jason Stanley and many others, fascism in the United States. If religious freedom is impossible in liberal regimes, it goes without saying that it will also be impossible in these regimes. In some ways, these critiques can actually be used by the political right, who equally think religious freedom is impossible, but do so for
different political purposes. Clearly, some forms of disciplining and punishing involve more violent forms of exclusion than others. The question then concerns the way forward in a world in which religious freedom is impossible, assuming that not all forms of intolerance are of equal intensity. Perhaps one way forward, if you’re stuck in a liberal regime, or
believe that such a form of governance is worth fighting for, is to seek reforms based on a desire to increase equality,
not just under the law, but also in society,
culture and everyday life. I think this might get at some of what Professor Bilgrami
was talking about, focusing on the level of the community, the religious community, not just on law. How to do this is the question. We can talk about that
during the question time. Thank you. (audience applauds) – [Robert] Winnifred Sullivan. – Good afternoon. Thank you, Helena, for
inviting me, so much. I’m trained in comparative religions. I’m interested in what happens to religion under the modern rule of law. Stepping back a little bit, perhaps, from the agonistic kind of debate about how liberals ought to govern religion under a
religious right’s regime. But let me start by saying exactly what Danny has forecast
that I’m going to say. It’s commonly said that under
a liberal right’s regime, the religion that is
protected is understood to be primarily about belief. It is something private, individual, chosen and believed. Our common life is understood to be properly secular. One of the stumbling
blocks to universalizing rights to religious freedom is that for most people in the world, religion is experienced as something that is public, communal, received and enacted. It is about belonging to a community and about what you do together. It is not just or even mostly about believing in God. God may not care whether
you believe in her. It is about doing what
God wants you to do, whether that is eating certain food or feeding the hungry. The problems arise when what God wants you to do is unpopular or illegal. Liberalism has had difficulty coping with this situation. In fact, I think it has difficulty even talking about God at all. I’m using God here maybe to stand in more broadly for religion. I thought it might be helpful, and I think in view of the fact that my colleagues here have not talked about the U.S. so much, that I draw attention to the distinctiveness of the U.S. legal arrangements with
respect to religion and religious freedom because they have produced a particular religious field in the United States, one that is particularly diffuse and difficult to manage. The First Amendment to the
United States Constitution begins with the statement that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. I remind you of this because religion in the United
States is disestablished, not separated. There is no legal separation
of church and state in the United States. That is, in part, and this is important as a phenomenological
matter, an empirical matter, because there is no church
and there is no state, in the European sense. This makes it difficult
to manage, as I say. We, the people, are sovereign over both religion and government. Other countries have
ministries and offices of religious affairs,
which decide what counts as religion and what is not. You know where to go to argue about it. Religion in the United States is shaped by a much more diffuse, thousands of laws, including tax and zoning laws, as well as the laws that govern the administration of schools and prisons and hospitals. But we do not officially
know what religion is. We are committed by
constitutional conviction to not defining religion. In fact, to ignorance about religion. We underline that commitment by failing to educate our students about religion. We have little common language in which to talk about these matters. U.S. courts have, in fact, mostly tended to default to a liberal
understanding of religion as being about sincere belief. But what that has meant is that we have, that makes religion very difficult to see and to talk about as a common concern. We are committed to the
idea that your religion is what you say it is. This makes, as I say, the legal protection of religious freedom
singularly susceptible to discriminatory administration because of political
and cultural prejudice. There is no religious
authority in the United States available to ask, for
example, whether the Bible, in fact, prohibits baking a cake for a same-sex marriage,
or whether and when animal sacrifice is necessary, or whether wearing a headscarf is cultural or religious. This instability, as I say, is not new in the United States. It’s baked in. While it’s common today to hear people, well, liberals, say that
our religious freedom jurisprudence is broken,
and it needs to return to a time when it protected
minority religion, rather than majority
religion, that view is, in fact, the result of
Golden Age thinking. Protecting religious
freedom in the United States has always discriminated
against minorities, and it has always
divided what the majority thought was good religion from what they thought was bad religion. Recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and the Hobby Lobby decision, for example, shows the ways in which
religion right now, for both the Court and for the media, seems to have been reduced today to devout beliefs about
sex and reproduction. No actual evidence that these beliefs are religious is needed
for this reduction. Opposition to abortion,
opposition to same-sex marriage, everyone now knows that these are non-negotiable religious positions, while everyone also knows
that favoring them is not. Favoring them is liberal and secular. It’s really puzzling,
actually, for someone my age who’s been studying these
matters for decades, how quickly this
reduction and this shaping of our public language about religion has happened. Nevermind the fact that there are religious-minded
and secular-minded people on both sides of these issues. Nevermind that most Americans are religiously affiliated. Lining up religion with views about sex is actually a very recent development. It is both inaccurate, as a description of American religious life, and I think it impoverishes our capacity to use religious resources to talk about the common problems that
we’re here to talk about. In my view, rather than focusing on the unwinnable argument
about what is religious and what is not, whether an employer should be able to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage, for example, or whether school choice should include religiously-affiliated schools, we should think about these
religious freedom cases in the United States as diagnostic of unsettled social issues. They reveal unfinished business about the American project. To talk about religion in religious freedom terms is to distract us from these questions. I would say we would not have Hobby Lobby if we had universal healthcare. Let’s talk about universal healthcare. (audience applauds) – Would any of our
panelists want to respond to one another? I’d like to put some questions if not. – I’d like to speak to Akeel, if I might for a minute, because I had thought of, but obviously didn’t have time to talk about, this problem of the governance of religious communities because I think that is
a very pressing issue, and it’s one that liberal religious freedom regime does
not have very good ways of talking about. This is something that you may know, that Cecile Laborde has worked on in her, and she and I have talked about. I think, and I’d be really interested to hear, how you think
we might do this better. My understanding is that Cecile’s position still is that religious communities have to really be viewed as voluntary, entirely voluntary. But we know that that’s not how people experience community of any kind, but particularly, perhaps,
of religious communities. How do we get out of that bind? – Yes, I think it is one of the really hard questions. It isn’t as if there are no
representative institutions which might help with this. The Parsis, the Zoroastrians in Bombay, have Parsi Panchayat. It’s not very effective, but the fact is it’s a small community. It’s all pretty much in one city. You could have it. But Muslims, they’re all over, dispersed all over the country, so one doesn’t have a real grip on what it would be to organize, say, just an election to find out what referendum or– – They do that in Belgium. The government organizes an election among Muslims in Belgium
for exactly this reason. – Right. Tell me more about that. Organizes means what exactly? – Well, my understanding,
I’m not an expert on the European situation, and maybe there are people here who are, that there’s three different ways in which European governments have tried to create Muslims into
representative communities that they can interact with the way they interact with the Vatican or they interacted with the Jewish notables under Napoleon. – Just as a focus question. Do they have elections around an issue, or do they have elections that are more chronically institutionalized? – I understand they
have elections to create a representative community who can then interact with the government on issues of importance to the community. – I see. – I think the universities in this context play a role. There are Muslim people at the university that actually act as
mediating figures between, mediating figures between Muslim society and places of politics. Just to piggyback, one of the things that seems interesting, just in light of what Professor Sullivan’s saying, is there is a secularization
that takes place in the 1950s in this country which marginalized divinity schools and their power, I think, at major centers of, major educational centers, to the point to where they’re sequestered off and pushed out of, if you will, the role that they once played at major universities, like at Harvard or at Yale or at Duke. I think one of the problems that emerged out of that, especially with the decline of the mainline, is you had no mediation between the university and the churches on the ground who could play some kind of mediating role
between local communities and institutions of higher education that could provide this kind of, if you will, conversation. At the same time, you have scholars arguing around this time,
especially in the ’70s with Robert Baylor, that this coincides with the decline of
American civil religion. One way forward, if you’re looking for possible solutions on the ground, is to, and you think theology plays a key role in these
discussions, at least insofar as it creates understandings between
different communities and secular institutions, is to give divinity schools in this country, especially Protestant divinity schools, a little bit more say. It doesn’t have to be just Protestantism. It can be synagogues, or it
could be Jewish seminaries. It could be the JTS here in New York. It could be any number of institutions. Maybe that’s one way to think about a means for providing communications between these communities. It’s a very intellectual one,
it’s a very academic one, but it’s something to throw out there. – Bob Jones University and the Nation of Islam. – Absolutely. I think these, even these places that are that exclusionary, that prevent interracial marriage or have ideas that we find to be intolerable, having a conversation,
trying to understand what’s going on, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea. There is no more interracial marriage at Bob Jones, by the way. How did that happen? There have been changes within the Southern Baptist communities regarding women’s ordination. This just didn’t occur
from external pressure. These were debates that were happening within these communities. If we’re concerned that
liberals don’t understand these people, then even
if we find their ideas to be outrageous, I think we should still in turn to dialogue
with them to some degree. – Yes, go ahead. – Professor Sullivan, I wanted to actually ask you, say something about your concluding point in your own talk. But on the Belgian, quickly, on the Belgian case, I think there are, even in India, a Muslim board, but it’s mostly clergy. It’s really not democratically appointed. I would really want to scrutinize what happens in Belgium as to who is representing and how
it gets elected and so on. What I had in mind was we’ve got a theory of representative institutions in general, which calibrates
representation with numbers. That’s what we call democracy. I’m saying we need to extend that to communities. We don’t even have a
toehold on how to do that. It’s not just that there should be some representatives of a community with whom the government negotiates. That’s fine. But I have in mind
something which is really an extension of a political sociology that we’re utterly familiar with, to a region, to a place, where it’s very hard to theorize how it might be done. – I understood that
more of self-government, as opposed to this kind of inter. I think in the U.S., we’re having more recognition of the
autonomy of churches, for example, and the
sovereignty of churches, rather than the direction. – Exactly. – Shoring up of the. – But on your very interesting and provocative concluding point, I wanted to just add that, you mentioned health as
a form of significant possible deflection of the issues, health issues. I just wanted to point out that there’s real wisdom in
what you’re suggesting in general because if
you look at the fact, just on the very kinds of things you’re talking about, such as abortion, in your paper, a very large number of
women in this country, who were against abortion, started
in the late ’70s onwards to move to pro-choice positions. Now, and this is supporting your concluding point about deflection, this was almost entirely a result of reflection on their part that emerged out of a development in political economy of the United States, which was that there was a far larger service sector that emerged, heavy goods industries, were pretty much dying out or reducing substantially. There was a huge service
sector that emerged in the ’70s, not to mention later on information technology and so on. All this created opportunities. The loss of shop floor
heavy goods manufacturing led to many more jobs for women than men. That led them to reflect on these things. Much of their reflection made them change their mind. It’s sort of what
philosophers like to call a Hegelian internal reflection, through incoming contradictions, which history provides. That came as a fortuitous deflection from political economy. You’re absolutely right that we need to find ways in which to induce reflection amongst religious people, but it may not necessarily be through
the standard constitution. – I thought we might
come back for a moment to what Daniel referred to as the secularization, which I think many of us as liberals, at least, take to be essential and central to our culture. When you think about it in that way, I think we have a sense that a great many of us, as liberals, regard religion exactly as Winnifred described it a little while ago, as
essentially a private matter that has really no place
in the public sphere. I think that’s something that most of us really have had a great deal of difficulty dealing with as we’ve seen
more and more pressure in the society to regard religion and religious belief in another way. I frankly don’t know
how to deal with that. In some ways, it describes the nature of the divide in societies like this. The vision between people who think that there ought to be a place for avowals of religion,
and for the introduction of religious conviction and belief in the public sphere,
and others who believe this is inappropriate and, in some ways, a violation of our culture. I wonder if there’s any way for liberals, at least, to deal with that divide. When in 2016, we had a great eruption around Hillary Clinton’s
use of the word deplorables, I think a great many people thought she was talking about people who were attempting to introduce religion into the public sphere, even though that was
not, at least ostensibly, what she was referring to. Anyway, I thought I might put that out there as a question. Is there, in your thinking, a way to reconcile this very fundamental division in this society between the way most liberals regard religious faith and conviction, and the way at least devout people do? – I think liberals love their Martin Luther King Junior religions. There are certain types of religion they have no problem with. It depends on what religion
we’re talking about. Then within liberal political theory over the last 20 years,
you have huge attempts within political theory and social theory, to overcome some of the liberal biases that exclude religious people
from the public sphere. We see this in the work
of the late John Rawls. We see this in Jurgen Habermas’ work. Attempts to create more
of a democratic sphere for religious voices. I think liberals, even though they still have a tendency to be in the certain kind of
mindset towards religion, there’s been a lot of headway made. Professor Sullivan just mentioned Cecile Laborde’s new book. This is a book that takes its inspiration from Rawls and Dworkin and some of the advances they’ve made about
thinking about religion, as thinking it more in terms of a comprehensive doctrine,
which kinda gets rid of religion as something special. But I think things have
changed a great deal. It’s just there’s a certain
kind of evangelical, Trumpian type religion
that’s the problem, I think. – Yeah, I think we have to be really, really careful with this word evangelical. Speaking as an American
religious historian, I would say that virtually all Protestants in the United States have been, since the early 19th century, evangelical, small e, evangelical in a broad sense. Probably even most religious
people in the country, including Catholics,
are small e evangelical. That’s the style of American religiosity. Nadia and I were talking
in the break here, there’s almost no mention this morning about media or media shaping of this conversation, but I think, particularly with respect to religion, there’s an
enormous shaping effect by the way in which the media represents religion and religious communities, and the constant repetition
and identification of something called
Evangelical Christianity, which is now I’m saying large E
Evangelical Christianity, with a certain conservative politics, is extremely dangerous and also inaccurate, historically. I think we need to be extremely careful talking about evangelical Christianity. – Let me respond to that a little bit by citing two things which Daniel and Winnifred
have said this morning. – [Man] Can you speak into the mic? – Oh, sure. One of which has to do with our questionable understanding of the nature of religion. The other having to do with our being committed to
ignorance about religion by not educating our students about it. I wonder whether there is any prospect that liberals would, in the
university, for example, but more especially in the elementary and secondary
schools, would be interested in introducing religious education into the public curriculum? Is that conceivable? – It’s happening everywhere except the United States. There’s massive and impressive efforts to develop school curricula all over the rest of the world that do impressive jobs and sophisticated jobs
of introducing students, in age-appropriate ways, to what religion is, the diversity of religious positions. But we, for both political and, in part, I think, mistaken constitutional interpretation, seem unable to do, and also because the local administration is opposed to national
administration of curricula. We can’t do that. I don’t know. – I was, after I received my Ph.D a few years ago, I was invited by, of all places, the University
of California, Berkeley to be the first fellow in public theology at that institution, which was a grant which was supported by
the Henry Luce Foundation, in an attempt to address the issues that you raise about
theological education. Maybe it’s happening at places like that. I think it says something that that happened at Berkeley. Maybe it’s happening
slowly, but it does seem to be a pity, especially in supposably the most Christian place in the world. I just wanna second Professor Sullivan’s
point about evangelicals. I was raised a Holiness Pentecostal. We despise the evangelicals (audience laughs) because they didn’t believe in speaking in tongues and they didn’t believe in all these
miracles that we believed in. We considered ourself, at least the group that I was part of, as not evangelicals. Then by the Bush years, we were now part of the evangelicals
for political purposes. There are subsets within these groups. How to parse it all out,
it’s not easy to do. It’s a challenge, no doubt. – No? Good. Let me ask a question about the degree of tolerance that, in an ostensibly liberal society, we owe to religious
persons who are themselves not only intolerant, but often openly aggressive or hostile towards the rights of minorities, certainly. To what degree are we required, as liberals, to make an issue of those things? And to what degree are we required to hang back and regard that as a choice that people within a certain creed or domain live by? Are we required to speak
out about such things as liberals? (laughs) – I’m not a moral philosopher, so I don’t know how to
speak in that register. – I think we have to give this whole question a certain amount of historical and genealogical depth if you’re going to get to grips with it. One thing you might begin to ask is how did secularism and secular tolerance first get introduced into European societies? What motivated it? Really what motivated it is a very deep and long story which has to do with justifying the state and its power after the divine right of the state, as personified in its monarch, subsided as a justification as a result of the rise of
the new science and so on. It really began, state power began to be justified sometime in the 16th and 17th centuries. Really by the middle of the 17th century, it’s the height of this movement towards, theoretical movement,
toward its justification was to say that a new form of entity was emerging after the Westphalian piece. It was completely fused with a new form of centralized institution, which was hitherto scattered. Power was in very scattered locations. It became centered on a state, a nation dash state, only sometime in the middle of the 17th century, after Westphalia. The question arose about how to justify state power, and it was done by creating a feeling for the first 1/2 of the hyphenated conjunction nation-state. That feeling, so it was no longer theology would justify its state
power, the divine right of kings, but a feeling for what the state was fused with, this new entity that had emerged, the nation. That was clearly done for 250 years. It ended up with Germany in the 1930s and ’40s by saying the nation is ours, not theirs, whether there was a external enemy within. State power got justified by creating a psychological justification for it, a feeling, for a new kind of entity, the nation that had emerged. It was damned by, basically, religious majoritarianism. The country’s ours, not theirs. The nation is ours, not theirs. It’s the Jews, the Irish, the Protestants and Catholic countries, the Catholics and Protestant countries. This is European history. European history is the history of the rise of nations, which depended on
religious majoritarianism. Of course, it had its hideous culmination in Germany in the 1930s. Now secularism was introduced
because minorities, there was a minoritarian backlash to this religious majoritarianism. When the minoritarian
backlash was quite violent all over Europe, it was thought religion itself is the problem because the religious majorities and the religious minorities, and there’s this mayhem of conflict. Therefore, religion
ought to be ushered out of the polity. That’s how secularism emerged. Now I think part of the problem now is that since the Second World War, when Europe started to bring in minorities from its erstwhile colonies to really pick up on the labor
shortage after the war, a completely new situation arose because the minorities felt, well, secularism is treating majorities and minorities, minority and majority
religions, evenhandedly, but we have a special
problem here as minorities. There’s racism against us and so on. That’s when multiculturalism emerged because it was felt that secularism was a kind of intolerance
towards minorities, not paying special
enough attention to them. I think multiculturalism emerged only because of that, I think. The question of tolerance really is tied to these developments since the Second World War. That’s what I meant by
minoritarian temperament. Now what is appalling to me, well, appalling is the wrong word. What is surprising to me is that Muslims, for instance, all over the Middle East where they’re a majority, have
a minority attitude. You see, what I mean by minority attitude is there’s a feeling of defensiveness that nobody’s tolerant towards us, and so we can get away with our own intolerance towards women, et cetera. Muslims in India are a minority, and they’re really suffering against Hindu majority, but what is amazing is that Muslims all over the Middle East have the same mentality. They think the West, and there’s all this history of colonialism, it
continues in revised forms. What I was calling not the numerical idea of minority, but the defensive attitudes of minoritarianism are very much part of the Muslim attitudes when they’re majorities numerically. What is most grotesque is, I think, that a lot of white Americans think that they also suffer from a minority complex because there’s a secular majoritarianism of the coastal elites. I think it’s worth thinking of how there’s this similar pattern in the Middle East, in places like India and in the United States,
through this notion of a minoritarian complex almost. I’ve heard a lot of white Americans say, “We are now a minority. “We are being treated
with the same contempt “as minorities are treated.” That attitude is what I’m talking about. I’m not saying their attitude has justification or anything, but there are clearly distortions. It’s genuinely felt. You can’t dismiss it as sinister manipulation and so on. Politicians might manipulate it, but I think it’s genuinely felt, and it’s absolutely grotesque. – [Winnifred] I think, if I might just– – Please. – Get in on this question about tolerance for a minute. I do think the U.S. has
a distinctive history in relation to the history that Akeel has just described in
Europe, in part because of, as I said, the lack of any sort of prior story of
religious establishment and of union of the church and the state and the divine monarch. There isn’t the same kind of
anti-clericalism in the U.S. It’s a different kind of anti-clericalism. But I also think that
it’s sheer multiplicity. It’s worth, as some recent historians have done, including Evan Haefeli, who’s written very
interestingly about this, to say that, to separate
tolerance and toleration. Also Benjamin Kaplan, who’ve both written about this. That toleration, or peaceable coexistence, if you want, does not
necessitate a conversion of people’s minds. You don’t have to like people to have some kind of
common cause with them or some project that
you want to do together, whether it’s associating together in a business way, merchants, or some kind of local governance, but that that kind of practicality more characterizes the late 18th century, or
even the colonial period in the U.S. It was this practicality of just the sheer multiplicity. It wasn’t that there was no one who, if they had the numbers, would have wanted to dominate and create an established church
in the United States. They simply didn’t have. Maybe by default, they had to get along. I don’t know. Sometimes I think it’s helpful to distinguish tolerance from toleration. Tolerance seems to call for, as you were suggesting, a kind of process of conversion, a reeducation in which we all have to learn to really like each other’s difference, whereas maybe that’s not necessary. – Yeah, Daniel. – To Professor Bilgrami’s comment, to what extent do you
think that mentality, the minoritarian mentality, even though the people are the majority, is to some degree merited? I can give you an anecdote. I was a visiting research professor this summer at a university in Istanbul called Sehir University. It’s one of the new universities. I was a visiting research professor at a university in Istanbul this summer called Sehir University. It’s one of the new universities that’s been established since Erdogan’s been in power. It’s pretty pro-AKP. I got to know a lot of the students there who are pretty outspoken in their support of Erdogan. I asked a number of, one person in particular, why she was so thrilled with him. She said, “Well, I’m 29 years old. “Before he came into power, “I couldn’t go to university because “I refused to take off my headscarf.” – [Akeel] Who came to power? – Erdogan.
– [Akeel] Erdogan. – “I couldn’t take off my headscarf. “Now I’m getting my bachelor’s degree, “and I just got into a
Ph.D program at Oxford. “I don’t like the seculars. “They had their chance to rule. “they didn’t do a good job, “and now it’s our turn.” In other words, I sympathize with her, even though I consider myself something of a secularist, but this person was, in some sense, disenfranchised due to
an elite group of people who were putting her in her place, telling her that she
couldn’t have an education. Of course, the majority
of the country is Muslim. But there was a group of powerful people who were secularists
that prevented someone like her from getting the education that she wanted. In a certain sense, I’m sympathetic to the minority mentality, especially if it’s in a group of secularists who aren’t allowing someone like that. Now this is a specific kind of secularism. – You see, Communist Turkey was much more than secularist. It was a state secularization. I don’t think we can get anywhere on the topic of this session without making a distinction, at least
a prima facie distinction, you can muddy it later,
but if you don’t make an initial distinction,
I think there’s just nothing but confusion that follows. We need a distinction between secularism and secularization. Secularization is a process that Weber talked about, and it’s about loss of belief in God. It’s got to do with the decline of magic. There’s a lot of rhetorics around which secularize, and disenchantment and so on. Secularism is just something that has to do with steering in the laws and the institutions of (mumbles) keeping religion at some distance from it. A completely devout person,
totally non-secularized person, can be a secularist. There are many such. A city like Tel Aviv, for instance, is completely secularized, but it is not secularist. There is a real distinction between. The thing that Turkey was, that it was not just secularist, it was
a state secularization. The backlash was bound to happen decades later, which is
that feeling of minority. But what is interesting
in the Turkish case is that the Islamism there
is not a jihadi Islamism. There’s a jihadi Islamism elsewhere in the Middle East, but
the Turkish Islamism is not jihadi. It’s not anti-imperialist. In fact, it’s bought into neoliberalism, and takes it dictates
from the United States and political economy. That’s just the nature
of the Turkish economy. The Islamism, therefore, is completely moderated by that. It’s really a reaction
to the communist past. It’s very different
from Islamism elsewhere. You’re quite right to say it’s part of their national history’s minority feeling. – Would anyone like to ask a question? If so, we have microphones on both sides. Yes. Michael, yes? – [Michael] Yes, I
wanted to ask a question that takes off from Professor Bilgrami’s point about minoritarian/majoritarian religious groups. Of course, this is dependent on what nation-state they’re a part of, as you were saying. This relates to the religious history of this country. I think really up until 1930s, ’40s or ’50s, and perhaps Professor Sullivan can correct me, I think most evangelical Protestants would have been considered reformers. Some were obviously radicals. Pretty much every major form movement, up until that point, abolition, temperance, Christian socialism, people, Edward Bellamy, and a lot of the progressives, too, were inspired by what you’d call evangelical Protestantism. But once, and this begins to happen in the ’20s, I think, once the evangelical Protestants become less of a majority, and
then finally a minority in the last several decades, that’s when their politics begins to be defensive and move to the right. I wonder whether that. A subset of that is I’ve had
an interesting experience when I wrote a book about
William Jennings Bryant that I went to some
conservative Christian colleges and gave a talk about it. They had no problem at all
with Bryant’s politics, which were very much liberal, in the modern
sense, social democratic, even, you might say,
because he was a believer, because he was evangelical. I would try to say provocative things, like. “Are you in favor of
national health insurance?” They’d say, “Well, if
we can define that in a “Christian way, yes.” Relates to your last point. I wonder whether, and this is a question, that’s my comment. My question is about the future. (laughs) Is it possible to have a meeting of the minds between secularists and serious religious people? Is it possible to get beyond this minority fear question? How can liberals, progressives, call them what you will, enable that to happen? – I think the most, for me, hopeful place is
the undergraduate classroom. Our students are eager to get beyond these divisions. They’re open to crossing. I teach at a public
university, Indiana University, in the heartland. Our students are eager to have these conversations and eager to get beyond these divisions, I would say. That’s the most hopeful. Away from the kind of way in which it’s schematized by the media. – Akeel. – I wonder, I’ve been thinking for some time now, and I’d be curious to know what you both think about this with a sort of off beam here or that there maybe something to this thought, I’ve been thinking that even amongst the people who have taken very harsh, I mean, very strong views on both abortion and same-sex marriage, which is really the two things that are, it’s almost become what Christianity is in the pro-Trump evangelical support for in this last election. But I’m just wondering whether even that fragment of the population doesn’t think in different frames at different times. Psychologists talk of the frame question, the frame problem, where you think in two different frames,
and you don’t even know you’re being inconsistent because they’re in different frames, so you can’t put it together and see the inconsistency. I think if you look at Robert Putnam’s accounts of giving, charity and so on, and how it’s. People, Christians, evangelicals give much more than
Wall Street secularists. These very people might be warmongering in Iraq and so on, but they also give donations. They showed remarkable
compassion and humanity in many local contexts. Very often, I think what we need to do is to look at the very same people who, in one frame, are thinking along lines that are remarkably humane,
and in other frames, are thinking very conventional right-wing version of religiosity, which is contemporary
distortions of religion. They have no idea that these are inconsistent ways of
being and thinking and so on. Part of the importance
of politics, I feel, is to remove the boundary
between the frames so that they can see that
they’re inconsistent, and maybe scale up the more humane frame. This is what politics
should be focused on, and also education. There may be this kind of political and moral theorizing,
moral psychology here, that is very central to how we should begin to think about these things. Sorry, there was another person who– – [Man] I want to raise one question. Since we have professor who specialize in Gandhi, my question is when you talk about secularism, actually, in Gandhinian tradition
or in Eastern religion, secularism has different interpretation. It’s different from enlightenment type of secularism. If we read Dalai Lama and also if we read Amartya Sen or Gandhi. This is what I just want to know. If we introduce non-Abrahamic religious tradition, maybe
the interfaith dialogue already has been going on. That’s, I think, how we can broaden our horizon here. (Akeel whispers) – I didn’t understand the question. Could you? – I’m sorry. If you could rephrase that– – I’m sorry, I’m a little– – A little more slowly. We’ve having a little
trouble hearing it up here. – [Man] Okay. When you talk about secularism, and I believe, and there are two different interpretations. One is more enlightenment tradition. Another is Gandhinian, or if we read Amartya Sen and his interpretation of secularism. Actually, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, they follow the same tradition. It means secularism does not mean opposition to religion, does not mean non-belief
or absence of God. This is what I think. If we open up the news and the horizon from the non-Abrahamic dialogue. I think it’s something very interesting. – Can hear. He’s saying that there’s
an Indian tradition of secularism, a Gandhian tradition, that’s non-Abrahamic,
and what do you think about the horizon, the possibility, the viability of this form of secularism? – Well, Gandhi’s view was that, what I was describing as a European genealogy of secularism, that it came to repudiate the fallout of religious majoritarianism that was the basis of
European nation building, and the minoritarian backlashes to it. It was a response to that. Gandhi’s view was that was never the nationalism in India. We’ve never gone through
that nationalism in India. Secularism is irrelevant to India. Secularism was a response to European nation building exercises and its fallout. Gandhi’s view was we never went through that nation building. It’s not really relevant for us. Gandhi was, had a studied indifference to secularism. Now, of course, he was part of a party, and Nehru and so on went on to articulate secularism, but really, secularism was not articulated throughout the very long freedom
movement hardly at all. It’s just not relevant. Yeah? – [Woman] Thank you, this
is really fascinating. I’m gonna try and be coherent, even though I’m thinking this question through. One of the mandates of the panel, in the description, seems to position, and I’m happy to be corrected, the right of religious freedom as a liberal principle versus its attenuation in things like women’s rights or gay rights. Part of my question is I’m not sure that those things work as diagrammatically in
opposition to each other. I’m not convinced of it. Let me say the following
in terms of context. One of the things that’s
most recently happened in India is that the Supreme Court has just recently banned triple talaq. Triple talaq is the manner in which some men can say “talaq” three times, and therefore divorce their women instantaneously. While many Muslim groups in India were wanting to make
triple talaq unlawful, as part of their Sharia, as
part of their communities, they were very opposed to it becoming criminalized. This is also within the context of a long tradition of both BJP and the Congress government,
the BJP being the more right-wing crazy one, Congress less so crazy. But nevertheless, wanting a uniform civil
code, which feminists in India have, for a very long time, critiqued as being part of one that would institutionalize the rights, that will institutionalize
Hinduism as part of it. Part of this incoherent (laughs) question, I apologize, is based on this thinking about the fact that women’s rights and religious freedom are
somehow incommensurate to each other when this question, in terms of triple talaq, makes that much more complicated within the domain of
politics that’s taking place. Thanks. – Anybody want to? – You’ve really just articulated what I was calling the semi-paradox. I think that really is a problem. But part of the trouble is that it’s a deeply disturbing thing when it turns out that the location from which something is said makes all the difference
to the saying of it. I think politics is at a very debased, is in a very debased
state when that happens. If I, as a Muslim, were to say I’m against triple talaq, and I’m in favor of legal rulings about that and so on, that’s one thing. But if the vast majority of Hindus who’ve been been just bearing down the throats of Muslims
for three decades now, if they say it, it just seems completely different thing to say. It’s just part of their campaign against Muslims. I think it’s a sign of the
debasement of Indian politics that Muslims should be saying this and Muslims should be campaigning for these reforms, but if it’s just put down by a state that is so manifestly
a majoritarian state, it’ll come off as just part of the oppression of Muslims. It’s really one of those cases where location matters a lot. I think that’s just a sign that politics is in a very bad state. – I think that’s a bit harsh. I’m not sure it’s debased. I think it reveals the real complexity of our identities and of our relationships with groups. I’m not sure that we are going to be able to resolve this through
some kind of enlightenment that our commitments,
our feeling of belonging to collectivities, is gonna always have this ambivalence. It’s not just women,
although it’s often women, but to be a member of a group is always, in some sense, to suppress one part of you in favor of this other belonging part of you, isn’t it? In a world with 7 billion people or however many of us there are, the need to have groups that you belong to between you, as an individual, and the state just seems really necessary. – What I meant was that if I were a Muslim woman, I would feel, damn it, it would be so great if these things were reformed, but I just can’t find, in this nation, a way of getting it done because if the majority
has to be behind it, and if the majority keeps saying it, along with all the terrible things they do to Muslims, it’s going to come off as something to be opposed. From a Muslim woman’s point of view, seem to say I desperately want this, but the political situation is so debased that I can’t seem to be able to find a way for that voice to come so that it’s not just two positions which are antlers locked. I think that’s a sign that we need something like
what you were describing at the end of your talk. We need some deflecting thing which can get us out of that. I don’t know, maybe my
rhetoric of debasement isn’t exactly right, but it would be some upliftment if we could
get that deflection. – Who was speaking earlier about the ways in which, I’m
sorry, I lost track exactly, of the ways in which women evangelicals, yes,
you were speaking of this, women evangelicals in this country. No, it was during the break, I guess, I was talking to someone. Women evangelicals in this country were moving towards a pro-choice position partly because of the shift in the labor market into the service industry. That kind of practical
material kind of change is what results in these changes. Yes. – Right, that’s exactly right, yeah. – We’re gonna have to
take one more question, and then we have to stop. Thank you. – [Man] Yeah, hi. As a practical matter
in the United States, religion as a political force has become an extremely right-wing phenomenon. In the ’50s and ’60s, there were lots of Jewish groups bringing constitutional cases that created separation of church and state. Of course, the civil rights movement was a religious movement in many respects. But today, if you look
at the Jews, actually, all the energy is coming
from Orthodox people who have a very cynical view of how to manipulate the political system on behalf of their own interests. Then if you look at the
Trump administration support from evangelicals, given Trump himself and the agenda that they are pushing, one has to conclude that they’re the enemy of liberalism. In a previous panel, we talked about how what we need is a stronger left-wing movement to push liberalism into the public realm with more guts. We’re faced with the following conundrum. On the one hand, we’re supposed to embrace difference and accept their cultural beliefs, and respect them, et cetera. Then on the other hand, they’re seeking to destroy the very
values to which we adhere. I’m wondering if we liberals are coming to this gunfight with an article that’s been peer reviewed. (audience laughs) (Akeel speaks too low to hear) (Robert speaks too low to hear) – Daniel, do you wanna come in here? You look like you’re– – Could somebody please repeat that? I don’t want to miss out on the hilarity. (audience laughs) What was the last remark? Oh, in fact, I’d really. – [Man] If you come to a gunfight with an article that’s
peer reviewed, bang. (Robert laughs) – Are we all supposed to say something? (audience laughs) I find that, I have so many anecdotes today, but I find that people on the left whose parents voted for Trump are not as harsh, are more understanding of why that decision was made. I know a lot of liberals and leftists who despise Trump, but don’t go so far as
maybe a Timothy Snyder is going in saying that we’re entering into a new age of fascism. In other words, maybe this gets at some of the things that
we’re talking about, when you understand the people that you’re critical of a bit more, it creates a context, I think, for communication and a deeper, for ways of, perhaps, changing things. Maybe practically what that would involve or demand would be for us liberals, or however you wanna describe us here, to maybe get to know these people
a little bit more. Instead of sending your kid to China for the senior, or the, going to spend a year
abroad, maybe send ’em down to Alabama. It’s just remarkable to me that so many of the people up here,
I grew up in the South. I have friends who won’t drive there. Would it be a bad idea to get to know some of these people a little bit better and figure out? Not saying they’re gonna change your mind or you’ll change your mind, but it seems as though part of the issue is, at least going through these issues with my own family and communities, there’s just no dialogue whatsoever. It seems like ya gotta get that started somehow. (audience applauds)


One Response

  1. Megh Kalyanasundaram

    November 1, 2018 4:23 pm

    Bogeyman of majority in India


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