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Alienation, Estrangement and Establishment

Religion
Social Justice
Ethics
Simon Thompson
University of the West of England
Simon Thompson
University of the West of England

Abstract

In thinking about the ethics of religion in public spaces, a number of different normative resources have been called into play. Ideas of neutrality and secularity are highly influential, as are those of equality and in particular equal citizenship. Another normative measure is the idea of alienation, which is usually used to argue that establishment is wrong because those not of the majority faith will feel alienated by establishment. At the same time, others have argued that the effect of attempts to make public spaces neutral or secular is to alienate the majority community which previously enjoyed a dominant presence in those spaces. Thus it may appear that the idea of alienation is not a useful normative yardstick since it seems to point in opposite directions: both for and against establishment, for and against secularity. In this paper, I consider whether it may be possible to overcome this objection to the use of alienation in these debates. I do so by drawing on an analysis of Marx’s account of alienation which draws a systematic distinction between conceptions of alienation (Entfremdung) and estrangement (Entäußerung). I seek to use these concepts to suggest that both the majority community and religious minorities may experience alienation, but of different kinds. The former may find that they have lost a familiar environment, whilst the latter may feel that this environment has always been alien to them. If this conceptual distinction makes sense of different experiences of these groups, I shall then trace out some of its normative implications for the ways in which religion should be regulated in public spaces.