Profound offense and religion in secular democracies: An Australian perspective

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In debates concerning the treatment of sacred objects, symbols and figures in multicultural societies, questions often arise as to what it means to treat beliefs with respect. Responses from a Millian liberal tradition have generally argued that the idea of treating beliefs with respect is inconsistent with freedom of expression, and that it is illogical to expect people to respect beliefs and practices with which they fundamentally disagree. This chapter explores this response in relation to an episode in the Australian media, in which an Aboriginal Australian claimed that a book should be pulped for advocating that girls learn to play the didgeridoo. Drawing on sociological and philosophical
accounts of the relationship between identity and face, and the nature of civility,
the chapter examines the role of deference in multicultural societies, and
provides an alternative understanding of what it means to treat beliefs with respect. It argues that “respect for beliefs” is best understood as respect for the
social identity of persons, and consists in ordinary codes of politeness. These codes are not inconsistent with freedom of expression, and do not involve the agent actually respecting beliefs and practices with which they do not agree.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProfane
Subtitle of host publicationSacrilegious Expression in a Multicultural Age
EditorsChristopher S. Grenda, Chris Beneke , David Nash
Place of PublicationOakland CA USA
PublisherUniversity of California Press
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9780520958227
ISBN (Print)9780520277229
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • didgeridoo
  • Aboriginal Australians
  • profound offense
  • respect
  • civility
  • religion

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