Politics of Religious Freedom

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Genealogies edited by Saba Mahmood, South Atlantic Quarterly (vol 113 iss 1), from Duke University Press.

Saba Mahmood Politics of Religious Freedom from Duke University Press

Although South Atlantic Quarterly is published out of North Carolina, this number on “Politics of Religious Freedom” brings a global, and somewhat European-centered perspective to an issue that many Americans think of as having exceptional relevance to our traditions of government. Accordingly, there is no discussion of “separation of church and state,” and instead, there are repeated explorations of the distinction between the forum internum and the forum externum and 20th-century formulations of “human rights.” Besides the European genealogy of religious freedom, the writings here treat the interesting contemporary cases of Hindu majoritarianism in India and the official treatment of Bahaism in Egypt. The sole US-centered article is concerned with “US Evangelicals and the Politics of Slave Redemption in Sudan,” which is hardly a customary topic in this field.

As a general rule, the authors see “religious freedom” as a concept that is somewhat incoherent by design, so that its application is highly dependent on context and circumstance. The result is that it becomes an instrument of casuistry, and it permits the state to constrain and control religion according to socially conservative impulses.

The “Against the Day” supplement to this number of SAQ treats the anti-Putin protests in Russia in 2012 and 2013. The articles of this section include debunkings of conventional punditry about the motives and nature of those protests, as well as reflections on the properties and potentials of a depoliticized Russian citizenry. These were fascinating pieces, and I was surprised to see many likenesses between Russian and US political situations in the 21st century, even as the authors emphasized the peculiarities and uniqueness of the Russian situation. [via]