Religious discrimination and symbolism: a philosophical perspective

This report is the product of the Arts-and-Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme. The specific project being undertaken at the University of Liverpool is entitled Philosophy of Religion and Religious Communities: Defining Beliefs and Symbols. The aim of the Liverpool project as a whole is to consider the contribution philosophy of religion can make to recent debates surrounding legal cases alleging religious discrimination. Its orienting question runs, ‘when, if ever, is it acceptable to prohibit the use of religious symbols?’. The present report scrutinises in detail the way in which Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights has been utilised in recent judgments concerning the uses of religious symbolism. It argues that since 1995, Strasbourg jurisprudence, followed, to some extent, by domestic jurisprudence, has displayed what we call ‘the practical turn’. This we analyse as the turn away from seeing actions solely in the light of the antecedent beliefs that they manifest to seeing actions and the practices that they compose in their own right alongside beliefs. The practical turn can, we consider, be given several slightly different detailed readings. One such is that it is the turn from consideration of high-level theoretical systems of belief (such as religions), to which actions and practices are considered subservient, to consideration of individual low-level practical beliefs on an equal footing with the actions that naturally flow from them
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