Category Archives: News and media

My 40 days of COVID-19

By Heidi Maiberg

As an overseas PhD student, who recently started studying in the UK, I often feel that I am living in two countries at the same time. But now I am no longer comparing education systems and cultures – I am comparing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic we are going through is historical. I am following the recommendation of psychologists and other social scientists, who have suggested that people keep a diary to preserve for the historical record as much information about the world and the changes we are going through, as possible. Here are some of my thoughts, emotions and experiences relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, that I first  started to write down as a coping mechanism to find some balance in this hectic world, but which others like me might find helpful.

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12th International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Podkarpackie Province, Poland

By sr Katarzyna Kowalska NDS (PhD Candidate, Religious Studies)

Thanks to the efforts of Prof. Waclaw Wierzbieniec and the Jewish History and Culture Department of University of Rzeszów’s Institute of History, with the support of local authorities and institutions, over 30 towns of the Podkarpackie Province honoured the 12th International Holocaust Remembrance Day with commemoration ceremonies that took place between 2nd January and 22 Feburary 2020. These days are unique and unmatched by any other region, as they are often organised by grass-root level organisations and initiatives in various institutions such as schools, town halls, cultural centres, parishes, village administrators etc, which get involved in the annual ceremonies’ organization.

Sr Anna Bodzinska NDS and Sr Katarzyna Kowalska NDS (born in the region) participated in commemorating events in various towns and villages: Rzeszów, Przemyśl, Leżańsk, Gniewczyna Leżańska, Dynów, Tyczyn, Kraczkowa, Jasionka,  Pruchnik, Jarosław, and others. You can read the complete program of the 10th International Holocaust Remembrance Day (#HDR2020) here. This blog looks at a few examples of what such commemorations look like.

The 27th January ceremony commemorating the Holocaust victims in Rzeszów began with prayers at the Jewish Cemetery, including prayers recited by Rabbi Shalom Ben Stambler of Chabad-Lubavitch. There were also lectures, meetings and a concert of cymbals (a Jewish Polish instrument). Students had an opportunity to listen to and meet with Jewish Polish Holocaust Survivors, with the presence of Lucia Retman (now living in Haifa, Israel), who lived in this region before and during WWII. The commemoration in Rzeszów ended with a prayer in Fara Church, where names of those who were killed – Polish Jews and Christians – were read by Polish and Jewish representatives.

A commemoration at the Jewish Cemetery in Rzeszow

On the 29th of January, commemorations took place in in the primary school in Jasionka. Sr Katarzyna spoke to  young students (13-18) about why it is important today to come and be part of Holocaust Memorial Days. A talk concerning the Kahane brothers followed.  

In Jasionka: Students with sr Katarzyna NDS, learning about Sr Marie Francia NDS and other Righteous among the Nations

Tyczyn prepared a full day’s programme (30th of January), which students and locals were invited to take part in. Twelve candles were lit at the Jewish Cemetery by students to remember 1200 Jews from Tyczyn who were deported and killed. Tyczyn had counted 3000 inhabitants before WWII. The cemetary commemoration was followed by a visit to a church and cemetery where several Righteous Among the Nations are buried. Students heard stories of courage and the difficult choices that locals had to face during the Nazi occupation. The cultural centre prepared a programme of meetings with Jewish visitors and guests of HRD, as well as music performance and exhibitions.

Tyczyn – lighting the candles at the Jewish Cemetery

HRD in Przemyśl lasted two days (29-30 January). It began with a commemoration event to remember those who perished in Przemyśl ghetto. Students and locals had meetings with Holocaust survivors and several presentations concerning the Holocaust and Jewish and Polish history and culture.

The 12th Holocaust Remembrance Days in Podkarpacie went unnoticed in wider world media. However, it is an initiative that deserves attention as shows that grass root work is taking place in Poland concerning the Holocaust, history, memory and dialogue, and that there are many places in Podkarpacie where the Jewish past is not forgotten but, rather, is seen as integral to Polish history and Holocaust education.

 

 

 

 

Death of a Founder: Louis Theroux and ‘America’s Most Hated Family’

Louis Theroux, the journalist and documentary filmmaker, has never shied away from controversial topics, communities, and individuals. His 2007 documentary, The Most Hated Family in America, which documented the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), served as an especially notable example. Following its success, Theroux recently returned to the WBC for a follow-up documentary, Surviving America’s Most Hated Family, which aimed to give an insight to the current climate of the church, particularly following the recent death of its founder, Fred Phelps.

The WBC is commonly associated with the Phelps family, who are at the centre of the church’s practices, activities, and public engagement. While there are other members beyond the Phelps family, the WBC consists of fewer than 100 members, and largely stands apart from other forms of Baptist denominations. The Phelps and other WBC members have become known as a hate-group in public discourse, particularly due to their use of highly discriminatory language and actions directed towards groups including the LGBTQ+ community, Jews, Muslims, and the American military. The WBC have become renowned for their public protests, during which they hold inflammatory signs (including ‘GOD HATES FAGS’, ‘YOU’RE GOING TO HELL’, and ‘ABORTION IS BLOODY MURDER’), which have drawn significant attention from the media (ranging from news coverage to comedic parodies).

During his original documentary Theroux spent a significant amount of time meeting Fred Phelps and his daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, and concentrated on the homophobic beliefs and actions of the WBC. For his return in Surviving America’s Most Hated Family, Theroux stated that “embarrassing secrets were said to be coming out” about the WBC, specifically concerning the issue of apostasy and the excommunication of Fred Phelps prior to his death.

These issues were the thrust of Theroux’s documentary. On the surface, very little has changed, as demonstrated by a WBC picketer’s “GOD STILL HATES FAGS” sign (“God hasn’t changed, and he’s not going to”, he explained). Religions, however, particularly New Religious Movements, are dynamic categories. They are in a constant state of change depending on its members, social environment, and practices. Theroux was successfully able to probe the issue of apostasy – three of Shirley Phelps-Roper’s children (two daughters and one son), have recently left the WBC, and have been subject to ‘shunning’ from their family and the church. Notably, Megan Phelps-Roper discussed how she decided to leave the church following conversations with outsiders on Twitter, and has since presented a TED talk on her experiences of the WBC and why she left.

Arguably the most interesting aspect of the documentary is the second “embarrassing secret”: the shunning of Fred Phelps. Before his death in 2014, it is alleged that Phelps approached the residents of the ‘Equality House’ (a house near the WBC painted in Pride colours as a form of protest), and told them that they were “good people.” Given Phelps’ reputation for highly homophobic sermons, such an action seems at odds to the discriminatory activities with which the WBC are typically associated. It is believed that, as a response, WBC members voted to excommunicate Phelps from the church. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Theroux was less successful in gaining substantial information on this issue. Beyond the accounts of Shirley Phelps-Roper’s apostate children, WBC members were not forthcoming with details, and mostly avoided his questioning on the topic.

Westboro Baptist Church 1955 [via Wikimedia commons]

The excommunication of a leader is highly significant, particularly one that directly informed the core beliefs and practices of their community.  Scholars of new religions have committed a significant amount of research on the notion of ‘charismatic leaders’, those who attract devotion and dedication from their followers (see Barker 1992). The death of a charismatic leader raises several possibilities for the future (and survival) of a movement. For the WBC, this issue has an even greater impact due to Phelps’ “loss of charisma” (Wessinger 2012). As Theroux correctly observed, any acknowledgement of his excommunication from the WBC would suggest a fallacy, or that Phelps had “fallen” by straying from the core message of the church.

The Weberian (1948) model of routinized charisma suggests that a movement succumbs to routine bureaucratic authority following the death of the charismatic leader. However, due to Phelps’ excommunication, it is currently unclear how his charismatic authority may or may not be preserved. His loss of charisma is already making its mark on how the WBC is organized – Theroux suggests that Shirley Phelps-Roper has been “sidelined” (having previously acted as the WBC’s chief spokesperson). Furthermore, whilst the Phelps family continue to be at the core of the WBC membership, there are a small number of new members joining the church, which seem likely to influence the future direction of the WBC.

As previously noted, the day-to-day activities of the WBC are largely unchanged, with its members continuing to pursue their controversial picketing. Yet the excommunication and death of Phelps is resulting in significant organizational changes ‘behind the scenes.’ Theroux’s latest documentary offers us a glimpse of this transition, but the full impact of the WBC’s rejection of Phelps remains to be seen.

 

References

Barker, E. (1992) New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction, London, HMSO.

Weber, M. (1948b) ‘The Social Psychology of the World Religions’, in Gerth, H. H. and Mills, C. W. (eds and trans), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, London, Routledge, pp. 267-301 (this edition 1991).

Wessinger, C. (2012) ‘Charismatic Leaders in New Religions’, in Hammer, O. & Rothstein, M. (eds), The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 80-96.

Afghanistan – War without End?

By Hugh Beattie

Is war the new normal in the Middle East, asks a recent Daily Telegraph review of Elliot Ackerman’s Places and Names, about American involvement there since the turn of the century.

As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the answer must be yes. For much of the 20th century the country was relatively peaceful. Forty-one years ago (in April 1978) a left-wing government took power in the country in a military coup, and attempted to introduce a series of major social and economic reforms, provoking a major insurgency. At the end of 1979 Soviet troops entered Afghanistan to defend the new government. The country has suffered ever since from an ongoing civil war which has varied in intensity, but has never really ended.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion, it may be a good moment to reflect on why conflict has continued for so long. A few brief thoughts.

Firstly, there are some agriculturally very productive areas in different parts of Afghanistan, but there is a desert area in the south, and mountains (rising to 7,492 metres in the east) run across the country from east to west. These help to make communications difficult and have contributed to a strong sense of regional and even local rather than national identity.

Part of a propaganda poster produced by the new government in 1978. It depicts the last two stages in the evolution of human society according to Marxist theory; it reads from right to left – the image on the right represents capitalist society and the one on the left the final stage – the socialist utopia.

Secondly, the Afghan state, largely a product of later 19th century British imperialism, has shallow roots. Even in the later 20th century, its reach was often quite limited in rural areas and local communities maintained a considerable degree of independence.

Thirdly, there is the country’s ethnic diversity. About half the population identify as Pashtuns and Pashtu is often their first language; there are substantial minorities, who have different mother-tongues, including Persian, Uzbeki and Baluchi.

Fourthly, there is the presence of a number of powerful neighbours and near neighbours, including China, Pakistan, India and Iran, each interested in maintaining as much influence over the country as possible, and keeping others out. This is partly for strategic reasons, and partly in the hope of gaining control of the country’s mineral wealth. So, for example, since the early 1990s Pakistan has usually supported the Taliban, while its neighbour and rival, India, has tended to support more secular movements. Other, more distant, actors have also interfered during the last half-century, ranging from the USA and the UK to Saudi Arabia and the UAE (as well as Al-Qaida), NATO and the UN.

A shrine in the Kabul suburbs, the Ziarat-i-Sakhi, which has Imami Shi’a connections, taken on New Year’s Day (according to the local calendar March 21) 1979.

The religious factor is an important one too, with the almost all Afghans being Muslims, and influential religious leaders having a history of mobilising resistance to foreign intrusion, for example the Mullah Din Muhammad, known as Mushk-i-Alam (meaning ‘the perfume of the world’), who helped to lead resistance to the British during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80).

As a result, during the 20th century Afghan governments usually had to tread carefully and not interfere too much with society and the economy if they wanted to stay in power. Some rulers tried to compensate for their weakness by looking for help from outside, but accepting aid from one foreign country in particular, especially a non-Muslim one, was usually very unpopular. It also encouraged other states to intervene, in order to prevent a rival getting the upper hand there.

After the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001 following 9/11, it seemed possible that a new page in Afghanistan’s history might be turned and a new socio-political order based on freedom and democracy might emerge. But the problems were enormous, and all too soon the ‘golden moment’ passed. Soviet troops had left the country in 1989 leaving behind a weak government in Kabul and a number of powerful leaders (often referred to as warlords) in the provinces. Now it seems that in its turn the USA will soon withdraw almost all its troops, leaving a weak government in Kabul and a renascent Taliban in control of at least half the country. Sad to say, peace seems as remote a prospect as at any point since 1979.

Photo of the tomb shrine of a Sufi ‘saint’, Padshah Sahib, a few miles outside Kabul. Reportedly he died defending the local people from invaders during the 18th century CE.

Institutional Secrecy, Vatican Disclosure and Roman Catholic Priests’ Children

By Sarah Thomas

Are new and mass media nudging institutional secrecy into the open for a younger generation of Catholics? This is an interesting question to consider following the recent New York Times disclosure on 18th February this year; that the Roman Catholic Church has for years held a document containing a secret set of rules for priests who father children. Vatican spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti admitted to a New York Times journalist that “The Vatican has a secret set of rules for priests who break their vow of celibacy and father children…I can confirm that these guidelines exist…It is an internal document.” Gisotti went on to state that the document “requests” that the father leave priesthood to “assume his responsibilities as a parent by devoting himself exclusively to the child.” This disclosure is the first public acknowledgement by the Vatican that the Roman Catholic Church has an internal process for dealing with this most obvious transgression of the vow of priestly celibacy. Many biological children of priests (who have been trying to raise awareness about their existence by working with media outlets such as The Boston Globe since 2017), understandably feel it to be a ground-breaking moment.

It is also a particularly timely disclosure for my PhD research, that focuses on the phenomenon of Roman Catholic priests’ children and their use of new and mass media. I first became interested in this phenomenon as a research topic because, as a child of an RC priest myself, I began to notice patterns and themes emerging when listening to and reading about other priests’ children’s stories. These included priest’s children having experienced diverse forms of silencing behaviour from the Roman Catholic Church which caused isolation from their fathers – as well as from family, friends and communities – the same intention was behind: to keep the children hidden and unacknowledged.

My first contact with other priest’s children was through Coping International, an online support group for the children of Roman Catholic priests, run by Vincent Doyle, who is the son of a priest himself. Doyle has been an active campaigner for the rights of priests’ children since 2014. He was shown the Vatican’s internal document containing secret rules for priests with children two years ago during a meeting in Rome, called by Doyle to discuss the relevant issues and their impact. It was Doyle who worked with The New York Times to bring this recent disclosure to public attention, and other media outlets across the globe picked up the story immediately, causing this article to become one of the most widely reported stories initiated by a priest’s child so far.

What impact does this discovery have? The Roman Catholic Church’s much studied response to the clerical sexual abuse crisis highlights their predisposition to close ranks and maintain a wall of silence during times of scandal. There are of course very real differences with criminal behaviour and arguably the simple breaking of a promise, but are patterns of response likely to be the same? This secrecy has been the church’s attitude to priests’ children’s publicity so far, which is what makes the Vatican’s admission of this secret document so different and interesting.

Preliminary results from my twenty two interviews with Roman Catholic priests’ children point to the majority of them wanting change, and a de-stigmatising of the perception of them as objects of shameful transgressions. Comments on the Coping International closed Facebook page show how the majority of children active on the site welcomed The New York Times disclosure as an important milestone in their fight for recognition and acceptance.

While it would be naïve to think that one isolated media disclosure about Vatican guidelines will have any long lasting discernible effect on priests’ children’s lives (arguably the aspiration of Doyle and many members of Coping International), it nevertheless draws attention to a wider social movement that many more minority groups than priests’ children are involved with, one that involves resistance, small power shifts and just maybe the possibility of eventual change. There is an observable pattern of individuals coming together as critical mass, as seen with the #MeToo Campaign and other contemporary challenging of institutional authority from groups, where these groups use social and mass media to challenge power ‘horizontally’, rather than trying to engage with traditional ‘vertical’ power structures (as in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church). People are no longer remaining quiet because they are being told to from ‘above’. Being kept as isolated individuals can lead people to feel powerless, but being part of a critical mass leads people to believe they can affect change.

A phenomenon within and outside this, that sparked my initial question, is the increased use of social media generally – particularly by younger generations – to live life more publicly by regularly posting on new media outlets, as well as embracing the immediacy of email and other forms of digital communication. If this tendency towards openness and immediate communication is coupled with continued resistance to institutional authority, and the power of institutional secrecy is slowly diluted by a generational predilection for living life more openly – where individuals have the power to publicly post their own experiences without having to go through traditional institutional gatekeepers – then perhaps future generations of priests’ children will find current issues of shame and stigma melting away as institutional secrecy within the Catholic Church becomes unacceptable to younger generations of Catholics. After all, if a Vatican spokesperson unwittingly pinging an email across the pond can result in a worldwide disclosure for priests’ children, then surely anything is possible?

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New Degree | BA (Honours) Religion, Philosophy and Ethics

We are very pleased to announce that Religious Studies at the Open University has a brand new degree course, starting this autumn, in collaboration with Philosophy – the BA (Hons) in Religion, Philosophy and Ethics. While there has been a specialist Religious Studies route available in both the BA (Honours) Arts and Humanities and the BA (Honours) Social Sciences degrees, a named RS degree has been absent from the OU for a while, and it has been a long path to get one again. But this new degree underlines the relevance of the subject and the vitality of the department, and should ensure the subject remains central as the Open University continues the process of future proofing.

In this qualification you’ll explore human systems of thought and practice, both ‘secular’ and ‘religious’, in ways which allow you to engage with wide-ranging and often controversial issues affecting different cultures and societies. You’ll investigate a wide range of current questions and themes in these disciplines from both historical and contemporary perspectives. This includes the ethics of war, political justice, multiculturalism, religious nationalisms, the ‘sanctity of life’ and pilgrimage. In engaging with the core disciplines of religious studies and philosophy, you’ll develop critical skills and expertise in a range of key approaches and methodologies.

Key features of the course

  • Engage with key philosophical debates about ethical and other fundamental questions
  • Learn about the traditions of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism as they relate to various cultures and societies
  • Investigate selected classic and contemporary philosophers and a range of religious practices and beliefs.
  • Develop skills of critical analysis, empathy and communication relevant to a wide range of careers.

Find out more, including how to enroll to study with us, here: http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/qualifications/r45

Graham Harvey at the Counterpoint blog

Graham Harvey recently published a piece titled “Predators, Prey, and Snowdrops: Recognizing the Nature of the World” over at Counterpoint, a blog which aims to put differing systems of knowledge into conversation for the good of the planet:

Some Amazonian Indigenous people recognize two ways in which living beings relate to others, as predators and prey. More accurately, sometimes a being acts as a predator and sometimes they become prey. A hunter (human, jaguar, deity, cannibal, or other predator) sets out to find prey. But perhaps, somewhere along a forest path, they find themselves hunted. I’ve been thinking about these relations, off and on, for some time–inspired by reading the work of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Robin Wright, Laura Rival and other Amazonianists. Reading them alongside works by the philosophers Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers (who also read these Amazonianists) has led me to wonder what their observations tell us about the consumerism that marks ways of being human in late modernity or the Anthropocene–or whatever you like / dislike naming this era.

How are these predator/prey relationships helpful in grappling with our global culture and economy? Might the language of predator and prey enable us to see the workings of consumerist modernity more clearly? It certainly seems that sometimes we are preyed on or consumed by processes larger than ourselves. Extractive industries and aggressive marketing assault our world and ourselves. But we are not always victims. We also seek to capture and benefit from opportunities available to us. Even when threatened, we might actively rebel against those determined to turn what we cherish into commodities for further predation. We are not always limited as preyed-upon consumers.

Read the whole piece here.

 

Sarah Thomas in the News

One of our PhD students, Sarah Thomas, has been all over the news media this week, following the New York Times story revealing the existence of secret Vatican rules regarding priests who break their celibacy and father children, this Monday.

Sarah is working on the children of Roman Catholic priests, focusing on their transition from isolated individuals to group members via the medium of social media, with semi-structured interviews providing the main data source. Initial data analysis suggests that the process of priests’ children forming a critical mass and challenging their ‘silencing’ through media outlets not only offers new knowledge about themselves and issues of secrecy, power and authority in the Roman Catholic Church, but taps into and advances research on other contemporary challenging of institutional authority from groups including the #MeToo campaign and victims of clerical sexual abuse. So to see her appearing in the media is apropos indeed!

First, the CBS News video and article that was published yesterday can be found here.

She also took part in a live radio interview yesterday on BBC World Service, at about 27 minutes in.

And while it pains me to give them publicity, here’s Fox News using her work too.

Why looking through the lens of religion can help us to understand the popularity of conspiracy theories like Pizzagate

David G. Robertson has a new piece out over at the LSE’s blog on United States Policy and Politics blog, discussing his work on the intersections of religion and conspiracy theories. Read the whole thing here.

Conspiracy theories rarely lead to violence; with the main exception being 2016’s Pizzagate which culminated in a gunman threatening a pizza restaurant which he believed was a front for a satanic paedophile ring. David G. Robertson and Asbjorn Dyrendal unpack some of the reasons why conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate can gain ground so rapidly, citing links to the “satanic panic” of the 1990s. They also point to links with wider apocalyptic narratives of right-wing conspiracist groups, narratives which are often also reflected in religion. 

Scottish Nationalism “similar to religion”, says Judge

By David G. Robertson

An interesting story appeared in the Herald last week that illuminates some interesting features of the contemporary conversation about religion.

Chris McEleny was an electrician at the Ministry of Defense site in Beith, Inverclyde, and the SNP group leader on Inverclyde Council. In 2016, he announced he would be running as a candidate to become deputy leader of the SNP. He was then suspended by the MoD, and had his security clearance revoked. National security officials came to his home and asked him about his mental health, social media activity and pro-independence stance. McEleny resigned and pursued a discrimination case against the MoD, arguing that he had been fired because of his belief in independence.

But to do so, he had to argue that independence was a “philosophical belief”, and therefore a “protected characteristic” under the 2010 Equality Act. Legal precedent said that to fall under this category, his belief had to be “genuinely held”, involve “moral and ethical conviction” and relate to “weighty and substantial aspects of human life and behaviour”.

The judge ruled in his favour – impressive given that McEleny defended himself against the UK Government. In summing up, the judge said “The claimant has persuaded me that his belief in Scottish independence has a sufficiently similar cogency to a religious belief… to qualify as a philosophical belief.”

This preliminary ruling will now go forward to a full hearing, so expect to hear more about it in future. For now, I want to point out a few interesting points about how “religion” and “belief” are mobilised here.

Religion is about “genuinely held” beliefs. This could be problematic. Given that half the Jews in Israel are atheist, Scottish law would have to deny them any religious protection under this logic. Many forms of Buddhism would deny that belief was involved at all. What about sincerely held beliefs about female circumcision or witchcraft? What would we make about the many who identify as a religion but do not follow all of the rules and tenets of that religion? And if I have been raised in a religion and taken on its norms, how “genuinely held” are those beliefs? How do we test the “genuineness” of a belief? If it is not judged ‘genuine’, am I therefore lying?

Religion is about morality, and the “weighty” questions of life. Is it? Wouldn’t that make environmentalism or animal rights or the Geneva Convention religious? What counts as “weighty”? Who decides?

Religions are “cogent”. While the representatives of various traditions have a vested interest in presenting religions as internally consistent and sharing fundamental ideas, this is not true and never has been. [Try our Exploring Religions module for lots of examples].

“Belief” is never defined. Seems pedantic, perhaps, but it matters a great deal – and the fact that we all assume we know what “belief” means should start alarm bells ringing. The idea that we have a series of belief ‘statements’ in our minds that we refer to when we act is clearly untrue; we act before thought, we hold contradictory beliefs, we hold multiple beliefs at the same time, we don’t do what we think, and so on. Is my love for my wife a belief? What about that the sun will rise in the morning, or that the switch will make a light go on?

No; what is going on here is an appeal to Protestant ideas about “faith”. Religious beliefs are understood as a special kind of belief that, because it comes from God, must be protected from criticism from merely “rational” beliefs.

Religions deserve protection, but political or other beliefs do not. Because it is comparable to a religion, this nationalism needs protected by the law. But why should religion be uniquely protected? Judging from the panel on Religion in the Law at our Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective conference in February [soon to be a special issue of Implicit Religion], the issue at present seems to be mostly concerned with protecting minority groups, particularly immigrants, but problems arise as the model used is based on European Protestant Christianity. The law moves slowly, but in my experience, the legal system is willing, even keen, to listen.

Most comment on this case will revolve around the question of whether nationalism is or is not a religion, but this is really missing the point. Cases like these reveal the fault lines in how the category religion is understood in public discourse. Legal proceedings are an underused resource for analysing the public discourse on religion, and an especially important one, as it has real effects on people. My interest in religion has always been based in a fascination with the relationship between ideas and communities of people, and the law is the point where these ideas become inscribed in societies. If we as scholars are serious about wanting to be heard by the broader public, this might be a good place to focus our attention.