WORKSHOP - ‘Illegal’ Covering: Comparative Perspectives on Legal and Social Discourses on Religious Diversity, 17 & 18 May 2012, OÑATI, SPAIN

WORKSHOP - ‘Illegal’ Covering: Comparative Perspectives on Legal and Social Discourses on Religious Diversity, 17 & 18 May 2012, OÑATI, SPAIN

17/05/2012 09:00
18/05/2012 17:00

Main language(s): English
Discussant(s): Valérie Amiraux (Canada) and Pascale Fournier (Canada), Prakash Shah (RELIGARE partner, UK) and Robert Leckey


On May 17 and 18 2012, the Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law is hosting an international workshop on the legal regulation of the Islamic veil. The conference, entitled “‘Illegal’ Covering: Comparative Perspectives on Legal and Social Discourses on Religious Diversity”, is organized by Pascale Fournier, Professor of law and University of Ottawa Research Chair in Legal Pluralism and Comparative Law and Valérie Amiraux, Professor of Sociology at the Université de Montréal and Canada Research Chair for the study of religious pluralism and ethnicity. The conference features top-ranking socio-legal scholars from Belgium, Canada, France, Spain, the UK and the United States.


Over the last two decades, the Islamic headscarf has become a sensitive issue in Europe and North America, giving rise to legal disputes and political controversies in several Western polities. Most of those states are now actively intervening to regulate Muslim women’s liberty to wear the nikab or the burka, a full veil covering the face and the body. Despite the fact that the actual number of women wearing the hijab/nikab/burka is often quite low, public reactions tend to be vigorous and passionate. With far‐reaching consequences, legislative and judicial prohibitions of the veil are said to be justified on the basis of state neutrality and gender equality. The recent bans of the burka in France (October 2010) and in Belgium (December 2010) illustrate perfectly that phenomenon and invite us to pay more attention to majority‐minority interactions and to discern the diversionary effect of the majority condemnation of minority practices. These controversies on covering leave us with a series of unanswered questions related to the issue of the “justiciability” of freedom of religion in secular contexts (i.e. restricting religious freedom in the name of religious neutrality in EU member states). If religion is a private matter, why do states so intensely care about it? We are left with an ambitious challenge, namely the epistemological black hole of the very definition of religion in both legal cases and academic work.


Until recently, legal scholarship had little to say about the role of religious subjects in creating social organizing. The complex relationships between law and religion, on the one hand, and the agency of religious women, on the other, are under‐theorized and under-researched in the existing socio‐legal scholarship, with a few exceptions. In the specific field of law and religion, legal knowledge is incomplete without empirical research on the complex dynamics between rights discourse and social change. Through a sociology of law approach, this project proposes to grasp law’s social functions and social effects on women belonging to minority groups. In so doing, the project addresses not only what the law accepts and forbids (“official law”) but also, and more importantly, the tangible effects that conformity and non‐conformity with the law produce at the level of everyday lives and ordinary social practices (“unofficial law”).

In welcoming an interdisciplinary empirical methodology, this workshop will contribute to the existing literature by providing a clearer, more explicit analysis of law’s role as an instrument of social control and as a force constitutive of various identities and legal subjectivities worth exploring in detail.


For the programme, please consult the following website:


Onati Workshop Veil.pdf107.05 KB