Open Secularism and the New Religious Pluralism
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Although we have developed modes of governance of religious diversity to accommodate the weak level of religious pluralism which characterized Western societies until recently, it is not clear that these modes of governance can meet the challenges raised by the new and deeper form of religious diversity characterized by a growing gap between the self-understandings of religious and secular citizens as well as by an increasing number of religious groups due to contemporary patterns of immigration. Freedom of conscience and equality between the adherents of different churches have historically been secured by a separation between state and religion. However, contemporary political theorists disagree about the shape that this separation should take. Some defend a model of institutional pluralism which requires the state to equally support and recognize different religious groups by providing them with the means to set up their own pervasively religious social institutions. Others put forth a restrictive secularist model according to which religion should be privatized. There should be a strict separation between the public and the religious spheres to ensure that no religion is privileged or disadvantaged by the state. However, I argue that both approaches fail to meet the challenges raised by the arrival of new religious minorities within Western societies. Accommodation of religious diversity through separate institutions is not required by equality and freedom of conscience. Moreover, since it favours institutional segmentation along religious lines, it fails to provide favourable conditions for the integration of new immigrant groups. Strict secularism requires that religious expressions be severely restricted in the public sphere and thus heavily limit freedom of conscience. Moreover, since the public sphere is never fully neutral, strict secularism fails to equally protect the freedom of new religious groups. How can we then achieve the two apparently irreconcilable goals of integrating new minorities and of protecting their freedom and equal status? The thesis that I defend is that these goals can be reconciled by an approach of open secularism based on the reasonable accommodation of religious diversity within shared public institutions.