Secularism or Democracy? Associational Governance of Religious Diversity. By Veit Bader. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007. 386 pp. $59.95.
Viet Bader, a professor of sociology and of social and political philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, has in Secularism or Demoeraey? written a timely, highly significant book that deserves to be widely read and discussed--in Europe but also in the United States. In his book Bader critiques the liberal ideal of a secular state that strictly separates religion and state and relegates religion to the purely private sphere But he also critiques both religious establishments and the unlimited toleration of religious practices that run counter to basic democratic norms.
Instead, he offers a third way, one he terms "associative democracy," a concept rooted in religious pluralism. It assures even religious minorities the right to institutional opportunities to live and express their deepest beliefs, including in the public realm, but it also insists on respect for and adherence to minimal liberal democratic norms. Especially important among the latter are the rights of free entrance and exit and safeguarded rights of minorities within religious minorities, especially those-of women and children. Bader persuasively argues that his associative democracy will lead to greater religious freedom and also greater social and political cohesion than the old liberal emphasis on a secular state, strict separatism, and assimilation of religious minorities.
As modern democracies in Europe and North America attempt to deal with growing numbers of religious minorities--most notably Muslims, but also Hindus, Buddhists, Scientologists, adherents of native American religions, and more--there is much that Bader's book offers. First, it seeks an appropriate balance between assuring the religious freedom of person ofall faiths and protecting basic florins that makes possible social andpolitical unity. Bader supports neither a, secularized public square that--contary to man religious believers consciences--relegates religious life to a purely personal, private sphere, nor an "anything goes" pluralistic murticulturalism that ignores g the need for societal standards essential for...