The Culturalization of Religion and the Pursuit of Diversity: Co-Existence within Difference in South Africa
Christa Rautenbach (ed.), In the Shade of an African Baobab: Tom Bennett’s Legacy, Juta Publishers, pp. 106- 122, 2018
30 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2019
Date Written: December 20, 2018
Drawing on Tom Bennett’s work on the constitutional ambivalence towards culture in South Africa within a normatively pluralist frame, the proposed paper will claim, explain and problematize the ‘reading’ of religion as a cultural phenomenon.
To do so, the analysis will operate on three levels: the first level will observe through constitutional practice and interpretation how religion has been ‘secularized’ and ‘culturalized’ at the same time, within a broader project of transformative constitutionalism, placing unambiguous emphasis on other important rights, such as equality. The fusion of religion with culture is indeed a recurring methodological instrument in different parts of the world to avoid engaging with the challenge of including religious identity in the open public space for fear of frontal conflicts. It also remains a largely unresolved theoretical issue in contemporary human rights discourse.
The second level of analysis will attempt to investigate the reasons for the lawmakers and the courts to prefer this approach, against the background of desegregation and the circumstances conditioning post-apartheid diversity management approaches in the country. Particular emphasis will be placed on the effects of the culturalization of religion in socio-legal terms.
The third level of analysis will be based on a comparative constitutional exercise that will illustrate how the treatment of religion as culture is not a phenomenon restricted to the South African context. The European context, in particular through the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights has often vested religion with the features of a cultural phenomenon, though not necessarily in an attempt to give secularism and secularity a more inclusive meaning.
The paper will conclude with a risk assessment of the (con)-fusion of religion with culture, against the context of persistent religiosity and the increasingly diversified needs of believers and non-believers.
Keywords: culture, religious freedom, comparative law, South Africa, Europe
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