Religion is Secularised Tradition: Jewish and Muslim Circumcisions in Germany

This talk by Professor Lena Salaymeh is based on an article, co-authored with Shai Lavi, that is forthcoming in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. They demonstrate that the legal reasoning dominant in modern states secularises traditions by converting them into ‘religions’. Using a case study on Germany’s recent regulation of male circumcision, they illustrate that religions have (at least) three dimensions: religiosity (private belief, individual right and autonomous choice); religious law (a divinely ordained legal code); and religious groups (public threat). When states restrict traditions within these three dimensions, they construct ‘religions’ within a secularisation triangle. This theoretical model of a secularisation triangle illuminates that, in many Western states, there is a three-way relationship between a post-Christian state and both its Jewish and Muslim minorities. These two theoretical proposals—the secularisation triangle and the trilateral relationship—contribute to a re-examination of religious freedom from the perspective of minority traditions and minority communities.

Professor Lena Salaymeh is a British Academy Global Professor at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, University of Oxford. She is a scholar of law and history specializing in critical theory. She uses interdisciplinary and critical methods to ask historical, historiographic, and jurisprudential questions about Islamic law and Jewish law in the late antique, medieval, and modern eras. Her first book, The beginnings of Islamic law: late antique Islamicate legal traditions, received the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of Textual Studies. At Oxford, she is concurrently researching two projects: the first focuses on the contemporary genre of revolutionary Islamic jurisprudence, which argues for or against revolution based on Islamic legal principles, while the second investigates decoloniality in specific forms of resistance. Professor Salaymeh also co-directs, at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and Private International Law (Hamburg), a research project on decolonial comparative law. Her research has been supported by a Guggenheim fellowship, an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography, and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. She has held visiting positions at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Sciences Religieuses), Princeton University (Davis Center, Department of History), and the Max Planck Institute (Hamburg). She received her PhD in Legal and Islamic History from UC Berkeley and her JD from Harvard. She is an inactive member of the California Bar. Most of her publications are available here.

John Bowers QC will be the respondent. He is Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford. After attending Clee Grammar School, Grimsby, John gained a scholarship to Lincoln College, Oxford to study Civil Law. John was called to the Bar in 1979 and took silk in 1998. He has practised primarily in employment law and human rights. He has also been described in a review as “an employment law rock star”. He is listed as the 4th most reported advocate in the Industrial Relations Law Reports (IRLR). John was Chambers & Partners Employment Silk of the Year 2010. He acted in most of the major industrial disputes over the past decades. His landmark cases include a European Court of Human Rights application on the employment of gay servicemen, House of Lords rulings on injury to feelings awards, the Supreme Court decision on whether legal representation is required in internal disciplinary proceedings and the largest ever Employment Tribunal application by 12,000 retained firefighters, which eventually went to the House of Lords. A frequent lecturer on employment law, John has written 15 books and is a CEDR trained mediator. John was a member of the Standards Board for England and the Home Office Task Force on Human Rights. He sits as a Deputy High Court Judge and a Recorder on the South Eastern Circuit. He is an approved counsel for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. He currently carries out work for the Bar Pro Bono Unit. He is a former chair of Bar Disciplinary Summary Tribunals and member of the Bar Council’s Race Relations Committee. Since 2005 he has been a Bencher of Middle Temple.