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Religion, Rights and Democracy in Europe


Europe is a constellation of liberal democracies characterised by the conviction that the public sphere should be strictly secular and should rule out religious arguments from the realm of public reason. We may call this attitude ‘the liberal confidence.’ In the last years, the liberal confidence has been put under considerable strain by a number of cases such as the scarf, the cross in the classroom or the Mohammad cartoon saga. It quickly appeared that the liberal confidence could not provide convincing arguments to decide those issues. The principal explanation for the lack of a convincing liberal position is reflected in the dogmatic character of the liberal confidence which assumes, instead of articulating a sound justification, that religion, religious symbols and religious opinions are best kept away from our sight. This artificial situation creates more tensions than it solves and it is time to review this fundamental weakness in the liberal strand of thought. This problem raises various philosophical issues. First, it points to a serious epistemological problem, namely what is the status of religious beliefs in the formulation of public policies? Second, it raises a political issue regarding the relationship between political and religious institutions in European polities. Third, it brings back to the public forum the fundamental ethical question –How should we live?- by asking how can we possibly share the same polity without engaging in these issues in comprehensive terms 8that is, in a way that takes seriously everyone’s religious and other beliefs alongside with other types of beliefs<.

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