The new significance of religion in Australian politics raises serious questions about how our politics is conceived and conducted. Liberal theorists have proposed three successive approaches to resolving the problem of religious disagreement in a diverse society. The first was to propose that reason, rather than religion, should bind the society together; that individuals should be free to continue to practice their religion privately, but that religion must no longer play a guiding role in public life. The second liberal solution was to extend the prohibition to all ‘comprehensive doctrines’, whether religious or secular, and to insist that state power must only operate on the basis of ‘public reasons’ that any sensible person could in principle understand and accept. The third liberal solution is to propose that secular reason and religious conviction operate in a deliberative dialogue with each other, in which each recognises its limitations and its reliance on the other. However, relationship between religion and politics is today being challenged by a new development that neither of these approaches can really address. This development is the emergence and intensification of legal and jurisdictional pluralism. Jurisdictional pluralism challenges the liberal settlement, not by threatening to ‘take over’ the state as such, but by developing alternative forms of public order that exist alongside those of the state. This development requires us to think about the relationship between religion and the state in a different way: one in which religion doesn’t simply inhabit spaces that are private while the state possesses monopolistic control over the public sphere. In the new religious politics, religion seeks to define, create and inhabit spaces that are just about as public as those governed by the secular state. This is a situation that our politics has only just begun to think about.

About the Author

Nicholas Aroney is a Professor of Constitutional Law, at the School of Law, The University of Queensland, Australia.