Beyond establishment and separation: Political liberalism, religion and democracy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Does John Rawls’s political liberalism require the institutional separation
between state and religion or does it allow space for moderate forms of
religious establishment? In this paper I address this question by presenting and
critically evaluating Ce´cile Laborde’s recent claim that political liberalism
is ‘inconclusive about the public place of religion’ and ‘indeterminate about the
symbolic dimensions of the public place of religion’. In response to Ce´cile Laborde, I argue that neither moderate separation nor moderate establishment, intended as regimes of religious governance that fix specific interpretations of principles of social and economic justice, are compatible with Rawls’s political liberalism. Furthermore, I claim that a state can ensure that both its religious and non-religious citizens enjoy a sense of self-respect and identification with their polity by leaving issues of symbolic establishment and separation open to democratic debate. I conclude that Rawls’s political liberalism transcends the standard distinction between moderate establishment and moderate separation and leaves the public place of religion open to the democratic contestation of ordinary legislative politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-349
Number of pages17
JournalRes Publica
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Political liberalism
  • Religious establishment
  • Separation
  • Religious symbols
  • Democracy

Cite this