Institutional and legal approaches to religious diversity

Course Description: 

The course is designed to provide an overview of the major issues and questions within the purview of the protection of freedom of religion. Following a theoretical introduction and general discussions about the concept of law and human rights; the balancing of conflicting rights and constitutional values and political interests; the concept of protecting group rights, and the dynamics of internal restrictions and external protections, as well as different (antidiscrimination focused individual justice-based, redistribution and economic empowerment oriented group justice-based, recognition-focused, and social dialogue and representation-focused) concepts of justice in which religion-based claims are formulated, we turn to the analysis of how religion and religious freedom is conceptualized and operationalized in legal and policy measures. Let us always bear in mind: law is the language politics speaks, how theoretical, often theological, policy and political debates are being resolved (i.e. being cemented into binding decisions) by societies and the political elite.

The accommodation of all claims and aspirations by groups, be them identified, labeled or signified by religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc, is always politicized, and the success will always depend on the nature of the claims and its compatibility with the majority culture. The course will aim at unveiling the underlying patterns in political and legal debates, which will always be shaped by the nature of both the groups and the claims. As we will see neither the standards, nor the practices are fully consistent. In this voyage, we will approach the question of religion from (i) the point of how the state relates to religion on the constitutional level; (ii) how the prohibition of religion-based discrimination and the accommodation of religion-base claims are conceptualized and operationalized; and how (iii) the freedom and autonomy of religious organizations is guaranteed. We will also be looking at several adjacent issues such as (iv) how religion may serve as a marker for ethnicity; and (v) how the free choice of religion can be conceptualized. The issues will be scrutinized by looking at cases and case studies on clothing, dietary practices, religious symbols in public spaces (classrooms, courthouses, at the workplace, on the streets, the army and prisons), public holidays, approaches to marriage, and reproduction (abortion and contraception), male and female circumcision and cosmetic surgery, special cases in refugee procedures, the issue of Sharia courts, blasphemy. When looking at claims for recognition or accommodation, we will be focusing their “costs”, be they redistributive or conflicts with human rights standards.

There will be weekly meetings in a seminar format. Seminar discussions of the required readings will have two parts: a general discussion, in which all students are expected to participate, and individual student presentations that explore, contest, or specify the major arguments of the required readings.

This interdisciplinary course is designed to engage and challenge students in critical debates. Besides reading excerpts from books and academic articles, students will also become familiar with a wide range of case law dealing with the topic. Each session is designed to combine academic articles and excerpts from books with legal texts or reports and policy recommendations by international organizations, and with the analysis of case law and jurisprudence. Students will not be given ready answers at the outset; instead, they will be encouraged to take an active part in debating and understanding the analyzed issues.

For each class, the reader contains the mandatory readings. Recommended materials are available on the e-learning site. Readings are either directly assigned to students for presentation, or provide background information for complex issues which students need to present as a starting point for class discussions. All presenters are expected to be familiar with the recommended readings and are required to prepare send notes to the entire group by 13,00 the day before class. Late notes and failure to show up or present at class without prior notice will be penalized.

Given the highly intensive cooperation of students the course builds on, missing classes for students who have assignments or presentations is only acceptable for medical reasons, and a doctor’s note will be required. In such cases, if absent students were to present court cases, the relevant notes need to be sent before class or other forms of subsidiary arrangements need to me made, such as for example the swapping assignments with colleagues.

Class attendance, presentations and the timely delivery of assignments will be continuously monitored.

Given the fact that the seminar builds on rigorous debates and critical assessment of the readings, it may happen that the assessment of certain topics transgresses classes and the discussion of some issues is moved to the next class. This is due to the nature of the course. Should some readings end up not being discussed by the end of the course, the students responsible for those presentations will not be penalized for this. 

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students will be able to critically discuss a diverse set of topics in the purview of nationalism studies and legal and policy institutions concerning religious diversity


Students are expected to attend all seminars, read all the required readings and prepare to be active in seminar discussions. It is absolutely essential to read assigned materials prior to each session.

In addition to this, students are required to

(i) give presentations on the assigned mandatory and recommended readings, as well as on the case studies of their chosen countries on classes 7 and 12.

(ii) submit a final essay incorporating and critically analyzing readings discussed during the course. The last class is partially reserved for the discussion of the paper-proposals. Abstracts for the papers need to be submitted by the 9th class.

(i) Students will be asked to sign up for seminar presentations and national reports for classes 7 and 12. Choices will be discussed in class. The presenters will be expected to sum up the main arguments of the mandatory and recommended readings and pose some key questions for class discussion. The presentation should be supported by an outline or a response paper of 1-3 pages which discusses some of the selected themes of the reading, to be submitted via e-mail by 13,00 the day prior to the class. Unless otherwise indicated, presentations should be reactions to the readings rather than summaries. Case-presenters (either acting as plaintiffs, defendants or as the court) need to prepare notes including references to the law and important/useful quotes. The notes need to be brought to class in print and after the class, sent along.

(ii) The term paper should be (similar to those presented on class 7 and 12) or an original research paper that has at least 1000 and no more than 1500 words, double-spaced, with bibliography added. All students are expected to submit a project proposal at the 9th seminar. The proposal shouldoutline the main questions asked and be discussed with the instructor. The topic should relate to the broad themes of the course and class discussions. The paper should follow the genre of a scholarly essay either as a case study or as a literature review. The last class is partly dedicated for the discussion of the paper-projects. Both the outline and final research paper are expected to be products of each student's individual effort. Evaluation will be based on the quality of research, its originality, quality of grammar, accuracy of spelling, and soundness of content. It constitutes plagiarism if a student quotes or adopts ideas from a source without appropriate attribution (for example, by failing to utilize endnotes or footnotes properly). Similarly, direct quotations must be attributed and indicated by quotation marks.

Please note that late papers submitted after the deadline will be marked down by half of a letter grade per day.

A group of students have an option to present a mock trial case instead of a final essay. The description of the case, plaintiff/defendant notes and the court’s judgment need to be submitted and presented by the last class. The written documentation needs to be at least 2500 words.

The requirements and grading breakdown of the seminar are as follows:

Maximum points: 20

Seminar presentation, the quality of the notes and the country reports for classes 7 and 12 (late response papers will be noted) max. 5 points

Active seminar participation: max. 10 points

Final essay/mock case: max. 5 points


0-10 – D/failed

11-  C –

12 – C

13 – C+

14 – B –

15-16 – B

17 – B+

18 – A-

19 – A

20 – A+

At around mid-term, individual consultations will be held to discuss overall class performance and the quality of the presentations.

At the around mid-term, individual consultations will be held to discuss overall class performance and the quality of the presentations.

File Attachments: