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Diversity in Democracy: Accommodating Religious Particularity in Largely Secular Legal Systems

  • Mirjam Künkler and Yüksel Sezgin

The articles assembled in this symposium share their roots in a workshop we organized at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law (IISJ) in Onati, Spain, in June 2011. The workshop, titled “Legal Pluralism and Democracy. When Does Legal Pluralism Enhance, When Does It Erode Legitimacy of and Trust in Democratic Institutions?” examined the consequences of legal pluralism for various facets of democracy, from human rights and political equality to issues of stateness, legitimacy, and self-determination. Half of the papers discussed the application of customary law in pluri-legal systems, particularly in Africa and South America, while the other half dealt with the application of religious law, especially in Muslim-majority countries as well as Israel and India.

Other papers presented at the workshop have been published in the IISJ's “Oñati Socio-Legal Series” on the Social Science Research Network and are available for download at

The three articles featured in this symposium address how the law may take account of diversity in the face of the democratic promise of universal rights standards: they probe the question of how to accommodate cultural particularity while also delivering upon the promise of universal and equal citizenship. Both are crucial sources of legitimacy of and trust in democratic political systems, even while they are also often mutually exclusive standards.

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1. A mufti usually denotes someone who issues fatwas (legal opinions), which are non-binding. The person who issues legally binding rulings in an Islamic legal system, by contrast, is the qadi (or kadi). Despite this differentiation, the religious courts in Greece, which are de facto qadi courts, are referred to in the country as “mufti courts.”

* Mirjam Künkler is Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey; Yüksel Sezgin is Assistant Professor of Political Science at City University of New York, Manhattan, New York.

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Journal of Law and Religion
  • ISSN: 0748-0814
  • EISSN: 2163-3088
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-law-and-religion
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