Call for panels and papers
ECPR General Conference (Oslo, 6-9 September 2017)
Section on "Religion, Politics, and the Public Sphere: Contesting Liberalism?"
Convenors: Luca Ozzano, University of Turin ( and Anja Hennig, Europa-Universität Viadrina (
Deadline: 15 February 2017

Panel and paper proposal must be submitted online through the ECPR website. Prospective panel convenors are also required to contact by email the two section convenors, possibly by the end of December 2016.

Section Abstract
Liberal principles such as autonomy, freedom and equality have always been challenging conservative thought. In particular they are disputed or rejected by traditionalists and fundamentalists within all major religions. At the same time and often within the same state or society, progressive religious traditions tend to embrace liberal principles such as freedom of choice in moral issues and sometimes even consider religion a merely private matter. However, especially with regard to the accommodation of Islam, also local or state governments sometimes touch the boundaries of liberalism.

Such dynamics have become particularly evident since the late 20th century with what some call the ‘revenge of god’ or ‘deprivatization of religion’, making religion again a relevant factor in the public sphere of most contemporary societies, liberal democracies included. Whereas in the 1990s academic debates focused mostly on the role of Catholicism in the most recent waves of democratization, after 9/11 and the subsequent events attention has mostly shifted to investigate the compatibility between Islam and democracy. Moreover, the presence of religious actors in the public sphere, and the rise of public debates on issues such as bioethics, LGBT issues, and the role of religious symbols in the public sphere, have also given rise to a growing corpus of studies on the so-called morality politics. On the other hand, in the international field, we have witnessed the relevance of religion in conflict, violence and terrorism, but also in dialogue and in new patterns of civil society-based cooperation, as well as in international relations and international judicial bodies such as the ECHR.

Such processes have also significantly changed the way both common people and social scientists look at the world, sparking lively debates on what liberalism, modernization and secularization mean, and how religion can be accommodated in the context of contemporary democracies. Particular emphasis has been put on the role religious actors play in the public sphere. Studies have focused on the role of religious movements, both at the national and the transnational level, on religiously oriented political parties, and on the role of religious institutions, such as the Catholic Church, in political affairs. In the domestic field, scholarly attention has focused particularly on the role of religious values and religious actors in democratization processes, in theoretical terms and in relation to specific religious traditions.

There is, however, still need to investigate more systematically the motives, strategies and consequences of religious agency in the public spheres. Against this background, this Section investigates the various tensions between religious actors (but also religious ideas, values or ideologies), political discourse or action and liberalism(s).

The Section will address the following issues:

1. Morality policy, gender relations and religion
This subsection invites studies which analyze the religious factor in political conflicts about “fundamental questions” concerning life, death, and family patterns. The focus will be on gender-related issues such as abortion, marriage equality and LGBTQI rights, as well as on other bioethics issues and euthanasia.

2. Governmental religious policies and religious pluralism
This subsection focuses on how states, local or federal governments, religious parties or transnational organizations behave vis-à-vis religion or govern religious pluralism, and Islam in particular. This includes conceptual studies on secularism or multiculturalism such as the analysis of policies dealing with religious symbols in the public spheres, religious education, welfare or exception rules on religious grounds. This subsection will also try to define what citizenship can mean in a religious pluralist context.

3. Religion as source for (international) conflicts or factor for democratization
This subsection addresses scholars who analyze the various roles of religious actors in local, regional or transnational (merely interreligious or interethnic) conflicts. This includes on the one hand actors clearly contesting liberalism such as fundamentalist religious movements or terrorist groups. On the other hand, studies are addressed, which scrutinize religious civil societal initiatives involved in conflict solution and democratization processes, such as constitution writing.

4. (Post)secularization, religion and liberal democracy in political theory and empirical analysis
This subsection reflects upon the normative discourses on (post)secularization, and, thus, about the role religion should play in the public spheres of secularizing and/or de-secularizing democracies. This includes also approaches dealing with illiberalism and norm diffusion.

5. Religious Actors in Comparative Perspective
This subsection deals more systematically with the role of religious actors in contemporary polities: particularly, the focus will be on both political parties with a religious orientation, and national and transnational religious institutions, organizations and movements. Panels included in it will both analyze them in comparative perspective, and investigate their role in policy making, public debates, economic processes, and welfare.

Panels and Papers may address these issues merely empirically, theoretically or combine both perspectives. Also comparative, sociological and historical approaches are welcome. Given that liberal ideas are spread and contested worldwide there is by no means a restriction to the “global West” or to traditional liberal democracies.