Multicultural equality, when applied to religious groups, means that secularism simpliciter appears to be an obstacle to pluralistic integration and equality. But secularism pure and simple is not what exists in the world. The country-by-country situation is more complex, and indeed, far less inhospitable to the accommodation of Muslims than the ideology of secularism—or, for that matter, the ideology of anti-secularism—might suggest. All actual practices of secularism consist of institutional compromises and these can, should, and are being extended to accommodate Muslims. Today the appropriate response to the new Muslim challenges is pluralistic institutional integration, rather than an appeal to a radical public-private separation in the name of secularism. Unfortunately, an ideological secularism is currently being reasserted and generating European domestic versions of “the clash of civilizations” thesis and the conflicts that entails for European societies. That some people are today developing secularism as an ideology to oppose Islam and its public recognition is a challenge both to pluralism and equality, and thus to some of the bases of contemporary democracy. The approach that is being argued for here consists of: a reconceptualization of equality from sameness to an incorporation of a respect for difference; a reconceptualization of secularism from the concepts of neutrality and the strict public/private divide to a moderate and evolutionary secularism based on institutional adjustments; and a pragmatic, case by case, negotiated approach to dealing with controversy and conflict, not an ideological, drawing a “line in the sand” mentality.
This lecture was given within the framework of the academic year-long lecture series on postsecularism, a collaboration of BAK and the Faculty of Humanities at Utrecht University, marking part of the research trajectory of Concerning the Post-Secular, a long-term, multifaceted project at BAK. The lecture series aims at investigating the “post-secular” as a central aspect of our current historical condition and the mutual engagements of secularism and religious discourses especially in contemporary Europe. It maps the intersections of the “post-secular” with social and political theory as well as cultural and artistic practices and movements with special emphasis on issues of political theory, Islam in Europe, ethics, human rights, feminist practices, contemporary art, and the European tradition of liberal humanism.