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Journal ArticleDOI

How Secular Should Democracy Be? A Cross-Disciplinary Study of Catholicism and Islam in Promoting Public Reason

22 Sep 2014-Politics, Religion & Ideology (Routledge)-Vol. 15, Iss: 3, pp 380-400

AbstractI argue that the same factors (strategic and principled) that motivated Catholicism to champion liberal democracy are the same that motivate twenty-first-century Islam to do the same. I defend this claim by linking political liberalism to democratic secularism. Distinguishing institutional, political, and epistemic dimensions of democratic secularism, I show that moderate forms of political and epistemic secularism are most conducive to fostering the kind of public reasoning essential to democratic legitimacy. This demonstration draws upon the ambivalent impact of Indonesia's Islamic parties in advancing universal social justice aims as against more sectarian policies.

Topics: Secularism (60%), Liberal democracy (57%), Democracy (55%), Public reason (54%), Politics (53%)

Summary (3 min read)

How Secular Should Democracy Be? A Cross-Disciplinary Study of Catholicism and Islam in Promoting Public Reason

  • David Ingram Loyola University Chicago Philosophy Department 1032 W. Sheridan Road Chicago, Illinois Office: 773-508-2299 Email: dingram@luc.edu.
  • Thirty years ago Edward Said's iconic treatise on orientalism indicted Western imperialism and its academic apologists for having deployed the ideology of cultural differences in depicting Arab-Islamic culture as inherently despotic, backward, and antithetical to secular Occidental culture.
  • Multiculturalism undermines fundamentalism's nostalgic yearning for certain and stable identities.
  • Addressing both Catholic and Islamic strands of religious politics along with their ambivalent relationship to secular democracy, I believe, shows us that religious politics and secular democracy shape each other, as both in turn respond to deeper socio-economic changes in their environment.
  • While it may seem that extreme epistemic secularism correlates with political secularism, I shall argue that religion is sometimes a better stimulus to creating and preserving secular democracy.

Part One: Secularism in the Muslim World: Epistemic, Institutional, and Political Aspects

  • In 2013 five girls were charged with having violated Indonesia’s blasphemy law (Article 156a of Indonesia’s penal code) that prohibits “staining religion, adhered to in Indonesia . . . with the intention to prevent a person to adhere to any religion based on the belief in the almighty God.”.
  • In an earlier (2010) case involving the free exercise of religion, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court rejected a challenge to the blasphemy law, noting that prohibiting expression of religious beliefs that deviate from the central tenets of any one of Indonesia’s six officially recognized religions was necessary for protecting public safety and order.
  • Recognition of the complementarity of science and religion and the interpenetration of facts and values, also known as Moderate epistemic secularism (MES).
  • Constitutional separation of religion and state compatible with some state involvement in religion, also known as Moderate institutional secularism (MIS).

6 A. A. An-Na’im, Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law

  • Hence the authors may describe these institutional arrangements as lying somewhere between WIS and MIS.
  • The manner in which shari’a has been institutionalized in the legal and political institutions of majority-Muslim states today has been shaped by Islamist political movements that arose in reaction to home-grown and foreign- imposed secular governments.
  • 8Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994, 14-15.
  • And Indonesia’s similar constitutional provisions are officially upheld by religious principles that, as I argue in the conclusion, cast aspersions on its blasphemy law, or at least the court’s application of it.

Part Two: Secular Democracy in Christendom: Preliminary Sociological Observations

  • In Christendom as in Islam, ‘secular’ and ‘secularization’ have multiple meanings.
  • This latter meaning partly resonates with the sociological meaning of secularization, understood as a process whereby parochial religious images, such as the Christian image of humanity made in the likeness of God, are rationally reinterpreted as universal ideas (e.g., the equal and inherent dignity of the individual as a bearer of human rights).
  • M. Weber, Sociology of Religion (London Methuen, 1965), pp. 263-4. 16Turner argues that much of Weber's explanation for Islam's failure to provide fertile ground for capitalism – its alleged lack of inwardness and asceticism, formal systematic legal structure, and acceptance of commerce - are faulty.
  • 20 C. Taylor, “Why We Need A Radical Redefinition of Secularism,” in The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, ed. E. Mendieta and J. Vanantwerpen (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), pp. 34-5.the authors.the authors.
  • The history of American First Amendment jurisprudence illustrates the enduring tension between disestablishing religion and permitting its free exercise.

Part Three: Civil Discourse and Public Reason in Secular Democracy

  • One might question whether the United States as a moderately secular polity or France as a more strongly secular polity has properly balanced religious freedom and religious disestablishment, which returns us to the controversy over Indonesia’s blasphemy law.
  • These questions arise whenever the authors ask why minorities who dissent from majoritarian policies have at least a prima facie duty to abide by them.
  • Reconciling the civic duties of public reason with the legitimacy of religiously motivated political expression properly qualified by a reasonable acknowledgment of the burdens of judgment, Rawls and Habermas recommend MES.
  • If that is so, then not just appeals to religion but appeals to any comprehensive worldview, however secular, will require translation into a more broadly shared idiom in order to convince others.30 Contrary to Rawls and Habermas, Taylor simply denies that religion poses a special challenge to secular democracy requiring special vigilance and separation.
  • Habermas mentions that purely religious faith commitments differ from non-religious faith commitments in several important respects.

Part Four: Islam and Catholicism as Proponents of Secular Democracy

  • Uncompromising faith commitments, of course, can also be enlisted in the service of promoting secular democracy.
  • I conclude that the failure of these parties to temper their Islamic agenda, as evidenced by their unwillingness to change the blasphemy law, and the failure of the Constitutional Court to apply the law in a way that does justice to the Ahmadiya, belies principles of democratic pluralism and public reason that underlie Indonesia’s uniquely religious-secular ethic of pancasila.
  • As my own research on the Peruvian and Lithuanian Churches has shown,40 Catholicism has become a potent catalyst for democratic secularization when it has asserted its independence from government while at the same time using its governmental influence cautiously to promote broadly secular social justice agendas in civil society.
  • Democracy premised on the dignity of the individual and the common good must encompass respect for public reason and the rule of law.

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1
How Secular Should Democracy Be? A Cross-Disciplinary Study of Catholicism and Islam in
Promoting Public Reason
David Ingram
Loyola University Chicago
Philosophy Department
1032 W. Sheridan Road
Chicago, Illinois
Office: 773-508-2299
Email: dingram@luc.edu

2
Abstract: I argue that the same factors (strategic and principled) that motivated
Catholicism to champion liberal democracy are the same that motivate 21
st
Century Islam
to do the same. I defend this claim by linking political liberalism to democratic secularism.
Distinguishing institutional, political, and epistemic dimensions of democratic secularism, I
show that moderate forms of political and epistemic secularism are most conducive to
fostering the kind of public reasoning essential to democratic legitimacy. This
demonstration draws upon the ambivalent impact of Indonesias Islamic parties in
advancing universal social justice aims as against more sectarian policies.
Thirty years ago Edward Said's iconic treatise on orientalism indicted Western imperialism and
its academic apologists for having deployed the ideology of cultural differences in depicting
Arab-Islamic culture as inherently despotic, backward, and antithetical to secular Occidental
culture.
1
This orientalist ideology has continued to persist among those who find in Christendom
and Islam new enemies to replace the ideological adversaries of the Cold War.
2
As Bryan Turner
remarks,
3
this new ideological opposition between a rationalized Christendom and a premodern
Islam is deeply problematic at a number of levels: both religious worldviews share common
Abrahamic origins and values; Islam established itself as an Occidental society in Spain, Malta,
and the Balkans; and Islam preserved, developed, and disseminated the intellectual legacy of
classical Greece that formed the identity of Christendom and Occidental rationality.
For Turner, the global conflict facing us today is not ideological but social and
economic. The spread of “postmodern” global capitalism with its commodification of culture,
undermining of communitarian identities, and reduction of persons to individually self-centered
1
E. Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).
2
Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (New
York: Harper Collins, 2002).
3
B. Turner, Orientalism, Postmodernism, and Globalism (London: Routledge, 1994).

3
consumers has provoked a religious backlash that is felt as much by Christian fundamentalists as
by Islamic fundamentalists. Although it pushes against an excessively materialistic form of
secularism, this backlash also targets an idealistic variant: multiculturalism. Multiculturalism
undermines fundamentalism's nostalgic yearning for certain and stable identities. Although many
fundamentalists respond to this threat by withdrawing from civil society, others instead respond
by projecting their desire onto the democratic state. Rejecting liberal and pluralistic ideals of
self-limiting democratic compromise, they envision the totalitarian suppression or subordination
of competing identities as a way of legally and politically cementing their own.
This apparent hostility to secularism, pluralism, and democratic compromise, however, is
belied by a further idealistic component within the Islamic/Christian imaginary: a transcendent
commitment to social justice. Political opposition to postmodern capitalism's stratifying
dynamic, which contradicts the holy command to combat material oppression on this earth,
strongly encourages religious fundamentalists to pursue a secular agenda whose broad scope and
success requires a modest and I will argue reasonable acceptance of self-limiting compromise
and political argumentation. Secular commitment to a political value that is universal and thus
free-standing with respect to religion and every comprehensive ideological orientation social
justice for believer and non-believer alike converges with a form of political liberalism that
demands multicultural toleration of all reasonable comprehensive doctrines (religious and
secular) to the extent that these doctrines overlap in supporting the political value in question.
In making this argument, I will draw upon on an analogy between the trajectory that some
moderate Islamist parties in Indonesia have taken in furthering secular democracy in the name of
social justice, and that taken by Catholicism, whose antagonism toward liberalism and secular
democracy, having reached their apogee over a hundred years ago, is perhaps less well known.

4
Catholicism largely overcame its hostility to secular democracy and became a major force for
advancing democracy in the last three decades of the 20
th
Century. I maintain that the factors that
led political Catholicism along this trajectory are also at work in some varieties of political
Islam.
Addressing both Catholic and Islamic strands of religious politics along with their
ambivalent relationship to secular democracy, I believe, shows us that religious politics and
secular democracy shape each other, as both in turn respond to deeper socio-economic changes
in their environment. However, defending the compatibility of religious politics and secular
democracy will require drawing some rather fine-grained distinctions, not only between different
kinds of religious politics but also between different kinds (and aspects) of secular democracy.
When speaking of secular democracy political scientists normally focus on the institutional
separation of religion and state. Equally important, however, is the political culture; viz., the
degree of democratic toleration and civility religious political parties display in furthering their
aims. Closely connected to this political secularism is an epistemic secularism, or the capacity, as
Rawls puts it, for religious parties to accept the “burdens of judgment” in refraining from
imposing religious doctrines or appealing to religious rationales whose truth cannot in principle
be demonstrated to all. While it may seem that extreme epistemic secularism correlates with
political secularism, I shall argue that religion is sometimes a better stimulus to creating and
preserving secular democracy.
I begin (Part One) by examining the problem of secularism in the Muslim world. I argue
that Islamic thought and practice reveal a spectrum of epistemic, political, and institutional
forms, some more secular than others. In the second half of the 20
th
Century, reaction against
Western secularism led many Muslim countries to adopt hybrid institutional forms, involving

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This demonstration draws upon the ambivalent impact of Indonesia ’ s Islamic parties in advancing universal social justice aims as against more sectarian policies.