Publication Date

April 2017


Peter Gottschalk


College of Social Studies, Religion


English (United States)


It was out of the West’s long history of conflict over which nation's interests should be represented by the state that German judge and legal scholar Ernst Bo¨ckenfo¨rde’s seminal question about democracy emerged: “to what extent can peoples united in states live exclusively on the basis of the guarantee of the freedom of the individual without a uniting bond that is antecedent to that freedom?” Bo¨ckenfo¨rde was not the first to pose such a question, though he was one of the earliest non-theologians to answer in the negative. The antecedent value enshrined in Western democracies, he concludes, is secularism. This project takes up just a small part of the difficult task of answering that question. By reviewing three democracies in the Western democratic tradition— France, India, and the US—it traces the difficulties these states have encountered in fulfilling one of the fundamental promises of democracy: “protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct... to compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own.” The chapters articulate a phenomenon that, it is suggested, is common to democracies in the Western tradition. All three examples are united in the presence of a majoritarian religion whose conception of nationalism informs how the state defines, understands, and accommodates minority religious nations. Where these examples differ, they do so mostly on question of form: what their efforts to accommodate the national identity of minority religious nations actually look like. Each helps to demonstrate the overall historical trend this project proposes. Each example considered here engages with both religious nationalism and religious nation-building. The French Catholic, Indian Hindu, and US Protestant formulations of the state all draw, first, from an understanding of these different identities as characteristic of nations and, only after this, take up questions of politics. It is in the moment when these identity groups pivot from nation-building to nationalism that each encounters the challenges of secularism. Specifically, in their variegated approaches to accommodating different religious national identities at the state-level, each struggles to maintain a commitment to Western democratic values without relinquishing the traits that comprise their own religious identity.



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