Religion and Religious Practices

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

Concept description defines religion as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

Wikipedia notes that religious practices “may include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration (of God or deities), sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trances, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture.”

Wikipedia goes on to say:

“Religions have sacred histories and narratives, which may be preserved in sacred scriptures, and symbols and holy places, that aim mostly to give a meaning to life. Religions may contain symbolic stories, which are sometimes said by followers to be true, that have the side purpose of explaining the origin of life, the Universe, and other things.”

There have been intense debates in many Western countries over the extent to which certain religious practices (such as wearing a Niqab) should be permitted in certain government-sponsored roles (such as taking the oath of Citizenship, or serving the public as a civil servant). See for example: Woman at heart of niqab debate granted citizenship in private ceremony, Globe and Mail, 9 October 2015.

The inevitability of conflicting values

Religious differences require societies to deal with irreconcilable value conflict. As Shaun Young and Phil Triadafilopoulos (reference below) note:

“Liberalism has long concerned itself with the socio-political challenges of diversity. The wars of religion that plagued Europe during much of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries convinced John Locke (1983) and others that toleration of religious diversity was essential to the realization of a stable, peaceful society: Given the critical importance that many citizens attach to their religious beliefs, their ability to live (relatively) contentedly – or, at least, ‘acceptably’ – requires that they be allowed to pursue their lives in accordance with those beliefs, without fear of persecution for doing so. During the course of the preceding four centuries, the initial focus on religious diversity has broadened to encompass moral, cultural and philosophical diversity in general. In the latter half of the twentieth century, Isaiah Berlin (2002, 213-14; see also 2000, 11) eloquently and persuasively argued that value pluralism is an empirical fact, observing that there are many genuine, “ultimate” values that may, and often do, conflict with one another: “the world that we encounter in ordinary experience is one in which we are faced with choices between [many] ends equally ultimate, and claims equally absolute, the realization of some of which must inevitably involve the sacrifice of others.” Moreover, those values are at times irreconcilable and incommensurable, thereby denying the possibility of choosing between them based upon an objective or universally acceptable rank-ordering of them (Berlin 2002, 216). Accordingly, conflicts between values are “an intrinsic, irremovable part of human life” (Berlin 2002, 213; see also 216).

Although the acknowledgement and (at times grudging) acceptance of value pluralism has long been a staple of liberalism, the range of groups privy to liberal recognition and accommodation has shifted over time. As Alan Cairns (1999), Will Kymlicka (2007) and a host of others have persuasively demonstrated, the twentieth century marked a profound shift in our understanding of concepts such as race, ethnicity, nation, and human rights and, consequently, the relationship among groups separated along those lines. Prior to the Second World War, ethno-cultural and religious diversity in Canada and other liberal states was characterized by illiberal and undemocratic relations “between conqueror and conquered; colonizer and colonized; master and slave; settler and indigenous; racialized and unmarked; normalized and deviant; orthodox and heretic; civilized and primitive; ally and enemy” (Kymlicka 2010, 35). These hierarchical relationships were justified by racist ideologies that cast white Europeans from the British Isles and northwestern Europe as superior and therefore worthy of rule over others. Liberalism was the preserve of ‘civilized’ Europeans; those outside the sphere of civilized peoples could be treated with coercion without recourse to justification.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Diversity, Identity, and Rights (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.

Sources, religion, at, accessed 26 December 2016.

Wikipedia, Religion, at, accessed 26 December 2016.

Shaun P. Young and Triadafilos Triadafilopoulos (2013), Multiculturalism as a Deliberative Ethic. Public Reason 5 (1): 49-68, at, accessed 30 December 2016. References cited:

Berlin, I. 2002. Liberty – Incorporating “Four Essays on Liberty.” Edited by Henry Hardy. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Berlin, I. 2000. The Power of Ideas. Edited by Henry Hardy. London: Chatto and Windus; Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Cairns, A. 1999. Empire, Globalization, and the Fall and Rise of Diversity. In Citizenship, Diversity, and Pluralism: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives, edited by Alan C. Cairns et al. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Kymlicka, W. 2009. The Rise and Fall of Multiculturalism? New Debates on Inclusion and Accommodation in Diverse Societies. In The Multiculturalism Backlash: European Discourses, Policies and Practices, edited by Stephen Vertovec and Susanne Wessendorf. New York: Routledge.

Kymlicka, W. 2007. Multicultural Odysseys: Navigating the New International Politics of Diversity. New York: Oxford University Press.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 30 December 2016.

Image: at, accessed 26 December 2016.