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Cambridge Interfaith Programme

Street scene with red gates repeating the words "Wesley House"

CIP Academic Director Professor Esra Özyürek is pleased to participate in "The future of European religion-state regimes: a normative inquiry, with special reference to the UK, Germany, Hungary, and Ukraine", a two-day workshop hosted by the Centre for Faith in Public Life, Wesley House Cambridge (21 and 22 November 2022).

Professor Özyürek will chair a panel on Religion and Politics on Monday afternoon, moderating papers on political secularism (from Dr Sophie Lauwers, Aberdeen) and state recognition of multiple religions (Dr Simon Thompson, University of the West of England, Bristol). Later that afternoon, Professor Özyürek will co-present a paper on Muslim masculinity in Germany, discussing state-funded pedagogical interventions--drawing on fieldwork undertaken with co-presenter Jacob Lypp (a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science).

The workshop programme includes a public lecture from Professor Cécile Laborde (Oxford) who will ask, "Is the Liberal State secular?" The two-day programme will conclude with a roundtable discussion of Beyond Establishment: resetting Church-State relations in England (SCM Press, 2022). Author and event organiser Dr Jonathan Chaplin will discuss the book with the Revd Dr Helen Dawes (Principal of Westcott House, Cambridge), Simon Thompson (UWE), Dr Richard Davies (Director of the Centre for Faith in Public Life), and Jennifer Leith (Westcott House, moderator).

Keen to know more?

Abstracts for the talks mentioned are provided below. The full event includes 7 themed panels.

On site space is limited. Both the lecture and book launch will be livestreamed via Zoom. Places can be reserved via Eventbrite: Religion and the State Tickets, Mon 21 Nov 2022 at 17:00 | Eventbrite

Those hoping to observe other parts of this two-day programme should contact Dr Chaplin (jc538 at 

Abstracts (selected)

‘Healing the ‘father wound’: Culturalization and Christianity in the taming of Muslim masculinity in Germany’ 

Jacob Lypp (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Professor Esra Özyürek (University of Cambridge) 

Recent years have witnessed a shift in West European public anxieties surrounding Islam and sexuality: instead of women and femininity, it is now Muslim men who are in focus.

Drawing on several years of ethnographic fieldwork in Germany, we give an account of the burgeoning scene of state-funded pedagogical interventions designed to reform Muslim masculinity. Substantively, these programmes present Muslim men as suffering from a pathological relationship to sexuality rooted in a stipulated Islamic ‘honour culture’. Institutionally, this pedagogical agenda relies heavily on Christian welfare agencies seeking to provide Muslim youth with alternative masculine role models. The quest to reform Muslim men thereby comes to hinge on bringing about their dramatic conversion to a Christian-German culture.

Tracing the patterns of cooperation between state and church in this field of citizenship and sexuality allows us to offer larger insights into contemporary European religion-state regimes and the position they accord to minority religions. We argue that the Christian nature of these regimes should not be understood as a purely historical artefact. Instead, these regimes continue at their core to rely on the expression of Christianity as a lived religious tradition. 

‘Political secularism and the question of secular and Christian hegemony’

Dr A. Sophie Lauwers (University of Aberdeen)

Political secularism, the doctrine of separating political authority and political reasons for action from ‘religion’, is often defended as necessary to guarantee equal citizenship in diverse societies. At the same time, scholars such as Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood and Lori Beaman have criticized current regimes of political secularism for promoting an interiorised understanding of ‘religion’, and for privileging Christian ‘heritage’, to the detriment of non-Christian religious minorities.

In this presentation, I draw on this critical scholarship to sketch how contemporary secularist principles often contribute to the subordination of religious minorities in Western Europe by enabling (paradoxically) both secular and Christian forms of hegemony. This forms a challenge for the secularist promise of equal citizenship. In order to address this challenge, I argue it is insufficient to advocate a government policy that is ‘difference-blind’ towards matters of religion. Likewise, an approach of even-handedness, giving equal consideration to the needs and interests of different groups, is likely to fall short. Instead, we need a political secularism that foregrounds explicitly counter-hegemonic interventions.

Such an approach, I argue, will have to a) start from a robust understanding of equality, b) rely on interpretative contextualism, c) contest the framework of religio-secularism, and d) develop a more inclusive form of democratic deliberation. This requires a radical shift in thinking about political secularism – one which is already under way in recent political philosophy.

‘The multidimensional recognition of religion’

Dr Simon Thompson (University of the West of England, Bristol)

In this paper, we present a case for the recognition of multiple religions, arguing that states have a non-absolute duty to recognise religions which it is likely they should discharge along different dimensions and to different degrees. More concretely, we focus on several Western European states (or regions thereof), arguing that they would be more legitimate if they were to recognise an extensive range of faiths and ethno-religious groups.

In order to make this argument, we deploy a method of iterative contextualism, consisting of two interlocking steps which can be thought of as obverse halves of a hermeneutic circle. First we identify and describe two cross-contextual principles, which we call identification and discretionary recognition. Then we suggest how it may be shown that these principles are already present to a significant degree in Denmark, Finland and Alsace-Moselle – the three contexts with which we are particularly concerned here.

This, then, is a normatively robust and contextually sensitive argument for the multidimensional recognition of religion by a state, and at the same time it explains how we apply the method of iterative contextualism.

PUBLIC LECTURE: Is the Liberal State Secular?

Professor Cécile Laborde (University of Oxford)

Under which conditions does a state meet basic criteria of liberal legitimacy? In particular, is it permissible for a state to endorse and promote a religion – and under which conditions?

In this lecture, I introduce secularism as a minimal normative requirement of state legitimacy. I understand secularism, not as a comprehensive non-religious conception of the good, but as a political doctrine specifying the rightful place of religion in the state. Secularism does not focus on the duties and dispositions of citizens but, rather, on the institutions of the state and the obligations of its officials. It asks whether liberal democracy requires some form of separation between state and religion, which, and why.

This event is funded by the DAAD-Cambridge Research Hub for German Studies.

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