New Diversities • Volume 17, No. 1, 2015

Engaging with the Other: Religion, Identity, and Politics in the Mediterranean

Guest Editors: Avi Astor (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) & Mar Griera (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

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Engaging with the Other: Religion, Identity, and Politics in the Mediterranean
by Avi Astor and Mar Griera (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)
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Abstract and Keywords

The Mediterranean has long been a space of encounter between different nations, religions, and cultures. The fusion of national and religious identity in the region has added complexity to current debates regarding the recognition and accommodation of religious minorities. In this introduction, we outline recent scholarship on religious nationalism and the governance of religious diversity in the Mediterranean. We draw upon the articles included in this special issue to highlight the distinctive modalities of the religion-national identity link that exist in the region, and the manner in which these modalities have influenced policies of religious accommodation and strategies of political mobilization among religious minorities. In concluding, we draw attention to the need for more studies that help to connect recent analyses of ethno-religious and political transformations in the Mediterranean with the work of historians and social scientists on the historical constitution and evolution of the region as an interconnected space in which core socio-political and cultural dynamics are shaped by cross-border flows, engagements, and exchanges.

Keywords: religion, identity, religious diversity, Islam, Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, secularization, Mediterranean

Historical Trajectories and Ambivalences of Turkish Minority Discourse
by Markus Dressler (Bayreuth University)
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Abstract and Keywords

This article inquires into the work of modern minority discourse and politics that delineates the boundaries of the Turkish national subject as Turkish-Islamic. It argues that the Turkish minority concept, which is based on imaginaries that justify claims of national and religious sameness and difference, needs to be understood against the backdrop of its historical formation. In the late Ottoman Empire, the socio-political grounds of communal sameness/difference were radically transformed. In this process, ethno-religious millets turned into national millets, culminating in the re-conceptualization of the non-Muslim millets as religious minorities in the early Republic of Turkey. The article further shows how the restriction of minority rights to non-Muslims puts the Turkish concept of minority/azınlık at odds with international conventions on minority discourse. It creates ambivalences with regard to citizenship and nationhood status not only for them, but also for disadvantaged Muslim subgroups, such as the Alevis. Drawing in particular on the case of the Alevi community, I will demarcate the contested entry and exit points of nationhood and religion, in relation to which the minority label is organized in Turkey. Having to negotiate the pitfalls of Turkish identity discourses, Alevis employ the semantics of international human rights discourse in their quest for equal rights and recognition, while rejecting the minority label.

Keywords: minority discourse, Turkey, Alevism, Turkish nationalism, Turkish secularism, religion in the Ottoman Empire, religion politics

Toleration of Religious Diversity in a Small Island State
by Mary Darmanin (University of Malta)
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Abstract and Keywords

This article explores individual and institutional discursive regimes of toleration in Malta, a small new ‘host’ EU member state with a Roman Catholic ethnic religion. With new immigrant populations, Maltese schools have become reluctant sites of multiculture. The state is currently under pressure to move from toleration to accommodation and formal equality. However, Maltese Catholic nationals respond to religious ‘Others’ with different classes of tolerance, sometimes even with intolerance. This lack of acceptance by Catholic nationals raises specific political dilemmas for institutional actors, which will be discussed in relation to the provision of religious education in schools. Given this context, the article asks, what processes could lead to participative equality in reluctant sites of multiculture? Taking a pragmatic approach, sensitive to context and temporality with regard to discourses of toleration, this article argues that tolerance, especially democratic institutional pluralism that supports respectful engagement with and participation of religious ‘Others’ in public institutions, creates spaces for social relationships and social bonds to flourish between majority and minority citizens. These bonds are required to achieve ‘deep equality’.

Keywords: toleration, religious recognition, democratic institutional pluralism, ethnicity, Malta

Banal, Benign or Pernicious? Religion and National Identity from the Perspective of Religious Minorities in Greece
by Effie Fokas (Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, ELIAMEP and Hellenic Observatory, LSE)
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Abstract and Keywords

Intersections between religion and law are increasingly permeating the public sphere. From burqa bans to same-sex marriage, a strong relationship between religion and national identity (whether ‘negative’, as in the French case, or ‘positive’ as in the Greek case), can often be found as a central factor therein. Based on empirical research conducted on pluralism and religious freedom in Greece and other majority Orthodox countries, this article seeks to locate the religion-national identity link within the grey area at the intersection between religion and law. The voices of religious minority groups illustrate the blurred lines between the benign and the pernicious in banal manifestations of the religion-national identity link in the Greek context. Against the backdrop of the Greek example, the article then navigates through normative debates about whether and how limitations to the freedoms of religious minorities, in cases where these limitations are linked to the relationship between religion and national identity, can be effectively redressed.

Keywords: Orthodoxy, church-state relations, religious education, proselytism, equality

Authorizing Religious Conversion in Administrative Courts: Law, Rights, and Secular Indeterminacy
by Mona Oraby (Northwestern University)
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Abstract and Keywords

The administration of religious difference in modern Egypt suggests more continuity in the state’s involvement in personal status affairs over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than is generally thought to exist. At the same time, the role that the administrative courts have played, on the one hand, in regulating formal religious identity and, on the other hand, in adjudicating conversion and apostasy has gone largely unaddressed. This article argues that constituting religious identity as an administrative category subject to judicial oversight was part of a larger constellation of political arrangements that reorganized relations among legal and bureaucratic institutions, religious authority, and state capacity in the modern period. By accounting for the enduring inconsistency with which the rule of law is deployed in religious status jurisprudence and the French legal influences that undergird this practice, the article illuminates how the administrative judiciary, a purportedly secular institution meant to curb an unwieldy bureaucracy, sustains rather than restricts sovereign state decisionism. The paradoxes of judicial discretion construct mutable boundaries between minority and majority religious populations that are central to the exercise of secular power.

Keywords: Egypt, secularism, Majlis al-Dawla, conversion, minorities, public order

Religious Diversity in Italy and the Impact on Education: The History of a Failure
by Maria Chiara Giorda (Università di Milano – Bicocca)
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Abstract and Keywords

Cultural diversity and plural religiosity characterize today’s Italy. These characterizations are traits of contemporary migration flows, which have put the country among the top receiving destinations in all of Europe since the 2000s. While diversity and religious pluralism have become politically salient issues in current public debate, these traits have contributed to forging the Italian national identity for centuries.

The different relationships entangling Italy’s political and cultural institutions and the education system traditionally regard the search for a common path that conciliates religion, religious diversity and secularism as a confrontational and divisive field of action. Actors who are involved in this field, from teachers to NGOs and the Italian Ministry of Education, work to find strategies to adjust the needs emerging from relatively new religious environments.
An increasing share of students coming from a diverse population and religiosity are disrupting the long-established cohabitation of the Catholic Church and the State in the public sphere.

This article tries to present different models about thinking, teaching and dealing with religions in Italy in the last 20 years, highlighting the opportunities, limitations and weaknesses associated with these attempts. If the resources of knowledge and the development of teaching skills available in schools are important for the processes of social integration, then the legislative framework, the decisions, and the services of political institutions are pivotal for the monitoring and management religious pluralism. By and large, the public school system is still tailored in prevalence to Catholic religion, festivals, customs, and precepts. Three focuses (religious education, school canteens and the case of crucifix) help to show how non-secular practices and politics have missed, until now, the opportunity to deal with pluralism.

Keywords: Religious diversity, public places, secularism, education about religions, school canteens, religious symbols

Completing the Religious Transition? Catholics and Muslims Navigate Secularism in Democratic Spain
by Aitana Guia (European University Institute, Florence)
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Abstract and Keywords

In Europe, Muslims are often seen as the enemies of secularism and laïcité, the strict separation of church and state pioneered in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century France. Yet the Spanish experience shows that European Muslims should not prima facie be considered opponents of secularism. Indeed, a majority of devout Spanish Muslims have demanded, rather than opposed, state neutrality on religious matters—this in direct opposition to a concerted effort by the Catholic Church and its supporters to maintain a privileged position vis-à-vis other confessions. In the protracted debates over the role of religion in the public sphere in Spain, devout Muslims have shown a preference for the secular Socialist Party over the militant Catholicism of Spanish conservatives. The leaders of the Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic federations demanded in 2011 that Spain complete its “religious transition” so as to ensure the equal treatment of all religious confessions by the state. Muslims in Spain, while they have echoed Catholic demands for the preservation of religion in the public sphere, have opposed Catholicism’s privileged status in the country. By demanding consistency of treatment and state neutrality on religious matters, Muslims have assisted, rather than hindered, the construction of secularism in Spain.

Keywords: transition, Spain, religious rights, minority religions, secularism, education, Islam, Catholicism

Religion and Migration in Morocco: Governability and Diaspora
by Ana I. Planet Contreras (Workshop of International Mediterranean Studies (TEIM), Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) and
Miguel Hernando de Larramendi Martinez (Study Group on Arab and Muslim Societies (GRESAM), Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha)
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Abstract and Keywords

This article analyses recent Moroccan policies towards its emigrants using Spain as the observation site and the religious arena as the specific focus. Given that the framework for analysing migration and transnationalism has become progressively more complex, the study of Moroccan policies regarding migrants must include –among the many factors that combine to preserve ties with the country of origin– a more detailed and dynamic analysis of religion. This includes examining changes in policies designed to manage religious questions in the current Moroccan context and the material and symbolic efforts made to sustain Moroccan/Muslim citizens in the diaspora. All of these entanglements of citizenship and religion are affected by debates and policies in the specific local and national contexts where migrants settle and is enriched by the commitments made by individual migrants and their descendants on a daily basis and by unstoppable processes of de facto incorporation as citizens in host countries.

The most recent constitutional reform in Morocco, carried out at the behest of the king in 2011 in the context of the Arab Spring, maintained Islam as the country’s official religion along with the principle of freedom of religion. This reform upheld the symbolic role of the Moroccan monarchy in religious terms and the reference to its Sherifian origins. Several efforts have been made to promote an Islam that is suitable for all citizens, with inherent tensions between more and less moderate views. Morocco has also been receptive to the arguments and needs of Moroccans living abroad regarding religion.

Keywords: Morocco, Sociology of religion, religious politics, 2011 constitutional reform, diaspora politics, Moroccans in Spain

Open forum

Producing Interculturality: Repertoires, Strategies and Spaces
by Nuno Oliveira (Lisbon University Institute)
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Abstract and Keywords

Issues of cultural diversity governance have been on the agenda with regard to urban paradigms that seek to accommodate diversity driven by a globalized world. These new urbanscapes feature particular conditions of interaction involving cross-cultural social competences and have lately been analised according to an “ethics of encounter”. This text proposes three analytical axes to evaluate repertoires of cultural diversity in contemporary cities, particularly with regard to its inscription in public spaces and the underlying logic of their social organisation. Drawing on Foucault’s idea of the production of social realities, practices and subjectivities by means of the ways in which power circulates in social relations, I term this the production of interculturality. I argue that one can examine three logics of the production of interculturality at the urban space level: a political, an economic-competitive and an ethical-symbolic.

Keywords: interculturality, ethics of encounters, governance, diversity, repertoires

Shunning Direct Intervention: Explaining the Exceptional Behaviour of the Portuguese church Hierarchy in Morality Politics
by Madalena Meyer Resende (FCSH-UNL and IPRI-UNL) and
Anja Hennig (European University Viadrina)
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Abstract and Keywords

Why are the Catholic churches in most European countries politically active in relevant morality policy issues while the Portuguese hierarchy has remained reserved during mobilizing debates such as abortion and same-sex marriage, whose laws’ recent changes go against Catholic beliefs?

The explanation could be institutional, as the fairly recent Portuguese transition to democracy dramatically changed the role attributed to the church by the former regimes. However, in Spain – whose case is similar to Portugal in matters of timing and political conditions – the hierarchy’s behaviour is different. This begs the question: what elements explain the exceptionality of the Portuguese case? This article shows that the Portuguese case illustrates an element usually not emphasized in the literature: the ideological inclination of the church elites. The article thus concludes that institutional access is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for the church to directly intervene in morality policy processes. A church may have access to influence political decision makers but, for ideological reasons, may be unwilling to use it.

Keywords: Portugal, morality policy, Catholic church, Vatican Council II, abortion, gay-marriage, ideology, historical institutionalism