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international law, individual freedom, religion


This symposium Essay comments on four interrelated themes regarding the right to religious liberty in international law that emerge from Seval Yildirim's article Global Tangles: Laws, Headcoverings and Religious Identity, 10 SANTA CLARA J. INT’L L. 52 (2012). The first is the paradoxical language of freedom in struggles over attempts to proscribe the wearing of the hijab, especially regarding the principles of gender equality and women’s rights. The second is the apparent comfort that governance feminism exhibits with the state imposition of new (presumably woman liberationist) norms and how institutions such as courts may act not only as independent protectors of rights but also as instruments of a particular managerial culture of rights as têchne. The third theme follows directly from the second: the normative power of liberal rights discourse, especially in relation to the claims of religious minorities in Western European nation-states and the danger of rights managerialism in instrumentalizing certain substantive conceptions of both the scope of religious freedom and the nature of the public sphere through state or, in the case of the ECHR itself, supranational power. And finally, the need critically to interrogate not just the claims of Muslim communities and individuals to religious freedom but also the normative structure and underlying assumptions of international human rights norms themselves. The Essay concludes by suggesting that it is only by gaining a better appreciation of the plural normativity of the right and the contingent history of its emergence that space may conceivably be found to re-imagine the current limits and contours of contemporary international discourse on religious freedom.

Publication Citation

10 Santa Clara Journal of International Law 73 (2012).


Human Rights Law | International Law