Future of Blasphemy


Came across this critique of ‘criminalisation of personal blasphemy’ by UN and European Court of Human Rights, which I thought was a good example of Judith Butler’s argument about critiques as already bound up in the normative frameworksThe following critique involves defending an ‘ethical model of blasphemy,’ from within the normative framework of political liberalism and associated vocabulary of equal rights. The excerpt below is from the description of the book at the Continuum.

In the days of Moses, blasphemy was the mortal offence of failing to respect the divine. In an age of human rights, blasphemy is understood as a failure to respect persons, as insult, defamation, or “advocacy of religious hatred.” The criminalisation of this personal blasphemy has been advanced at the United Nations and upheld by the European Court of Human Rights, which has asserted a universal “right to respect for religious feelings.”

The Future of Blasphemy turns respect on its head. Respect demands that we grant each other equal standing in the moral community, not that we never offend. Politically, respect for citizens requires a public discourse that is open to all viewpoints. Going beyond the question of free speech versus religion, The Future of Blasphemy defends an ethical model of blasphemy. Controversies surrounding sacrilege are contests over what counts as sacred, disagreements about what has central, inviolable, and incommensurable value. In such public contestation of the sacred, each of us—secular and religious alike—has equal right to speak on its behalf.

via Future of Blasphemy – Continuum.

Think about how such a critique of blasphemy based in political liberalism will fall flat in a context in which the normative frames are different from political liberalism.  Won’t it? But when critique of blasphemy laws is offered from within the normative frames of a religious discourse, it will be heard differently. Recall the argument of J.S. Mill against blasphemy law that I alluded to in a previous post, which was posited more as a defence of Christian values. Mill’s critique was a rhetorical possibility only in a historical contexts in which political liberalism was still competing for its normative power with Christianity.

Judith Butler is on the spot!

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About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts

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