Friday, April 11, 2008

Habermas on shariah and overlapping jurisdictions

From The Chronicle:

Religious Intelligence reports that the acclaimed German philosopher J├╝rgen Habermas has spoken in support of the Archbishop of Canterbury on the subject of Shariah.

The archbishop, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, caused a stir in February when he said there might be room in Britain for “overlapping jurisdictions” between national law and Shariah, or Islamic law. He suggested that “individuals might choose in certain limited areas whether to seek justice under one system or another.” [...]

Writing this month in a German journal, in an article adapted from a March talk at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands, Habermas, according to Religious Intelligence, “accepted the contention of secularists who insist on the ‘absolute essentialness of equal inclusion of all citizens in civil society.’”

“Religious citizens and religious communities should not only assimilate on the surface level. They must embrace the secular legitimisation of the community within the premises of their own belief,” he said.

“However, the state must make room for religious belief and avoid rushing to reduce the polyphonic complexity of the spectrum of public voices because it cannot be certain that this might not sever society from the meager resources that generate meaning and identity.”

Some material from the linked "Religious Intelligence" article:

Habermas also questioned the contention that modernisation presumed secularisation and necessarily lead to a diminished role for religion in the public sphere. Europe was entering a post-secular phase, and its loss of religious beliefs was the exception not the rule, he argued.

America was the “spearhead of modernization,” he noted, but "the vibrancy of American religious communities and the unchanging proportion of America's religious committed citizens" belied the theory of secularisation going hand in hand with modernity.

America “seems to exemplify the norm, while Western rationalism that was once supposed to serve as model for the rest of the world is actually the exception,” he said.

The task facing society was to find the proper balance between the claims of religion and culture against the democratic imperative, becoming aware “of the fact that the other is a member of an inclusive community of citizens of equal rights, in which equal citizenship and cultural difference complement each other."

Muslims in Europe "must not only superficially adjust to a constitutional order. They are expected to appropriate the secular legitimation of constitutional principles under the very premises of their own faith,” Habermas said.

However, secularists must also enter a complementary learning process, for if they continued to reject the people with a religious mindset, they were abandoning the mutual recognition that shared citizenship entails.

Secular citizens must remain open to the possibility that even religious utterances, when translated into a secular context, can have meaning for them. "As not everything can be achieved by political decision and legal enforcement,” Habermas concluded.

See also this post from political theorist Simone Chambers on Habermas' view of religion in the public sphere.