Reader 2017

Secularism Matters

European Muslims and European Politics

Jan van Heemst

Abstract — Everywhere in the European Union, we are experiencing public manifestations of socio-religious practices of Islamic monotheism. In blurring the delicate line between the logic of private and the logic of public, socio-religious practices of European Muslims testify to the post-secular turn in view of a revival of the debate on the relationship between religion and politics. In this article, I take the position that critically understanding the post-secular turn in public manifestations of Islamic monotheism requires redefining secularism. Only a robust notion of non-cultural secularism will provide insight into the intricate relationship between socio-religious practices of European Muslims and politics. To grasp these intricacies, I will illustrate that, for a sociological majority of nation-state populists, being European boils down to Europe’s Judeo-Christian roots. I highlight the importance of the notion of non-cultural secularism in a culturally plural society, that accords with the fundamental rights and other constitutional commitments of liberal democracy, by contrasting cultural and democratic legitimizations of the nation-state. Cultural legitimization is almost generally accorded a positive valence across the political spectrum in a wide repertoire of populist phraseology: to integrate into the nation-state coincides with being bound to integrate into mainstream culture by paying tribute to the cultured consensus of the dominant ethnie. Whereas references to Judeo-Christian roots deny European Muslims the legal space to deploy their socio-religious practices, it is on the basis of non-cultural secularism that eventually both supporters and despisers of socio-religious practices are to be tolerated within the bounds of liberal democracies.

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