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Multiculturalism and Religious Identity

Multiculturalism and Religious Identity: Canada and India

Sonia Sikka
Lori G. Beaman
Copyright Date: 2014
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  • Book Info
    Multiculturalism and Religious Identity
    Book Description:

    How, and to what extent, can religion be included within commitments to multiculturalism? Multiculturalism and Religious Identity addresses this question by examining the political recognition and management of religious identity in Canada and India. In multicultural policy, practice, and literature, religion has until recently not been included within broader discussions of multiculturalism, perhaps due to worries of potential for conflict with secularism. This collection undertakes a contemporary analysis of how the Canadian and Indian states each approach religious diversity through social and political policies, as well as how religion and secularism meet both philosophically and politically in contested public space. Although Canada and India have differing political and religious histories - leading to different articulations of multiculturalism, religious diversity, and secularism - both countries share a commitment to ensuring fair treatment for the different religious communities they include. Combining broader theoretical and normative reflections with close case studies, Multiculturalism and Religious Identity leads the way to addressing these timely issues in the Canadian and Indian contexts.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9220-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-30)

    In recent years the question of the legal and social place of religious beliefs, practices, and values has attained increasing prominence within liberal democratic societies. On the one hand, liberal societies are deeply committed to the principle of respect for religious freedom, and to the protection of individual rights against the dangers posed by democratic majoritarianism. On the other hand, they are avowedly secular, raising concerns about the compatibility of religious and secular values, as well as about the potential erosion of secular values if religion is granted too much space, or the wrong kind of space, within public and...


    • 1 Multiculturalism and Religious Pluralism in Canada: Intimations of a “Post-Westphalian” Condition
      (pp. 33-54)

      In various senses, Canada has always been a multicultural and religiously pluralistic place. An important conceptualization of these diversities, still valid today, arrived with the Europeans in the seventeenth century, one that they succeeded in institutionalizing over the subsequent centuries. This understanding includes the following notions:

      that religion is a distinct realm of social and personal life;

      that religion comes in multiple units called religions and in distinct subunits of those religions;

      that people also divide into somewhat analogous multiple collective units called by such names as peoples, nations, cultures, or ethnicities;

      that there exists a significant but by no...

    • 2 Religious Diversity and Multicultural Accommodation
      (pp. 55-75)

      Over the last three decades religious minorities, often immigrant populations, have raised a number of issues involving the accommodation of their community practices in Western liberal democracies. Whether it is the case of Sikhs with turbans asking for an exemption from wearing the prescribed headgear in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or at construction sites; Muslim girls wanting to wear the headscarf to school; devout Muslim workers claiming time off on Friday afternoon to offer the mandated special prayers; Sikh children seeking permission to carry a small kirpan to school; communities (often Muslims and Jews) demanding availability of a particular...

    • 3 State, Religious Diversity, and the Crisis of Secularism
      (pp. 76-94)

      Over the last three decades, secular states – states that are separated from religion – have come under strain virtually everywhere. It is hardly surprising then that political secularism, the doctrine that defends them, has also been subjected to severe criticism. Some scholars have concluded that this critique is ethically and morally so profound and justified that it is time to abandon political secularism. I reject this conclusion. I argue that the criticism of secularism looks indefeasible only because critics have focused on mainstream conceptions developed in largely religiously homogenous societies. It is time we shifted focus away from doctrines underpinning some...

    • 4 Secularism: A Possible Gandhian Reconstruction
      (pp. 95-119)

      Secularism in the Indian avatar has largely been seen as having not Gandhian but Nehruvian origins. For Indian secularism emerged from a dialectics of modern science and the historical experience of religious conflict. Nehru’s lack of personal religiosity supplemented such a dialectics between rational science and irrational, essentially conflict-ridden religious denominations, finding a resolution in the non-establishment clause. Yet it is interesting to note that Gandhi also appears in various ways in the mainstream social science discourse on secularism in India. Within that discourse, Gandhi’s secularism is open to conflicting interpretations, for he is assimilated both as supportive of Indian...

    • 5 Lessons from the Management of Religious Diversity in Chinese Societies: A Diversity of Approaches to State Control
      (pp. 120-150)

      As Canadian and Indian experts exchange views on the place of religion in their respective societies and compare the policies of multiculturalism and secularism of their respective governments to learn from each other, a discussion of Chinese approaches can be useful. It draws our attention to one key question raised in the introduction to this volume about the challenges for Canadian and Indian decision makers as they face vocal demands from some groups to limit the expression of religion in the public and political spheres. What happens when the state actively enforces such limitations? Followers of many political persuasions in...


    • 6 Justice, Diversity, and Dialogue: Rawlsian Multiculturalism
      (pp. 153-168)

      In this chapter, I argue that John Rawls’ later work presents one of the most fruitful liberal frameworks from which to approach global cultural diversity. In hisLaw of Peoples(1999), the normative architecture Rawls provides is much more open to an intercultural/religious dialogue with various non-Western communities, such as the First Nations, than are other liberal approaches. Surprisingly, this has gone unnoticed in the literature on multiculturalism. At the same time, Rawls’ framework is not problem free. Here, I am concerned with Rawls’ conception of overlapping consensus as political, rather than comprehensive; or the idea that dialogue and discussion...

    • 7 The Normativity of Inclusion and Exclusion: Should Multiculturalism Encompass Religious Identities?
      (pp. 169-188)

      Some aspects of how multiculturalism can or should relate to religious identities have not yet been widely discussed in contemporary political theory, but we can already anticipate what one of the greatest sources of resistance will be, from both theorists and policymakers, especially to the idea of public support for cultural activities that are either religious in nature or are specifically connected to a religion or religious group. As in other areas, an argument we can expect to loom large is a “slippery slope” argument. Used as an argument against extending multiculturalism to religion, the argument would be that offering...

    • 8 What Can Weberian Sociology Tell Us About Multiculturalism and Religion?
      (pp. 189-208)

      The French sociologist Michel Wieviorka (2010) maintains that for the idea of multiculturalism to survive the hostile post-9/11 climate – marked by an ideology best characterized as that of a “clash of civilizations” (Huntington 1996) and a condemnation of the “M word” in media and politics (Vertovec and Wessendorf 2009) – the concept of multiculturalism is in need of profound reconstruction. In particular, Wieviorka identifies four dimensions where multiculturalism requires clarification. First, in order to overcome the opposition between an abstract universalism and the paradigm of communitarianism, it is necessary to attribute a clear meaning to the notion of “group rights.” According...


    • 9 The Ayodhya Dispute: Law’s Imagination and the Functions of the Status Quo
      (pp. 211-235)

      As a shorthand index of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhumi impasse, the Ayodhya dispute is notoriously difficult to pin down. It is at once a contest over property, historical and archaeological interpretation, cultural tradition, and the place of Muslims in India. From the point of view of legal material, the dispute, at a minimum, points to a government bound by fixed rules applicable to all, but the connotative qualities of the court cases are more expansive, covering the history of late colonial north India and putting into crisis the guarantee of constitutional secularism in postcolonial India. Strictly speaking, the dispute in...

    • 10 Laws of General Application: The Retreat from Multiculturalism and Its Implications for Religious Freedom
      (pp. 236-252)

      In Canada, as in other Western “receiving” nations, there is increased discussion about the value of multiculturalism and its role in a diverse Canada. While the language of diversity has been primarily associated with multiculturalism, pluralism has been conceptually linked to minority existence within majoritarian culture. Recently, the discourse of pluralism has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity especially in institutional settings. Pluralism is being positioned as being in greater harmony with “Canadian values,” which are imagined as representative of a cohesive whole with which citizens (or those who would like to be citizens) comply and agree.

      Law is one social...

    • 11 Theism and the Secular in Canada
      (pp. 253-272)

      This chapter is about the conceptions and definitions of secularism and how their operationalization creates different possibilities for the expression of religion in the public sphere. Although the chapter does not explicitly discuss the case of India in comparison to Quebec and the rest of Canada, the questions outlined here are equally pertinent to India, a democracy that prides itself on its constitutional guarantee of religious freedom and its openness to religious minorities. The first section of the first part of the chapter will begin with a semantic and theoretical analysis of key concepts – secular, secularism, andlaïcitéas they...


    • 12 The Limits of Multiculturalism in Contemporary India
      (pp. 275-300)

      Canada is widely regarded as the birthplace of multiculturalism, but India has had an unstated, unofficial, unproclaimed multiculturalism since the inception of the Republic in 1950. Although the Indian Constitution, to begin with, used neither the terms multicultural nor secular, it endorsed the idea of equality among groups, which is at the core of multiculturalism. As Mahajan (2002) points out, however, there has been little attempt to theorize India’s multicultural democracy. In contrast, there has been extensive discussion of secularism (Bhargava 1988, 2007a, 2007b; Sikka and Beaman, this volume; Raghuramaraju 1998). India’s multiculturalism, which is embedded in the constitution itself,...

    • 13 An Exploration of Multi-Religiosity within India: The Sahebdhani and the Matua Sects
      (pp. 301-317)

      With a nation like India and a religion like Hinduism, characterized more by multiplicity and fluidity than by definitiveness, multiculturalism would appear to come easy. Recent history, however, points to complications that suggest that even a multicultural and multi-religious nation like India may encounter difficulties in concretizing these concepts. This is despite the fact that India has both a tradition of, and official policies supporting, multiculturalism and multi-religiosity. Any policy of multiculturalism usually requires a naming and demarcation of the many cultures, or at the very least a clarification of characteristics that could constitute a culture/religion. This makes a faith...

    • 14 The Difference “Difference” Makes: Jainism, Religious Pluralism, and Identity Politics
      (pp. 318-332)

      Upon hearing the oft-touted assertion of India being “the world’s largest democracy,” the Jains of India either beam with pride as living exemplars of its success, having long thrived on the fertile soil of India’s religious pluralism, or they cast their eyes to the sky, considering such declarations to be nothing more than propagandistic whitewashing, masking a fraudulent state policy of Hinduization.

      In this chapter, I bring Jain voices into our discussion of religious pluralism, multiculturalism, and secularism, particularly as they relate to issues of minority status recognition. My intention is not to attempt any evaluation of Jain identity claims,...

    • 15 Religion Education in a Multicultural Society
      (pp. 333-352)

      Over the years, multiculturalism, as a social and political model for managing diversity, has often come under attack for allegedly generating a host of social ills: for increasing social fragmentation, creating ethnic ghettos, eroding respect for liberal democratic values among minority communities, and so on. In the context of the recent backlash against multiculturalism in the UK, continental Europe and, to a lesser degree, Canada, a number of analysts have argued cogently and carefully against the factual assumptions underlying reactions against multiculturalism expressed in the popular media and in political rhetoric, as well as in the partial retreat from this...

    • 16 Doing Caste, Making Citizens: Differing Conceptions of Religious Identities and Autonomy in Hindu Law
      (pp. 353-380)

      Debates rage between feminists and proponents of group rights over the question of whether multiculturalism is antithetical to gender equality. These contentions are particularly sharp around the question of recognition of religious family laws, as these shape gender roles, as well as ethnogender identities and subjectivities within the family, and impact on the distribution of resources within the family. Feminists further argue that the recognition of religious family laws consolidates intra-group hierarchies, essentializes the boundaries of religious groups, denies women equal citizenship rights by concretizing gender inequality within the family, and violates individual liberty (Cook 1994; Moghadam 1994; Nussbaum and...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 381-392)

    We take the opportunity in this conclusion to draw out some of the broader implications that have emerged from these chapters for managing religious diversity as relevant to the cases of Canada and India, to reflect on what may be learned from comparing the two nations, and to identify areas that need further research. Let us return to the questions posed toward the end of our introduction, and ask how we might answer them in light of the foregoing analyses and reflections.

    The first question we raised was: What are the principles of political secularism, and do they conflict with...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 393-398)
  10. Index
    (pp. 399-410)