Posts Tagged ‘symbols’

September 7th, 2016

Regulating symbols: The burkini and niqab bans in France

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Burkini | Image via Flickr user Giorgio MontersinoLast month, the image of three police officers standing over a woman on the beach in Nice, supervising the removal of her “burkini” (a wetsuit-like swimming costume favored by some Muslim women), provoked great outrage over the bans of the garments in five French seaside towns. The criticisms have been several. The bans are conceived as a trespass against freedom of expression, guaranteed in that foundational document of the French political imagination, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789). Others have seen the bans as manifestations of patriarchy or symptoms of Islamophobia in the West. In the United States, the bans have been labeled assaults on the freedom of religion.

The debate over the burkini strongly evokes the 2010 debate over the niqab (the veil that conceals everything but the eyes) in French public spaces. That debate—itself related to France’s earlier debate about the hijab in public schools—issued in a national ban. The ban was implemented over and against the advice of the Conseil d’État, which advised the niqab could not be said to represent a sufficient threat to “public order” to justify it. When the burkini ban was challenged last week, the Conseil d’État overturned it, citing similar considerations. (The Conseil d’État has the power to nullify administrative actions but can only issue advisory opinions vis-à-vis legislation.) And yet the niqab ban persists: when it was challenged before the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, that Court allowed it to stand.

March 30th, 2011

Crucifixes: cultural or religious?

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Recently the European Court of Human Rights decided to allow the display of crucifixes in public school classrooms (Lautsi and Others v. Italy, March 18). As Justin Reynolds noted here a few days ago, this decision applies not only to Italy, where a lower court previously reached the opposite verdict, but to all 47 member nations. In a New York Times piece, Stanley Fish outlines the reasoning of the court and analyzes the implications of its decision.

August 24th, 2010

Religion and place

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Rural Vermont is a place known for its natural beauty—trees, rolling hills, and open green space. Recently, a Catholic couple who live on a hilltop in Vermont constructed a cross alongside a chapel on their land. So far, fine. Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religious expression give them the right to do this. However, this is no small cross. It is huge, and its owners want to light it up at night, believing that they have been divinely instructed to do so. Many of their neighbors are unhappy and want it to come down.

August 3rd, 2010

“The Animated Avadhuta”

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Trent Gilliss, senior editor of Speaking of Faith, shares the thought-provoking and beautifully drawn short “The Animated Avadhuta.”

July 8th, 2010

Discussing mosques, minarets, and crosses

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Ruthie, Grace and David here, reporting live from the IWM International Summer School in Philosophy and Politics in Cortona, Italy. We are here with forty graduate students and post-docs and an inspiring group of faculty from over 20 countries to explore a range of issues related to religion in public life. And over the next two weeks, we look forward to sharing some of our discussions with the readers of The Immanent Frame. Today we would like to talk about an issue we discussed in the first session of our course on “The Role of Faith in Public Discourse,” taught by Nilüfer Göle and Michael Sandel.

May 14th, 2010

Crossing the sacred secular

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In her essay on Salazar v. Buono, Winni Sullivan ponders why crosses present such a difficulty for the modern, secular nation-state, and she questions the degree to which religious myths and symbols have been supplanted by those of nationalism.  “Has secularization failed?” she asks.  Sullivan posits that religious symbols’ ability to connect the universal and the particular is at the root of their success.  Yet the ambiguity of both the Mojave cross and the commentaries made by various judges in evaluating the case point to the layered religious and secular meanings of the symbol at that particular site and in U.S. society more generally.  Perhaps a more expansive definition of civil religion can trace how the same symbol moves across “religious” and “secular” contexts, depending on the site, event, or time in which it is deployed.  In Poland, for example, the cross is and is not religious, although it is always sacred.  Indeed, this ambiguity, the ability to pivot in different directions, may help account for the cross’s social force.

May 10th, 2010

Crossed signals and grave misunderstandings

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In Sunday school I learned that the cross points to the empty tomb. Given how easily theological concepts jump the tracks when translated for the benefit of eight-year-olds, this now strikes me as pretty fair representation of a core idea central to most Christianities: the crucifixion makes sense only in light of the resurrection. . . . Moreover, the resurrection conveys a Christian theory of death en nuce and metonymically—for some, of course, it would be better to say metaphorically. In any case, whether by way of vague aspiration, an expected apocalypse, or simply due to a learned literary sensibility, most Christians take the resurrection to be the proper model for death—that is, death is recognized precisely through overcoming it. Celestial destinations are in mind. Terrestrial stopping points—graves—are thus temporary and incidental.

This model of death, as signified by the cross, could not be more different from that held by people indigenous to the U.S., including American Indians and Native Hawaiians.

June 12th, 2008

The Buddha according to Brooks

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On Sunday May 25, 2008 the New York Times published an article entitled “Superhighway to Bliss” about Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who suffered a stroke in 1996. After she regained the ability to speak, she described the experience as “nirvana.” Neuropathology as religious experience is nothing new, yet the next day, the piece was number one on the Times list of most e-mailed articles. In the Science Times section of the paper the following Tuesday, there was an article entitled “Lotus Therapy,” on the growing use of the meditation cushion to treat problems previously consigned to the analyst’s couch. The next day, “Lotus Therapy” had taken over the top spot as the most e-mailed article. Clearly, something is going on. But that had become clear two weeks earlier when the conservative commentator David Brooks entitled his May 13 op-ed piece, “The Neural Buddhists.” […]