Distinguished guests debate religion at the Keith Davey Forum
“This is a pressing question of how we can live together,” said Professor Simone Chambers the Keith Davey Forum on Public Affairs commenced.
The relationship between faith and politics was the topic of much debate during the annual forum which took place November 4th at the Isabel Bader Theatre.
David Cameron, Chair of the Department of Political Science, introduced Professor Chambers as moderator for the evening. Outlining the format for the debate, Chambers threatened “draconian measures” for any panelist presentation exceeding ten minutes. Luckily for them, no such measures were enforced.
The impressive panel interdisciplinary speakers included Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago; Ahmet T. Kuru, Assistant Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University; Patrick Weil, visiting Professor at Yale Law School and Senior Research Fellow at the National Center for Scientific Research; and Daniel Weinstock, the Canada Research Chair in Ethics and Political Philosophy at l’Université de Montréal.
Each presenter contributed to a various aspects of the protracted debate between religion and the secular state. Notably, Ahmet T. Kuru focused his presentation on the role of state policies toward religion. He emphasized the need for more typologies over concepts to understand this relationship. Kuru then proceeded to distinguish between two kinds of attitudes secular states often adopt with respect to religious tolerance, passivity and assertiveness. States such as the US and India were assigned under the former and France and Turkey under the latter.
Another noteworthy presenter, Patrick Weil recounted his experience working for an independent commission established by Jacques Chirac to study, as he described it, the principle of laïcité (secularism) in France. The final report produced by this commission endorsed the proscription of religious symbols in public schools. According to Weil, this conclusion favored the freedoms of a large number of school girls who did not wish to wear the headscarf.
“God talk, as much as Rights talk has a lot to do with how its spoken,” said Jean Bethke Elshtain who made the case that in academic debates the issue of faith and secularism is framed in a way that privileges the state. The presupposition goes, she continued, that the problem is too much faith in the public sphere.
BY SAMYA KULLAB
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