Institutional and Legal Approaches to Religious Diversity

Academic Year: 
Course Code: 
NATI 5079
Course Description: 

The course is designed to provide an overview of the major issues and questions within the purview of the protection of freedom of religion. Following a theoretical introduction and general discussions about the concept of law and human rights; the balancing of conflicting rights and constitutional values and political interests; the concept of protecting group rights, and the dynamics of internal restrictions and external protections, as well as different (antidiscrimination focused individual justice-based, redistribution and economic empowerment oriented group justice-based, recognition-focused, and social dialogue and representation-focused) concepts of justice, in which religion-based claims are formulated, we turn to the analysis of how religion and religious freedom is conceptualized and operationalized in legal and policy measures. Let us always bear in mind: law is the language politics speaks, how theoretical, often theological, policy and political debates are being resolved (i.e. being cemented into binding decisions) by societies and the political elite.

The accommodation of all claims and aspirations by groups, be them identified, labeled or signified by religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc, is always politicized, and the success will always depend on the nature of the claims and its compatibility with the majority culture. The course will aim at unveiling the underlying patterns in political and legal debates, which will always be shaped by the nature of both the groups and the claims. As we will see neither the standards, nor the practices are fully consistent. In this voyage, we will approach the question of religion from (i) the point of how the state relates to religion on the constitutional level; (ii) how the prohibition of religion-based discrimination and the accommodation of religion-base claims are conceptualized and operationalized; and how (iii) the freedom and autonomy of religious organizations is guaranteed. We will also be looking at several adjacent issues such as (iv) how religion may serve as a marker for ethnicity; and (v) how the free choice of religion can be conceptualized. The issues will be scrutinized by looking at cases and case studies on clothing, dietary practices, religious symbols in public spaces (classrooms, courthouses, at the workplace, on the streets, the army and prisons), public holidays, approaches to marriage, and reproduction (abortion and contraception), male and female circumcision and cosmetic surgery, special cases in refugee procedures, the issue of Sharia courts, and blasphemy. When looking at claims for recognition or accommodation, we will be focusing on their “costs”, be they redistributive, or conflicts with human rights standards.

There will be weekly meetings in a seminar format. Seminar discussions of the required readings will have two parts: a general discussion, in which all students are expected to participate, and individual student presentations that explore, contest, or specify the major arguments of the required readings or cases.

This interdisciplinary course is designed to engage and challenge students in critical debates. Besides reading excerpts from books and academic articles, students will also become familiar with a wide range of case law dealing with the topic. The course is designed to combine academic articles and excerpts from books with legal texts or reports and policy recommendations by international organizations, and with the analysis of case law and jurisprudence. Students will not be given ready answers at the outset; instead, they will be encouraged to take an active part in debating and understanding the analyzed issues.

The e-learning site contains all the mandatory and recommended readings, which are either directly assigned to students for presentation, or provide background information for complex issues which students need to present as a starting point for class discussions. All presenters are expected to be familiar with the recommended readings and are required to prepare and send notes to the entire group by 12,00 the day before class. Late notes and failure to show up or present at class without prior notice will be penalized.

Given the highly intensive cooperation of students the course builds on, missing classes for students who have assignments or presentations is only acceptable for medical reasons, and a doctor’s note will be required. In such cases, if absent student were to present court cases, the relevant notes need to be sent before class or other forms of subsidiary arrangements need to me made, such as for example swapping assignments with colleagues.

Class attendance, presentations and the timely delivery of assignments will be continuously monitored.

Given the fact that the seminar builds on rigorous debates and the critical assessment of the readings, it may happen that the discussion of certain topics transgresses classes and some issues are moved to the next class. This is due to the nature of the course. Should some readings end up not being discussed by the end of the course, students responsible for those presentations will not be penalized for this.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students will be able to critically discuss a diverse set of topics in the purview of nationalism studies and legal and policy institutions concerning religious diversity.


Class participation:                                                     40%

Class presentations, the quality of the notes and the country report (late response papers will be noted)                                                                    40%

Final essay/mock case:                                                            20%


At around mid-term, individual consultations will be held to discuss overall class performance and the quality of the presentations.

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