• Jaclyn Neo

Regulation of Religious Communities in a Multicultural Polity

in Rex Ahdar (ed.), Research Handbook on Law and Religion (Edward Elgar, 2018)


In this chapter, I argue that the primary organizing factor in the state’s structure of governance of religious communities is whether they are regarded as private or public subjects of regulation. The consideration of whether religious communities are conceptualized as private actors or public actors is integral for the purposes of organizing structural approaches to the regulation of religious communities in multicultural polities. This itself reflects whether the state conceptualizes society as being a community of individuals or of ‘nations’. Where religious communities are private actors, they are treated like associations and their members interact with the state primarily as individuals. Where religious communities are treated as public actors, the communal aspect of those communities tends to be emphasized, often over the individual interests within the community. Consequently, the primary regulatory approach towards private religion tends to be one of self-regulation, in addition to general statutory regulation. In comparison, where religious communities are treated as public actors, the state relies on a broader range of regulatory approaches, namely religion-specific statutory regulation, co-regulation, in addition to self-regulation. This article therefore examines the particular challenge of multicultural polities, introduces the modes and dimensions of regulation, dominant approaches to regulating religious communities as public or private subjects, and lastly, the ideological postures that determines the regulatory reach of the state.

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