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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Regulating Religion: Secularism and Religious Freedom in the Global Era

Awarded: NOK 6.9 mill.

The aim of 'Regulating Religion: Secularism and Religous Freedom in the Global' era has been to examine the relationship between law and religion, with particular focus on how religion is conceived and regulated through secular law and legal institutions. The basic hypothesis that law plays an increasingly important in the regulation of religion in modern plural societies has largely been confirmed through our fieldstudies.Besides examining how processes of juridification affect understandings of religion, each of the e sub-projects (France, Indonesia, Sri Lanka)have examined how these states justify the need for regulating religion and religious expressions. This interdisciplinary project ( anthropology, religious studies) has also examined how laws regulating religious conduct are used in popular mobilizations, for example do we see that very diverse groups invoke the globalized discpourse of religious freedom. The project has not been grounded in a normative rights perspective. Our ethnographic studies have addressed how minorites and majorities invoke relgious freedom discourses and how such processes turn religion into an increasingly important marker of identity. Such processes contribute to naturalize conceptions of religions and may contribute to polarizatiion between different 'religious' groups. The project thus contributes to the emerging critical literature on the promotiion of religious liberty as a legal right and focus of international policy. In the PhD project Michael Hertzberg has examined the anti-conversion law that was proposed by Buddhist monks in 2004. The dissertation traces the processes surrounding the proposed bill and its implications for religious minorites in Sri Lanka. Close attention has also been paid to how resistance against the proposed bill was articulated, buth nationally and internatinonally. Dhe subproject on secularism and religious freedom carried out by Christine Jacobsen has examined debates and legal propostions that seek to restrict Muslim womens's dress/ headcoverings. Besides contributing new knowledge about how muslim activists invoke the discourse on religious freedom in order to protest against these restrictions, the study shows how legal regulaton also imply shift in the relationship between private/public sphere, seular/ religious sphere and how such regulation is grounded in assumptions about gender, agency and freedom that fail to acknowledge alternative understandigs of gendered religious subjectity. The subproject on Indonesia carried out by Kari Telle has examined how accusations of blasphemy are treated by the civil courts and examined the public rationale for upholding the blasphemy law from 1969. An important finding is that accusations of blasphemy proliferate in civil society and that such accusations are part of political and social conflicts. The project has had partcular focus on Muslim minorities that have been accused of deviating from orthodox Sunni Islam (Ahmadiyah, Sufi-oriented groups). In these conflicts there is a clear trend that local state and legal authorities favor majority interests and this implies that the legal positiion of these minorities is jeopardised. Project findings have been commmunities in international articles, and in a series of presentations both internationally and in Norway as well as in several op-eds and TV interviews.

The contemporary moment is marked by an unprecedented "faith" in the law (Comaroff 2009). The aim of this multidisciplinary project is to provide new and critical understandings of the dilemmas involved in both protecting and enforcing "religious freedom" . What is all-too-often ignored in current invocations of this celebrated idea(l), is that in order to enforce laws guaranteeing religious freedom you must first have "religion" (Sullivan 2005). Yet defining "religion" is notoriously difficult (Asad 1993; Keane 2007). Drawing a line around what counts as "religion" and what does not is undoubtedly an exercise of power, one that fashions, regulates and positions subjects and citizens within the polity (Asad 2006). Herein lies a deep dilemma in efforts to l egislate religious freedom. Discussions of "freedom of religion and belief" are often frustratingly abstract and highly normative. By approaching "religious freedom" as produced and negotiated in encounters between citizens and legal regimes, this proje ct will move beyond familiar pieties about religious liberty as an expression of liberal tolerance. This comparative project on the intersection between law and religion consists of three case studies, each designed to address different aspects of how "re ligious freedom"- as idea and practice - operates within a given nation-state: France, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, respectively. These countries are selected as they bring out the distinct ways in which nation-states police the boundaries between the "religi ous" and "secular" and accommodate religious pluralism. By focusing on the "friction" (Tsing 2005) produced when a globalised idea (religious freedom) encounters specific people and legal regimes, the project will contribute to the study of the globalisat ion of religion and to broader debates on the juridification of religion, transnational legality and citizenship.


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