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Legitimacy Gap: Secularism, Religion, and Culture in Comparative Constitutional Law

Vincent Depaigne


The book’s argument is that the withdrawal of religion as a source of legitimacy raises the issue of the foundations of the secular state and how the secular state has responded to this ‘legitimacy gap’. The ‘secular’ should not be seen as separating culture (including religion) and politics, but rather in terms of how these two dimensions can be linked. Max Weber’s theory of legitimacy and social contract theories are based on a move from traditional forms of authority towards modern forms of legitimacy, but do not provide a complete answer to the ‘legitimacy gap’. The book suggests that modern constitutional law has moved away from a ‘substantive’ legitimacy, based in particular on natural law, towards a ‘procedural’ legitimacy—based on popular sovereignty and human rights—which leaves unanswered the issue of the nature of legitimacy in a secular/modern state. The issue of the secular state’s legitimacy is explored by looking at the constitutional responses to this problem through three models of constitutional legitimacy. Two of the case studies are drawn from Asia in seeking to revisit the European approach to secularism. Even if secularization can be considered as European in its origin, it is best seen today as a global phenomenon which needs to be approached by taking into account the particular cultural dimension in which it is rooted. The case studies will show how secularization has moved either towards ‘nationalization’, being linked to a particular national identity, or towards ‘de-secularization’, whereby secularism is displaced by particular cultural norms.

Bibliographic Information

Vincent Depaigne, author

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