Does Religion Deserve Our Respect?



This article enumerates several different possible construals of the idea that religion is owed respect. It asks: 1. how religion might be an object of respect; 2. what sorts of respect religion might command; and 3. whose respect might be at stake in complaints about and demands for religious recognition. By distinguishing various ways in which these questions can be interpreted, the discussion aims to introduce some clarity to a notoriously controversial and knotty area of public discussion. Although the article does not propose any particular answer to the question ‘Does religion deserve our respect?’, it does urge that theorists give greater attention to the neglected way in which religions have a ‘public presence’ that engenders distinctive sorts of social respect. I suggest that the popularity among academic political theorists and philosophers of a ‘liberal’ paradigm emphasising the importance of freedom of conscience and ‘respect for persons’ has led them to ignore the implications of ‘public presence’ for debates over the place of religion in modern secular societies.