Sanctifying Public "Secular" Space: A Snapshot of "Modern" Canadian Politics

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:30
Oral Presentation
Zaheeda ALIBHAI, University of Ottawa, Canada
Sanctifying Public “Secular" Space: A Snapshot of “Modern” Canadian Politics

Secularism has a complex history with a multi-faceted relationship to democracy, liberalism, and religion. It is a multivalent notion that means different things to different people in various contexts. In western countries, it most often refers to the separation between the legal public sphere foundations of the state and religious institutions, the private sphere. Most often, secularism is thought of and defined as the separation of religious institutions from secular institutions in government. Rather, more succinctly the division of politics from religion. From the perspective of the public sphere, secularism supposedly transcends religion. One can argue that, as western liberal societies become more religiously diverse, states are gradually shifting the boundaries and contours between the public and private spheres to accommodate a multicultural citizenry. Despite this shift, however, one defining feature of liberal, modern secularism has become the seemingly gradual reintroduction of religious discourse in the public sphere and the strategic form of thin secularism that governments and international bodies of law collude as a mode to create techniques of separation and exclusion. In the twenty-first century nowhere does “secularism,” “religion,” and governmentality intersect more fully than in policy debates concerning Muslim women and citizenship. This paper critically analyzes the global, national and religious dimensions that form the basis for the 2011-2015 ban against wearing the niqab and burqa during the oath of allegiance at the Canadian citizenship ceremony. It argues that public “secular” space becomes re-configured as the site where increasingly thin lines of secularism are used as a tool to define, shape and govern in ways that strategically create and maneuver boundaries between the secular and religious that are most conducive to the secular complexion of the state.