Skip to main content

Black History Month: Select Books 30% Off

Harvard University Press - home
Liberalism’s Religion

Liberalism’s Religion

Cécile Laborde

ISBN 9780674976269

Publication date: 09/25/2017

Request exam copy

Liberal societies conventionally treat religion as unique under the law, requiring both special protection (as in guarantees of free worship) and special containment (to keep religion and the state separate). But recently this idea that religion requires a legal exception has come under fire from those who argue that religion is no different from any other conception of the good, and the state should treat all such conceptions according to principles of neutrality and equal liberty. Cécile Laborde agrees with much of this liberal egalitarian critique, but she argues that a simple analogy between the good and religion misrepresents the complex relationships among religion, law, and the state. Religion serves as more than a statement of belief about what is true, or a code of moral and ethical conduct. It also refers to comprehensive ways of life, political theories of justice, modes of voluntary association, and vulnerable collective identities.

Disaggregating religion into its various dimensions, as Laborde does, has two clear advantages. First, it shows greater respect for ethical and social pluralism by ensuring that whatever treatment religion receives from the law, it receives because of features that it shares with nonreligious beliefs, conceptions, and identities. Second, it dispenses with the Western, Christian-inflected conception of religion that liberal political theory relies on, especially in dealing with the issue of separation between religion and state. As a result, Liberalism’s Religion offers a novel answer to the question: Can Western theories of secularism and religion be applied more universally in non-Western societies?


  • The standard story that liberalism has told about religion since the Enlightenment is that they are sibling rivals—frères ennemis—battling each other for control of the modern world… The standard account…is not wrong, Cécile Laborde argues in Liberalism’s Religion, her important and illuminating…book, but it needs substantial revision.

    —Michael Ignatieff, New York Review of Books


  • 2019, Winner of the David and Elaine Spitz Prize


  • Cécile Laborde is the Nuffield Chair of Political Theory at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the British Academy.

Book Details

  • 344 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press