The Religious Problem with Religious Freedom: Why International Theory Needs Political Theology

  • Robert Joustra

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The 2011 assassination of Pakistani Minister Shahbaz Bhatti prompted the promise of, and strong disagreement over, the Canadian Office of Religious Freedom, presenting a puzzle for Canadian foreign policy: Is it possible to explain the variation in how religious freedom is understood and applied? This variation can be explained in part by the religious problem with religious freedom, which is that underlying rival versions of religious freedom are rival meanings of the religious and the secular. Demonstrated in the Canadian case, two rival versions of religious freedom can be seen: laïcité, an antagonistic, privatized religious/secular divide, and Judeo-Christian secularism, a mutually supportive religious/secular divide. These rival meanings are often undisclosed because they are derivative of a shift in what Charles Taylor calls the modern social imaginary, a whole new way human beings imagine themselves, and the practices that sustain and provide meaning to that imagination. This has shifted boundaries between the religious and the secular, as the inverse of one another, and sustained specific social forms, what Taylor calls the objectified economy, the pre-political public, and an increasingly radical self-government. Unfortunately, mainstream international theory is more problem than solution, sustaining undisclosed, specifically modern social forms and their religious/secular assumptions. An alternative definition of a much contested concept, political theology, advanced through critical readings of Carl Schmitt, Vendulka Kubálková, Daniel Philpott, Monica Toft, and Timothy Shah, holds better promise, defined as the understandings and practices that political actors have about the meaning of and relationship between the religious and the secular, and what constitutes legitimate political authority. Political theology finally suggests a principled secular approach to religious freedom in Canadian foreign policy, one which radically redefines the secular not as the inverse of the religious, but as the proper response of the state to diversity.
Date of Award22 Jul 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorScott Thomas (Supervisor)

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