‘We Don’t Do God’? Secularism and the Accommodation of Muslims in Western Europe

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

Most Western European social scientists and policymakers believe that there is or should be a separation between church and state, religion and politics. They further believe that religion should be a private matter. This widespread assumption is often the basis for a sense that Muslims in Western Europe are making politically exceptional, culturally unreasonable, and theologically alien demands upon European states. These include the banning of offensive literature, cartoons, and films; the state funding of Muslim schools and Islamic instruction and worship in common schools; the accommodation of Muslim dress, diet, and gender segregation in public spaces such as schools and universities; Muslim organization and representation in political parties, trade unions, and professional associations; a question about religious observance on the national census and while collecting equality-monitoring data; and the sharing of the institutional, symbolic, and fiscal privileges enjoyed by Christian churches and Jewish organizations.

In fact, the ‘separationist’ self-image of Western Europeans with respect to religion and politics is quite mistaken. Every state in the European Union gives funding either to religious schools or for religious education in state schools, and over a third collect taxes or help raise money for (some) religions. Additionally, a third give funding to charitable religious institutions and one in five has ‘established’ state religions, like the Lutheran Church in Denmark and the Church of England in the United Kingdom.

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