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It is with great pleasure that I introduce the first issue of the graduate e-journal Regulating Religion. The idea of launching such a journal came after the realization that few graduate papers, and in particular Master students’ papers, seemed to have a life beyond the class for which they were written for. These pieces remain accessible only to students who write them, to the professors reading them, and in the best of cases to fellow students attending the class. Yet, many of the papers produced in graduate classes that explore questions around religion and its regulation are highly original and contribute in refreshing ways to current scholarly efforts that seek to rethink the relationship between religion, secularism, law and politics. The aim of Regulating Religion is therefore to provide a life after the classroom to some of these pieces making them accessible to interested scholars and students, as well as to a wider public. Regulating Religion hopes as well to be a platform that regroups the work of students coming from a variety of disciplines and looking at questions around the regulation of religion from different lenses and angles; providing a space for fruitful interaction across fields.
The pieces featured in this first issue are a case in point of the importance of having such an e-platform for graduate papers. They all represent the interdisciplinary character that underlines the study of religion. The four contributors to this issue do not only come from different disciplines, including international relations, religious studies and political science, but the issues explored and the content of their contributions are interdisciplinary as well. While they explore different topics, a common thread structures their pieces: they all propose new ways of examining and thinking about concepts or/and current political and sociological events.
The piece by Jonathan Austin invites us to look critically at the reactions of western governments to the Arab-Spring. Drawing on post-colonial and post-structuralist theory, the author explores how discourses around the Arab-Spring are an example of the layering of discourses that surround the Other with the effect of perpetuating rather than transforming subjugating dichotomies. In this process, he examines how Western-foreign policy is currently undergoing a discursive shift and dividing the Arab-Islamic Other between secularized Western-friendly users of Facebook and Islamic fanatics.
The piece by Lauren Forbes investigates the disputes surrounding whether Christian prayers should be recited at the opening of various public institutions’ meetings in today’s increasing plural societies. She illustrates her discussion by looking specifically at Canadian case law on the issue, and argues that these disputes have and will push courts to clarify and rethink their conception of state neutrality and secularism. She ends the article by exploring other, more inclusive solutions that are in closer accord with how Canada views these principles than the ones proposed by the legal cases reviewed in her piece.
The article by Hanna Röbbelen deals with some of the tensions and contradictions that are triggered by models of religious governances deeply influenced by Christianity, but that have to adapt to the diversity of contemporary societies. She investigates this by looking at the status of the legal, political and religious accommodation of the Muslim minority in Germany. She argues that this status is marked by a deep indecisiveness that stems from a history of Church-State relations and accommodations that are not always compatible with Islamic practices and organization. She concludes that in order to protect state neutrality and religious equality, the German state needs to critically reassess the basics principles of the German Church-State law.
Finally, the article by Rachel Sweet Vanderpoel examines how the concept of secularism is used by Kenya’s High Court. Her paper expands our horizon beyond conventional cases that have marked studies on secularism (i.e. United States, Europe, South Asia and Turkey). It also invites us to look at the transnational diffusion of secularism and secular norms. In so doing, she argues that rather than passively receiving global norms, the Kenyan High Court uses these norms as a toolkit for promoting a particular local agenda. In other words, by appealing to transnational sources the court bolsters its authority, while fabricating at the same time a universal consensus over contentious terms such as religion and secularism.
All these pieces point to the complex relationship between religion, politics, law and secularism today. It is our hope that the next issues of Regulating Religion will continue to explore these intimate relations. We invite graduate students from all disciplines interested by this e-platform to familiarize themselves with the submission guidelines and to submit a piece for review either in French or English. In the meantime, we hope that you will enjoy as much as we did reading the contributions to this first issue!
Amélie Barras, Editor
August 28, 2012