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Civic Belonging; Law; Religion; Secularism; Religious Freedom; Islam


This paper examines the appeal to law as the basis for civic identity and political belonging under conditions of religious diversity. Beginning by assessing the descriptive utility of the concept of “secularism,” the paper argues that secularism is best approached as a repertoire of moves available in negotiating the relationship between religion and political authority, focussing then on one such move evident in the contemporary project of liberal secularism: the assertion, in the face of the challenges posed by religious diversity, that to belong to the political community means, above all else, to belong to law. This shift of “obedience to the law” to the diagnostic centre of civic belonging is explored by turning to two case studies drawn from the legal encounter with Islam in Canada: the debate over official recognition of Sharia law and controversies surrounding the niqab. Having assessed the implications that this move has for the understanding and management of religious difference, the paper explains the attractiveness of this symbolic appeal to law – whereby law begins to stand as a kind of synecdoche for the secular state – and assesses the effect of this alignment of law and belonging on the politics of religious diversity.