Spent the early evening at a lecture for the new Faith and Globalisation Project at Durham University. Th speaker was David Lehmann from University of Cambridge. David was talking on: State management of Religion: Secularization in Comparative Perspective. I have to say that I was unsure of the lecture title - I mean 'management' - what's that all about and what does 'secularization in comparative perspective' mean?
I arrived a few minutes but managed not to miss any of the paper. There were about a dozen people present at the meeting - not as many as I expected and it was held in the Al-Qasimi Building at the School of Government and International Affairs and chaired by the new Prof Joanildo Burrity who I had met the other day when he came to speak to us at CODEC about some future possible synergy! Yet more synergy!
So what did Dr Lehmann say? Here are some notes I made at the meeting. The notes come across as confused and rambling and I'd have to say that they represent the delivery - David is good at telling story examples and wandering all over the world but this wasn't a carefully crafted piece of rhetoric with a definite structure! But the failings are probably in my notetaking and not Dr Lehmann's paper.
Hopefully the paper will be published some time and you can get the real thing then.
For now...through a glass darkly:
David is currently leading network on secularism and a research project exploring multiculturalism in Latin America. David defined secularism as any set of arrangements whereby the state manages religion. (Yes, honest, he did.) David explained that he's not a theologian and is conscious that he doesn’t know enough history to discuss a subject which is so rooted in historical developments. There were lots of apologies for imprecision and an affirmation that he mostly wanted to discuss contemporary issues.
Definitions of religious and secularism are under debate – the big issue of the time was the effect which conversion-led movements/renewal movements within major religions were having on liberal secular governments. These movements were becoming hugely influential within the political sphere and ranged across a number of cultures - pentecostalism in Latin America or Shuva movement in Judaism or spirituality movements in Egyptian middle class Islam or the mass migration bringing different faiths into Europe (especially re-introduction of Islam), or the growth of ultra-orthodox movement in Israel which basically controls of legal system. Key aspect of these movements is that they allow religion as a choice – religion becomes a personal choice for an individual rather than a heritage. However, state arrangements for the management of religion (or the institutions of religion he later argued) relate to religion as heritage rather than religion as choice. Secular states manage religion as an abstraction and as a substantive affiliation – even religion as ethnicity. But the new context is too fluid. People can switch easily and then claim exemptions/privileges as though it were their heritage.
Shift meant there is a breakdown over authority of the state to determine what is a religion and what is not. UK doesn’t recognise any religion but compare with France, Switzerland, etc. Different reactions. Different resistances to expression of religion – France and mosques, Switzerland and minarets, UK and Islamic schools. State recognition of religions are therefore very complex. Note the differentiation of denominations in Northern Ireland. British state much more corporationist than we might think – multi-culturalism rather than inter-faith issue. (I don’t know if there is much intermarrying in Northern Ireland, for example). Jim Beckford’s books quoted on chaplaincy and prisons. Have become part of state management but confusing now because of the multi-culturalism.
Issues of what the authoritative structure is for engagement between state and religion. For example, what happens with school uniforms agreed by Council of Mosques but then Council changes and then no longer supports it. French banning of egregious signs of religion (anti-burkha) have implications for Jews and kippar and Sikhs and turbans etc.
If we understand a citizen as a rights bearing person subject to the law. Religion can entitle people to certain rights when religion is based on heritage but the state cannot test authenticity of belief if that religion becomes based on choice.
Definition of society and citizenship drawn from Rawls – Law of Peoples and Taylor.
Religious affiliation issues makes states pretty uncomfortable. But the European abstract of citizen isn’t worldwide. e.g. Indonesia you have to be categorised and you cannot intermarry. Conversion to avoid intermarrying. Note that people are not surprised. Compare micromanagement of religions in Singapore. No problem classifying people by their religions. European concept seems to be pretty different from this. Religion as an abstract doesn’t work.
Latin America – contradiction with European experience where massive religious change unsettles state. In Latin America, the Pentecostal explosion – people go in and out and they may not pass it on to their children – numbers game is difficult and sometimes linked to revolutions/social movements. Massive change has not resulted in unsettlement. Latin American constitutions have been developed at the same time precisely to clarify equal recognition for Pentecostal denominations.
State shifted towards greater equidistance. Catholicism now in renewal – both through charismatic renewal and through Opus Dei/Legionaries of Christ type organisations – big issues here with morality. “Mexico has an anti-clerical tradition to die for” (!!!!). All Mexican states – life begins at conception, Chile and Peru similar. Church has regained its influence. Generalised of course. Very difficult for the State to have a consistent set of rules and practices to manage religion. Abstract concept of religion cannot be linked to popular practice of religion.
Not the transcendent version of religion which is gaining influence but the version which proclaims immediate change – e.g. prosperity religions.
So then there was a Question and Answer time and some of the points there were:
- Importance of pentecostal revivalism in Latin America - key aspect of ability for pentecostalism to indigenisation
- When queried on the distinction between state and religion which just objectifies religion, Dr Lehmann wouldn’t really talk about the possibility of an identification between state and religion - as though religious states couldn't exist. Talking about the state’s management of religions as institutions rather than the phenomenon of religion.
- Anglo-Saxon ad hockery – anti-terrorist training fund to teach Islam what it is to be Muslim in today’s society. Present attempts to deal with changing religion was in danger of violating the doctrine of separation of state from religion.
- Secular state can have religious ideas. But problems when religions exercise their authority within the secular state. That would mean that the state would no longer be guided by its impartial laws.
- Joanildo Burrity asked about the delimitation of religions for pragmatic purposes and privatisation of religion. But the separation of state and religion needs to be redefined? American/European concept really. Dr Lehmann responded by talking about the impossible concept of separation – religion is quintessentially public. Doesn’t seem to be a problem in Asia – but much ignorance here.
- Social-scientific theories of the development of separation theories. Is secularisation theory dead? Response: Probably. Secularisation = separation of church and state, decline of religion, rejection of religion. Religion has changed in its nature – losing its transcendence.
- All our ethics are grounded in religion and we can’t really separate ethics from religious grounding…but you don’t need to be religiously observant to be ethical.
- Finally, Dr Lehmann was asked whether the problematization of the state/religion issues suggested not that religion was the problem but that the concept of the secular state was the problem. Dr Lehmann generally agreed with this.
So the key issues for me from this were in the question and answer sessions:
- Secularisation project - is it over and out for the secular state. Well, I think that it is but that is because there is no way I could see how any state is run by impartial secular unbiased laws/processes. Postmodernism doesn't allow the freedom for secularism to so objective and value-free. I want to deconstruct the secular state notion. Who would that be - certainly not the USA despite the separate of Church and State. Not the UK with its established religion and continuing dependence on Christian values (Dr Lehmann said that all of our ethics are based on religion in some way but that you don't need to be religiously observant to be ethical). What is a secular state anyway?
- Transcendence - is it really appropriate to talk of revivalist movements as lacking transcendence? A couple of us had a chat with Dr Lehmann afterwards about immanence and transcendence within religion and how pentecostalism really does have a very strong sense of transcendence and that this wasn't even ruled out in prosperity doctrines. Mmm...
- Confusion - clearly there is a lot of confusion about how the State copes with religion. However, the background to everything Dr Lehmann was saying was that popular religion was on the rise across the world. I was reminded of that book God is Back which says just about the same kind of thing.
- State and Religion - surely we need to look again at whether a state really can be secular. What would that mean and how would we intellectually allow for religious people taking part in a secular state - if the state is a collection of religious people at all. Or should the state only be made up of irreligious people but who are they?
Interesting meeting. Next one is on Thursday 18th March with Michael Northcott on Climate Change and Religion.