Conway Hall Declaration on Untouchability

We the delegates to the First World Conference on Untouchability, meeting in Conway Hall, London on 9 and 10 June 2009 under the aegis of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, hereby declare as follows

Discrimination based on work or descent is widespread throughout much of Asia and in several countries in Africa. Extreme forms of this discrimination – untouchability – involve restrictions on the employment open to certain groups, prohibition of intermarriage and restrictions on the use of water supplies, places of worship and even public roads. These restrictions are often enforced by violence and even murder.

Keep Reading at National Secular Society

Israel: The Challenge of a Democratic and Jewish State

by Asher Arian, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Politics, City University of New York Graduate School; Scientific Director of the Guttman Center of Applied Social Research, Israel Democracy Institute, Jerusalem.

Upon his election as Israel’s president in June 2007, Shimon Peres, twice prime minister of Israel, Nobel laureate for peace, former head of the Socialist International, and former head of Israel’s Labor Party, did two things. First, he went to the Western Wall of the Temple in the Old City of Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site, and second, he paid a call to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual head of Shas, one of Israel’s non-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox parties. The contrasts in this story illuminate the anomalies of religion in Israeli public life. Where are the boundaries? What is Jewish? What is religious behavior? Can one survive politically without paying homage to religious leaders and espousing religious sentiments? What could the word secular mean in that type of context: Non-religious? Anti-religious? Impervious to religion? Without religion?

Israel: The Challenge of a Democratic and Jewish State.

Turkey: The Islamist-Secularist Divide

by Binnaz Toprak, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey

In April 2007 and the months that followed, there were several demonstrations, organized by NGOs, against what the demonstrators perceived as a serious threat to the secular foundations of the Turkish Republic. Directed against the policies of the ruling AKP government, and in particular its stand on the election of a new President, these demonstrations were a few weeks apart, the first held in the capital city of Ankara, the second held in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, followed by others in various Anatolian towns. Although estimates differ over the number of demonstrators—between 300,000 and one million people attended the Istanbul meeting—everyone agreed that these demonstrations, with their endless rows of crowds, were the largest in the history of the Republic. In the aftermath of events, the foreign press reported that the demonstrations revealed the division of the country into “two Turkeys.”

Turkey: The I slamist-Secularist Divide.

Secularism, Women & the State: The Mediterranean World in the 21st Century

by Barry A. Kosmin, Research Professor in Public Policy and Law and founding Director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College & Ariela Keysar, Associate Research Professor in Public Policy and Law and the Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College

This volume grew out of a salon or conversazione on the theme of “The Prospects for the Secular State in the Mediterranean World in the 21st Century” hosted by ISSSC—the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. The event took place during June 2007 at Trinity College’s campus located on the historic and beautiful Aventine Hill in Rome, Italy. The purpose of this gathering was to assemble a diverse group of people from different Mediterranean nations, academic disciplines and professions for a relaxed, multi-cultural exchange of information and opinion on one of the key political and intellectual questions of the moment, one which is on the agenda today in one way or another in every country in the Mediterranean region. How should the state and government respond to diversity of beliefs and worldviews in today’s society?

Secularism, Women & the State: The Mediterranean World in the 21st Century

Human Rights and the Confrontation between Religious and Constitutional Authority: A Case Study of Israel’s Supreme Court

by Frances Raday, Professor of Law: Elias Lieberman Chair in Labor Law, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Director of the Concord Research Institute for Integration of International Law in Israel, at Colman College of Management and Academic Studies; Chair of the Israeli Association of Feminist and Gender Studies

This chapter focuses on the confrontation between religious and constitutional authority, as it affects the rights to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and gender and ethnic equality. It will analyze the Supreme Court’s reviews of decisions made by religious authorities. As background, I will first discuss the way in which constitutional norms should, as a matter of constitutional principle, deal with clashes between the right to culture or religion, on one hand, and the right to equality and freedom of conscience and religion, on the other. I will then seek to measure the Court’s jurisprudence within this conceptual framework. In order to determine which principles should govern the role of constitutional law in regulating the interaction between religious values and equality, I shall examine the theoretical arguments supporting deference to cultural or religious values over universal values. ose arguments, I shall contend, must not prevail. ere are various situations in which constitutionalism must cope with claims for deference to religious authority. The boundaries of a religious culture will not necessarily be coextensive with the constitutional realm. Within the constitutional realm, there may be a dominant religious culture and minority subcultures, or there may be a mosaic of subcultures. Furthermore, even in a religiously homogeneous society, the imposition of religious norms may vary at the levels of family, workplace and church/mosque/synagogue. There may be a different appreciation of the applicability of the norms in each of these institutional frameworks.

Human Rights and the Confrontation between Religious and Constitutional Authority: A Case Study of Israel’s…

A Cynical Look at “The Secularism Debate” in Turkey

by Mine Eder, Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations at Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey

Religion and Islam have long been powerful political instruments for most of the center-right parties in Turkey. Parties on the left—and the People’s Republican Party, in particular—have used secularism, and strict separation of Islam and the state, as the fundamental platform to get votes. This paper will argue that behind the secularism debate that has continued for two decades in Turkey lies the utter failure of both sides to address and solve the classic issues of political economy: rising unemployment and poverty, declining incomes in the countryside, and the failure of the state to provide basic public services such as education and health care. While issues such as headscarves, the status of religious schools, and alcohol consumption occupy the country’s social and political agenda, the most crucial issues have been left out of the public discussion. The fact that issues such as poverty, inequality, and social/economic exclusion require basic structural policy and priority changes can also explain why both sides might prefer quick appeals to their constituencies through debates on secularism. This paper suggests that a host of factors—depoliticization of the economic issues since the 1980s against a backdrop of premature economic liberalization in Turkey; the “obsession with identity politics” rather than economic issues as a global trend, particularly since 9/11; and the absence of a genuinely social democratic platform in the country, despite lip service from both the Islamists and the so-called leftists—can be blamed for the crucial absence of such political economy issues from Turkey’s political agenda.

A Cynical Look at “The Secularism Debate” in Turkey

The Secular Israeli (Jewish) Identity: An Impossible Dream?

by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Professor of psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel

Certain similarities can be observed in secularization processes across societies. Secularization is always gradual and relative, moving continually to a pronounced decline in common religious beliefs and behaviors while maintaining many rituals surrounding rites of passage. Life cycle rites, directly tied to individual identity, survive even in highly secularized societies. Individual claims to identity labels (i.e. I am Catholic) often persist in the absence of any beliefs or behaviors. If religiosity is measured as a continuous variable, and an individual can be assigned a score of zero to 100 based on commitment to religious beliefs and rituals, secular individuals are those with scores at or close to zero.

The Secular Israeli (Jewish) Identity: An Impossible Dream?

Secularism in India

by Ashgar Ali Engineer, Chairman of the Centre for the Study of Secularism in Society, editor of the Indian Journal of Secularism, and director of the Institute of Islamic Studies, Mumbai, India

Secularism in India has unique implications and meaning. In the Indian context the word secularism has never been used in the way in which it is often used in Western countries (i.e. a purely this-worldly approach, rejecting other-worldly beliefs).

Secularism in India

Secularism in Iran: A Hidden Agenda?

Nastaran Moossavi,

McGill Teaching Fellow in International Studies at Trinity College

In a country where honest responses to simple questions such as “Are you a Muslim? Do you believe in God? Is the Holy Koran the word of God? Do you pray and read the Holy Koran? When you were growing up did your father pray, fast, and read the Holy Koran?” led to mass executions in the late 1980’s, it is very difficult to know who is secular and to what extent. In this kind of situation people do not trust each other easily and often deny their true identity. It is infinitely more complicated to conduct a survey that asks questions like “What is your religion, if any?” Therefore, this assessment of religious identification among Iranians has shortcomings in terms of a quantifiable evaluation.

Secularism in Iran: A Hidden Agenda?