Only Skin Deep? Revising the Secular Narrative Through Circumcision
Heather Shipley (ed.), Globalized Religion and Sexual Identity: Contexts, Contestations, Voices (Brill Academic Publishing, 2014), 86-106
24 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2015
Date Written: May 17, 2013
In June 2012, a German regional court ruled that a child could not be circumcised unless it was for medical reasons. Circumcision, in this ruling, was understood as being against the best interest of the child and his ability to freely choose his religion. However, following the ruling, and due to significant international pressures, the German Parliament passed a resolution to protect circumcision. Regardless of the outcome of this case, the repercussions will be felt far beyond Germany’s frontiers, since male circumcision transcends religious difference and instantiates belonging (at the expense of either the religious community or the greater Nation).
The aim of this paper is to explore how this case is an example of how the 'sovereign' state seeks to fashion 'modern' subjects through a particular reading of secularism and religious freedom. In that process, while we sustain that this case bears several similarities with other recent cases on the predicaments of religious minorities in Western Europe, we argue that it also presents a novelty inasmuch as it offers a more complex gendered reading of secularism. We explore two ways in which this case participates to the (re) production of 'modern' subjects. First in line with other recent European cases on religious minorities, by understanding religious freedom less in terms of practice and more in terms of belief, the ruling validates a reading of secularism influenced by Christianity, where 'modern' and 'true' religion is located in one's private conscience. Second, the ruling is also an example of how readings of secularism and religious freedom enable and participate to the (re) production of 'normal' sexual subjects. While secular discourses have been used to regulate sexuality and intimate life, they have almost exclusively been framed as a ‘woman’ issue: one need only think of weddings, divorces, and debates on polygamy, headscarves and burkas. Male circumcision, we contend, challenges the manner in which gender and sexuality enter narratives on religious freedom and secularism. By documenting these two aspects, the paper argues for the importance of locating this ruling within a web of power relations that structure European and western approaches to religious minorities and plurality.
Keywords: secular narrative; circumcision; Germany
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