Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Secular State and Religious Tolerance

Is secularism compatible with religious tolerance?

Monday September 13, 2021 5pm PDT
Zoom webinar*

Denis Lacorne, Senior Research Fellow at CERI (Centre d’Etudes et des Researches Internationales), Sciences Po

Is secularism (laïcité) compatible with religious tolerance? In raising this question, Professor Lacorne will explore the impact of secular regimes on religious tolerance, emphasizing religious symbols and the space granted to religious symbols in the public square. In drawing examples from France, the United States and Italy, he will attempt to demonstrate that a nominally secular state is not necessarily a neutral or blind state with regard to religious beliefs. While the secular state does regulate the presence of religious symbols, this regulation can be mild—for instance, nativity scenes allowed under certain conditions—or aggressive and even punitive when it prohibits ostentatious religious clothings, such as the hijab, the niqab or the burquini in the public square. The wall of separation between church and state is rarely “high and impregnable” and the institutional tolerance of religious symbols varies widely according to countries and regimes of secularism.

Denis Lacorne has written extensively on religion in the United States and the politics of toleration in general. He turns to history to trace the development of modern conceptions of toleration and to find precedents for new ways we can understand and apply it. In his recent book The Limits of Tolerance (2019), translated from Les frontières de la tolérance (2016), Lacorne distinguishes the “modern” definition of tolerance from predecessors and alternatives. He associates this modern account with European thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, including Locke and Voltaire, who rendered tolerance a necessary condition to uphold a right to religious belief, practice and conscience. Drawing from older practices of tolerance, he uses history to mark the uniqueness of the “multicultural” regimes of toleration that have become common for nations that have seen considerable influxes of immigration from minority religions since the last decades of the twentieth century.


Sponsored by Endowed Fund for the Study of Religious Tolerance. Co-sponsored with the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion.

Toleration and Its Discontents

April 20, 2021 11am PDT

Michael Walzer photo

Michael Walzer, Professor Emeritus, Social Sciences @Institute for Advanced Study (IAS)

Professor Michael Walzer will revisit the old question about tolerating the intolerant. “We have to do that, but this isn’t a simple toleration; we have a right to ask for concessions from them–some minimal conformity, especially with regard to gender and equality.” Exactly what that means, and how it might be justified, will be the subject of his lecture.

Michael Walzer is one of America’s foremost political thinkers, Michael Walzer has written about a wide variety of topics in political theory and moral philosophy, including political obligation, just and unjust war, nationalism and ethnicity, economic justice, and the welfare state. He has played a critical role in the revival of a practical, issue-focused ethics and in the development of a pluralist approach to political and moral life. Walzer’s books include Just and Unjust Wars (1977), Spheres of Justice (1983), On Toleration (1997), Arguing About War (2004), and The Paradox of Liberation (2015); he served as co-editor of the political journal Dissent for more than three decades, retiring in 2014. Currently, he is working on issues having to do with international justice and the connection of religion and politics, and also on a collaborative project focused on the history of Jewish political thought.

Established in 2014, the Tolerance Lectures are generously sponsored by the Endowed Fund for the Study of Religious Tolerance. Co-sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies and the Center for Democracy, Toleration and Religion

Race and Responsibility: A Conversation on Black-Jewish Relations and the Fight for Equal Justice

Webinar on April 12, 2021, 5-7 PM PST

This will be broadcasted as part of the Berkeley Conversation Series and can be accessed here.

How are the historical experiences of the Black and Jewish communities at once distinct and interconnected? Should we see efforts to combat racism and antisemitism as separate struggles? What are African Americans’ and Jews’ responsibilities to one another in America’s current racial reckoning? In this conversation, Eric K. Ward, a leading expert on the relationship between racism, antisemitism, and authoritarian movements; and Michael Rothberg, an eminent scholar of historical exclusion and its legacies, will tackle these questions and other pressing matters in contemporary Black-Jewish relations. The discussion will be moderated by Professor Tina Sacks of the School of Social Welfare. 

This event is sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies, the Center for Democracy, Toleration, and Religion, the Department of African-American Studies, the Othering and Belonging Institute, Berkeley Hillel, the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, the Graduate Theological Union, the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies, the College of Letters and Science, The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and HaMaqom | The Place.

Suggested Pre-Event learning:

The Implicated Subject: Beyond Victims and Perpetrators – Michael Rothberg
Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism – Eric K. Ward
Far more unites Black and Jewish Americans than divides themEthan Katz and Deborah Lipstadt
From Mississippi to Chicago to Belarus, ancestors guide her wayTina Sacks

In the Shadows of Whiteness: Race, Religion, and Radicalization in the Time of Pandemics

BCSR March 5 event - Terence Keel and Osagie K. Obasogie photos

Public Forum on Religion and Pandemic

March 05, 2021 / 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm

Online, register here

Terence Keel, Associate Professor in the Department of African American Studies and Institute for Society and Genetics, UCLA, and Osagie K. Obasogie, Haas Distinguished Chair and Professor of Bioethics in the Joint Medical Program and School of Public Health, UC Berkeley

While the recent January 6th insurrection at the Capitol can be seen as a culmination of a longer history of racialized violence and white nationalism in the United States, the failure to unilaterally condemn it at the top levels of government exposes a critical turning point in the state of U.S. politics and society today. Moreover, in the ensuing examinations of the event, there has yet to be an account for the role of race and religion in giving coherence to the broader political claims and grievances propelling the insurrection. For this event in the Berkeley Forum on Religion and Pandemic series, we bring together Prof. Osagie K. Obasogie (UC Berkeley, Joint Medical Program & School of Public Health) and Prof. Terence Keel (UCLA, African American Studies & Institute for Society and Genetics) to discuss the relationship between Christianity, white nationalism, and white supremacy that fuels the discourse during these unprecedented times. How has religion shaped modern racial thinking, and how does it manifest in today’s world? In a moment of multiple, overlapping pandemics — COVID-19, racialized police violence, white nationalism — how does whiteness and religion sustain regressive, anti-science, and racist politics that create pandemic synergies toxic to democracy and deadly for communities of color?  

Terence Keel is an Associate Professor with a split appointment in the Department of African American Studies, and the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. He is also the Founding Director of the Lab for Biocritical Studies and currently serves as Associate Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. Keel has written extensively about race, religion, law, and modern science. His widely acclaimed first book, Divine Variations explains how religion helped produce scientific racism. Keel argues that modern biology has undergone an uneven process of secularization, leaving contemporary scientific theories of race haunted by a religious past that cannot be fully transcended. 

Keel is currently writing a second book on the American medical examiner system that details how forensic pathology, law enforcement, and autopsy science suffer from a climate of social and ethical nihilism that produce practices of state violence and biomedical racism that target communities of color and erase police accountability for death while under custody. Keel is also currently a co-editor of the forthcoming book Critical Approaches to Science and Religion, with Myrna Perez-Sheldon and Ahmed Ragab. Bringing together scholars from the humanities, law, biology, and the social sciences, this book features a new generation of scholars offering insights into the changing relations between science, religion, critical race theory and social justice. Keel has a B.A. in Theology from Xavier University of Louisiana, a M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He is currently a Research Fellow at the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy for his collaborative work on the American medical examiner system. 

Osagie K. Obasogie is the Haas Distinguished Chair and Professor of Bioethics at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Joint Medical Program and School of Public Health. Obasogie’s scholarly interests include Constitutional law, policing and police use of force, sociology of law, bioethics, race and inequality in law and medicine, and reproductive and genetic technologies. His writings have spanned both academic and public audiences, with journal articles in venues such as Cornell Law ReviewCalifornia Law Review (forthcoming), Law & Society ReviewUniversity of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional LawStanford Technology Law Review, and the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics along with commentaries in outlets including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticSlateLos Angeles TimesBoston Globe, and New Scientist. His first book, Blinded By Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind (Stanford University Press) was awarded the Herbert Jacob Book Prize by the Law and Society Association. His second book, Beyond Bioethics: Toward a New Biopolitics (co-edited with Marcy Darnovsky, University of California Press) is an edited volume that examines the past, present, and future of bioethics. Obasogie received his B.A. in Sociology and Political Science (with distinction in both majors) from Yale University, his J.D. from Columbia Law School where he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley where he was a fellow with the National Science Foundation.

As part of the Berkeley Democracy and Public Theology Program BCSR’s Public Forum on Religion and Pandemic brings together scholars and the public to address the current pandemic and its commensurate crises, exploring the intersection between religion and timely topics such as the environment, public health, elections and democracy, religious freedom, and nationalism in order to foster dialogue and reflection.

Presented by the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion with generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation.

2021 Surjit Singh Lecture | Navigating Topographies of Belonging and Difference: Contemporary Shared Sacred Sites in the Mediterranean

2021 Surjit Singh Lecture | Navigating Topographies of Belonging and Difference: Contemporary Shared Sacred Sites in the Mediterranean

The Graduate Theological Union (GTU) is pleased to announce that Dr. Karen Barkey, Haas Distinguished Chair of Religious Diversity and Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, will be presenting the 2021 Surjit Singh Lecture on April 5, 2021 at 12 pm PT.

Her lecture will be entitled “Navigating Topographies of Belonging and Difference: Contemporary Shared Sacred Sites in the Mediterranean.”

“In light of the predominant narratives of religious hatreds, conflict, and the decline of religious pluralism throughout the world, the existence of shared sacred sites that bring different religions together act as prescient reminders of the possibilities presented by tolerance,” Dr. Barkey said. “This lecture focuses on shared sacred sites, places that are holy for members of multiple religious groups, and how the participants in these sites mediate, negotiate, and come to accept difference. Drawing upon three summers of ethnographic research, I will examine the stories people tell about belonging to a space, and the stories of sharing that become embedded within the local culture.”

Started in 1991, the annual Surjit Singh Lecture in Comparative Religious Thought and Culture builds upon the GTU’s tradition of ecumenical theological education and dedication to interreligious dialogue and understanding. Each year, the endowed lectureship brings to the GTU a distinguished scholar to address religion and culture from a cross-cultural perspective.

Register here to join.

Dr. Barkey is the director of the Center for Democracy, Toleration and Religion, located at Social Science Matrix and the co-director of the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion. She is also one of the curators of the traveling Shared Sacred Sites exhibition. Her most recent work relates to issues of religious diversity and coexistence, with particular research on the question of shared sacred sites.

For more information, please visit the Graduate Theological Union’s event webpage here.

Presented by the Graduate Theological Union.

Conference: Toleration in Comparative Perspective (January 19-23, 2021)

Toleration Conference Jan 19-23, 2021 Poster Image

The Center for Democracy, Toleration and Religion is pleased to work in conjunction with Reset Dialogues on Civilizations to host the conference Toleration in Comparative Perspective: Concepts, Practices, Documents” from January 19-23, 2021, over Zoom. The conference  gathers scholars to talk about the ways in which religious toleration has been articulated and practiced in places and periods outside of modern “Western” history. Each day will feature a thematic panel — on spaces, philosophy, law, political theory and textual interpretation — that brings together speakers from across fields and disciplines. The conference will begin with a keynote address by Professor Denis Lacorne, of Sciences Po.

The conference is open to the public, and we encourage anyone who is interested to register through this link.

Video recordings now available here.

The Development of Reasoning about Religious Norms: Insights from Hindu and Muslim children in India

Photo of Mahesh Srinivasan, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology; member, Cognitive Science Faculty, University of California, Berkeley

Speaker: Mahesh Srinivasan, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology; member, Cognitive Science Faculty, University of California, Berkeley

Moderator: Robert Goldman, Professor of Sanskrit and Catherine and William L. Magistretti Distinguished Professor in South & Southeast Asian Studies

Join us for a talk by UC Berkeley psychologist, Prof. Mahesh Srinivasan on how people construe and tolerate differences in religious norms and beliefs.

DATE: Thursday, October 22, 2020
TIME: 10:30am PDT


Children who live in pluralistic societies often encounter members of other religious and secular groups who hold radically different beliefs and norms. Under these circumstances, developing religious tolerance––respecting that each group has its own beliefs and norms––is both challenging and crucial. When individuals in pluralistic societies fail to develop religious tolerance, the consequences can be dire. For example, in India, Muslims have recently been attacked because they were suspected of violating the Hindu prohibition against killing cows. Promoting peaceful co-existence among groups thus requires understanding how people construe and tolerate differences in religious norms and beliefs. In this talk, I will present a recent line of work on the development of religious tolerance among Hindu and Muslim children in Gujarat, India—a site of recent violent Hindu-Muslim conflict. These studies explore how Hindu and Muslim children and adults conceptualize norms from their own religion, as well as norms from the other religion. For example, we probe beliefs about to whom religious norms apply, whether violations of these norms should be punished, who has the authority to change religious norms, and how the contexts in which norm violations take place affect evaluations. Our findings suggest that although adult’s and children’s application of religious norms across groups and contexts often allows for peaceful coexistence, it might also lead to conflict.

About the Speaker
Mahesh Srinivasan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and a member of the Cognitive Science Faculty at the University of California, Berkeley. Previously, he was a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, San Diego. His research explores how representations of language and concepts arise and interact in human development and across cultures. Specific interests include flexible and pragmatic uses of language (e.g., polysemy, metaphor, implicature), the representation of abstract concepts (e.g., time, number), linguistic relativity, and social cognitive development in different cultural contexts.

Prof. Srinivasan received a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Harvard University in 2011, and received a B.S. in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University in 2005.

Click HERE to read more about Prof. Srinivasan.

Sponsors: Institute for South Asia StudiesSarah Kailath Chair of India StudiesCognitive Science ProgramCenter for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion (CDTR)

Rationality, Ritual, and Democratic Decision-Making: Perspectives from Classical Athens

October 16, 2020 / 10:00 am – 11:30 am

Register here to receive a personalized Zoom link to join the webinar.

Sara Forsdyke (University of Michigan) and Josiah Ober (Stanford University), Moderated by Emily Mackil (UC Berkeley, Department of History and Chair, Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archeology) and Duncan MacRae (UC Berkeley Department of Classics)