Tariq Modood on the Crisis of European Secularism

Secularism – the separation of religion and state – has been a central narrative in the European political sphere since the Enlightenment. But with renewed calls in some countries to affirm a Christian identity, and problems in accommodating some Muslim communities, is Western secularism under threat?

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Tariq Modood is Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy at the University of Bristol. He is founding Director of the University Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, and co-founding editor of the international journal, Ethnicities. As a regular contributor to the media and policy debates in Britain, he was awarded a MBE for services to social sciences and ethnic relations in 2001 and elected a member of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2004. He also served on the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, the IPPR Commission on National Security and on the National Equality Panel, which reported to the UK Deputy Prime Minister in 2010.

His recent publications include Multicultural Politics: Racism, Ethnicity and Muslims in Britain (Edinburgh University Press, 2005), Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea (Polity, 2007) and Still Not Easy Being British: Struggles for a Multicultural Citizenship (Trentham Books, 2010); and as co-editor, Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Is There a Crisis of Secularism in Western Europe?, which expands considerably upon the issues in this interview, is now available at http://www.bris.ac.uk/ethnicity/news/2012/36.html.

Readers and listeners might also be interested in Linda Woodhead’s podcast on the Secularisation Thesis, and Bjoern Mastiaux’s essay on the same topic.

3 replies
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    Eoin O'Mahony says:

    This is an interesting podcast. However, I would argue with Tariq that the State and Religion (as seemingly reified here) can be partners. To me this evacuates any agency for either those who are religious or what I might term ‘statists’. As a third way between his French and US models of secularity it is attractive but hardly representative of the manner in which public religions are lived out through powerful means?

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    Christine Pugh says:

    I also found myself uncomfortable with Modood’s pairing of “moderate” Church and State. Modood barely mentions the potential abuses of power that are much more likely to occur when particular religions are given special privileges by the state. The histories of many so called “moderately secular” countries are filled with incidents in which dominant religious groups colluded with civil power structures to force their worldviews on religious, racial and cultural minorities. Although Modood suggests that civil governments should use religious groups to administer social programs and promote harmonious relations, I would be quite worried that these religious groups would then use civil power to hegemonically enforce their values on ideological minorities. This seemed to be common in Quebec, for example, before the Quiet Revolution of the mid twentieth century. Currently, German Catholics are also concerned with what the Catholic Church is doing with their state mandated church taxes and the financial excesses that are being paid for with public tax dollars.

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    Ruth-Anne Avruskin says:

    Thank you for another interesting podcast – thought-provoking as always. I found it particularly informative and well-explained. It left me wondering about Canada’s placement within the proposed models, and questioning which model is most fostering of a peaceful society. I am also inclined to agree with the other comments, and voice my concern for the practical applicability of the third/moderate model.


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