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Secularism in Europe

Although the term ‘secular’ has been traditionally understood as that which is in opposition to religious matters, Dr Lorenzo Zucca of The Dickson Poon School of Law wishes to re-appropriate the word in order to define a civic space in which a ‘marketplace of religions’ can be developed. Dr Zucca explores this issue in a piece in Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights [OUP 2015], the first comprehensive exploration of contemporary philosophical thinking around human rights. His essay, 'Freedom of Religion in a Secular World' examines religion within the global context of human rights and the legal implications at stake in the establishment of a world society that guarantees religious freedom.

The recent tragedy of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 – among many other attacks driven by religious fanaticism – highlights how religion ‘has come back to the public sphere’. This resurging prominence suggests that policymakers need to more explicitly address the intersection of law and religion within the context of domestic and foreign affairs policies. Enacting freedom of religion is relatively easy within a homogenous society, claims Dr Zucca. However, when increased globalisation brings together different cultures, the right to religious expression begins to create tensions within and between these communities. Such tensions are exacerbated subsequently by different countries’ disparate definitions of religion and religious expression.

Dr Zucca proposes that the promotion of a secular agenda does not, as the traditional definition might suggest, necessitate a fully-fledged anti-religious attitude, but instead an attitude that leaves space for different forms of worship. A legal framework erected around a traditionally Christian definition of religion, for instance, needs to make way for minority religious views as well. Only by re-conceptualising ‘secularism’ as a means of protecting and promoting diversity of religious and non-religious views, claims Dr Zucca, can policymakers finally ‘guarantee freedom of religions’ within the public sphere.

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