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Is Religion Special? Reformulating Secularism and Religion in Legal and Contemporary Theory


RAPT (Religion And Political Theory) aims to re-assess the foundations of the special nature of religion in legal and political theory, by reference to the growing body of multi-disciplinary literature about post secularism. Its main research question is: how can the special status of religion in secular politics and law be explained and justified?
In western politics and law, religion has a special status. On the one hand, there is supposed to be a unique separation between the state and religion; and, on the other hand, the state gives special protection to religious beliefs and organizations qua religious. The religious neutrality of the state and respect for freedom of religion are the two salient features of the relationship between religion, law and politics.
What is rarely noted is that these features rely on a distinctive understanding of religion, born out of the particular trajectory of western secularisation. One upshot of long-standing, protracted struggles between religious and political authorities is that, in western society at least, religion is seen as importantly and relevantly distinct from other spheres of human and social life. So, instead of presenting the problem in a simplistically dichotomous fashion (‘secular’ versus ‘religious’ or ‘post-secular’), RAPT sees religion itself as the contested term in the debate between secularism and its critics.
The central hypothesis of RAPT is that the ‘specialness’ of religion is defensible in light of important political and legal ideals, but that it needs to be substantially modified and refined in response to philosophical, anthropological, historical, political and sociological post-secular critiques.
To demonstrate this, RAPT is divided into three complementary projects: A Typology of the Political-Legal Construction of Religion; An Analytical Assessment of the Post-Secular Critique and A Normative Reformulation of Secularity and Religion.

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UCL Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health
Gower street
WC1E 6BT London
United Kingdom

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London Inner London — West Camden and City of London
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Giles Machell (Mr.)
Principal investigator
Cecile Laborde (Prof.)
EU contribution
No data

Beneficiaries (1)