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Religious Freedom, the Minority Question, and Geopolitics in the Middle East

  • Saba Mahmood (a1)

The right to religious freedom is widely regarded as a crowning achievement of secular-liberal democracies, one that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of religiously diverse populations. Enshrined in national constitutions and international laws and treaties, the right to religious liberty promises to ensure two stable goods: (1) the ability to choose one's religion freely without coercion by the state, church, or other institutions; and (2) the creation of a polity in which one's economic, civil, legal, or political status is unaffected by one's religious beliefs. While all members of a polity are supposed to be protected by this right, modern wisdom has it that religious minorities are its greatest beneficiaries and their ability to practice their traditions without fear of discrimination is a critical marker of a tolerant and civilized polity. The right to religious freedom marks an important distinction between liberal secularism and the kind practiced in authoritarian states (such as China, Syria, or the former Soviet Union): while the latter abide by the separation of religion and state (a central principle of political secularism), they also regularly abrogate religious freedoms of their minority and majority populations. Despite claims to religious neutrality, liberal secular states frequently regulate religious affairs but they do so in accord with a strong concern for protecting the individual's right to practice his or her religion freely, without coercion or state intervention.

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Jennifer Jackson Preece , “Minority Rights in Europe: From Westphalia to Helsinki,” Review of International Studies 23 (1997): 7592

Paul Sedra , “Class Cleavages and Ethnic Conflict: Coptic Christian Communities in Modern Egyptian Politics,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 10, 2 (1999): 219–35

J. D. Pennington , “The Copts in Modern Egypt,” Middle Eastern Studies 18, 2 (1982): 158–79

Maurits Berger , “Secularizing Interreligious Law in Egypt,” Islamic Law and Society 12, 3 (2005): 398–99

Paul Sedra , “John Lieder and His Mission in Egypt: The Evangelical Ethos at Work among Nineteenth-Century Copts,” Journal of Religious History 28, 3 (2004): 219–39

Elizabeth Castelli , “Praying for the Persecuted Church: US Christian Activism in the Global Arena,” Journal of Human Rights 4 (2005): 321–51

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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