Religious and Civil Inequality in Egyptian and European Courts

Law and Contemporary Theory Working Group
Fall Talks and Workshops

In this workshop we will discuss a chapter from Professor Mahmood’s forthcoming book The Minority Condition: Religious Difference in a Secular Age (Princeton University Press). The rise of religious sectarianism in the Middle East is often diagnosed as a failure of secularism to take root in the region and, thus, as the product of primordial hatreds and antagonisms. The Minority Condition challenges this assessment by showing how modern secular governance has contributed to the exacerbation and polarization of religious difference in the modern Middle East. Focusing on key concepts of political secularism in modern law, Mahmood argues that they have helped enshrine the sovereign state’s prerogative to determine the meaning and place of religious difference in civil and political life—often to the detriment of religious minorities. In the chapter she has shared with us, Professor Mahmood provides a comparative reading of recent legal judgments from Egyptian courts and the European Court of Human Rights in which the concepts of “public order”, and the distinction between religious practice (forum externum) and religious belief (forum internum), are invoked to prohibit the practices of minority religious traditions in public space. While the identity of each nation-state at the center of these legal disputes is distinct (some Islamic, others Christian and secular), the operative assumptions of political secularism are strikingly similar, and are illustrative of the shared set of conundrums and paradoxes that characterize its practice across the western and non-western divide.

A light lunch and refreshments will be served. Please RSVP to if you plan to attend the talk and to receive a copy of Professor Mahmood’s chapter.

Saba Mahmood teaches in the department of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. Her work focuses on questions of secularism, religious politics, ethics, and law in the Middle East. She is the author of Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (2005), and the co-author of Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech (2011).