Secularity, cultural memory, and the governance of religious diversity – Spain and Canada in comparison

Marian Burchardt

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Across the Western world, but also beyond it, religious diversification has produced severe challenges in recent decades for societies and nation states, in ways of accommodating new religious communities into existing institutions and the legal frameworks that define the place of religion in the public sphere. In this context, the dominant sociological approach has been to focus on discourses and practices of law-making as responses to religious diversity. Contributing to the research agenda of the Max Planck Fellow Group (Koenig), this project, by contrast, explores how the notion of religious diversity has itself come to inhabit the political and social imaginaries of political actors and ordinary people, has come to circulate in public discourses around the governance of cultural difference, and has thus become the premise of a wide range of regulatory practices. In raising a broad set of questions about religious diversity and secularism as administrative and regulatory practices, epistemic categories and normative discourses that are important for most contemporary Western societies, the project employs a Northern transatlantic comparison by focusing on two geographical settings: the Spanish region of Catalonia, and Canada’s Quebec province. The project advances two arguments, one that is theoretical and another that is empirical-comparative. The theoretical argument is that secularism and secularity do not necessarily curb religious practices, but may shape them according to multiple, historically grounded logics that have arisen out of nationally specific experiences of modernity. The empirical-comparative argument is that the impact of concepts of nationhood on the governance of religious diversity depends on the dominant narratives of modernity, the impact of secularization on the religion-nation nexus, and national boundary work. The results of the project have been published in numerous articles and a monograph entitled “Regulating Difference: Religious Diversity and Nationhood in the Secular West” (Rutgers University Press 2020)..

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