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CfH Lectures


Dutch political discourses on the relation between church and state and secularism have always been based on two assumptions: religious freedom and state neutrality (a well-known pairing in other countries as well). The historically specific interaction between these two principles, however, shows that separation of church and state is a myth and cannot be otherwise. Dr. Sunier argues that it is not recognition of diversity but neutrality that is the very root of Dutch pillarization. The state has assumed the role of neutral agent above the parties. Today we see the same towards Islam both in a positive and negative sense. Dr. Sunier has called this the “soft interface” (the typical Dutch consultative negotiating space that officially does not exist), which consists of bigger and smaller but always low profile arrangements, either in favor or against Islam and its institutions. It demands from the actors specific (local) knowledge and specific competence to be able to negotiate. We can only grasp this not by speaking about secularism in general, but by breaking down the issue into specific fields such as education, public space, public sphere, and loyalty issues. On that level we are able to examine these soft interfaces and we can see that each of these fields has its own problem definition, actors, and discourses. In doing this we are also able to explain why in the Netherlands ethnicity became replaced by religion as a defining principle, but also why, Dr. Sunier suggests, multiculturalism has never been a political tool or a key principle.

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.