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This special issue of the Journal of Social Philosophy collects some of the exciting works presented over the 2013–2014 academic year under the auspices of the Mellon Sawyer Seminar Series on Democratic Citizenship and the Recognition of Cultural Differences. That seminar, which took place at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and which was funded through a generous grant by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, served as a forum for some of the world's top scholars to present cutting-edge research that examines how democratic societies can be inclusive of a wide range of cultural practices and forms of expression while also maintaining a strong commitment to respecting a secular public sphere, universal human rights, and women's equality.

Philosophical reflection and research on these issues are vital, especially as the continuing process of globalization increases international migration and makes possible democratic politics and polities that rapidly outgrow local cultural communities. These effects of globalization indicate, as many theorists have recognized for some time, that cultural diversity will be a persistent feature of democratic polities for the foreseeable future. As such, it is fitting that we engage in critical reflection not only on the obstacles that cultural differences present to a healthy and democratic polity and how to overcome them, but also on the opportunities and benefits of having a diversity of cultural traditions, backgrounds, and values present in modern democracies.

The idea of citizenship stands in equal need of theoretical treatment at this time. With the repercussions and consequences of the Arab Spring still playing out across a number of states, the meaning and value of democratic citizenship is today a question of great political significance. Moreover, in the wake of the recent Occupy movement, the questions of what it means to be a member of a democratic society and of how such members should identify with one another have become pressing. Is the democratic equality that we seek an equality of citizens before the law, the ballot box, the bread line, or the job line? And with so many liberal theorists crying the dual trumpet calls of freedom and equality, we ought to stop for a moment and ask how we can best protect these ideals and also for whom? How do we draw the lines between members and nonmembers of a democratic polity?

Are certain identities simply incompatible with democratic rule? Is Islam incompatible with the Western liberal political tradition? Can a devout Muslim, Hindu, or Christian fully and sincerely affirm the tenets of Western liberal democracies? The answer, we think, is yes, but work remains to be done to determine how these faiths can be interpreted so as to be compatible with liberalism, as well as to determine which interpretations conflict with liberalism and why. In her fascinating article for this issue, Azizah al-Hibri, Professor Emerita of Law at the University of Richmond and an expert scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, argues that the central sources of Islamic law are, at their core, deeply liberal in character: that is, highly amenable to diversity, egalitarian in spirit, and noncoercive. Her contributions on this topic, both in this issue and elsewhere, are invaluable, particularly for those interested in learning more about Islamic jurisprudence and how it can be practiced in the diaspora.

What is the virtue and/or practice of toleration, what are its limits, and what is its place in a democratic regime? In his contribution to this issue, Rainer Forst, Professor of Political Theory and Philosophy at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, examines and diagnoses the sources of some longstanding tensions between the ideal of democracy, on the one hand, and that of toleration, on the other. Moreover, he outlines the premises of a novel and powerful “respect-based” account of toleration that clarifies our reasons both for tolerating others and for withdrawing toleration. Working within a broadly Kantian tradition and combining elements from both John Rawls's theory of political liberalism and Jürgen Habermas's discourse ethics in a fresh and provocative way, Forst's critical theory of justice and toleration charts new avenues of thought in contemporary political philosophy. His contribution here, entitled “Toleration and Democracy,” is accompanied by an extensive critical commentary by Adam Etinson.

What is the value of secularism? What is distinctive about the policy recommendations of a secular institution? Does secularism necessarily support liberal institutions and values? Is it a natural extension of those values, and those values alone, or should it be understood independently of traditional liberal values? These are some of the important questions taken up by Akeel Bilgrami, Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, in his contribution entitled “Secularism: Its Content and Context.” There, Bilgrami develops a novel and broad-minded account of the concept, origins, and value of secularism. His discussion is followed by an extensive commentary by Joshua Keton, who draws productive comparisons and contrasts between Bilgrami's approach and Charles Taylor's theory of secularism.

How should we distinguish between public and private acts, attitudes, expressions, and practices? The life of the citizen is twofold. Part is public and open to recognition and criticism from fellow citizens—in fact, such recognition and criticism seem vital. By contrast, some acts are private in the sense that they should not be open to such scrutiny and criticism. Traditional legal mechanisms and political institutions have attempted to draw the line between public and private in physical space. The public square once referred to a physical plot of land. However, now with the professionalization of labor, the advent of telecommunications technology, mass media, social networking, and so forth, the standard contours of the public–private distinction need to be radically questioned.

Feminist philosophers and political theorists have been doing so for decades. For citizens, where does the reach of the state's coercive influence end? The front doors of our homes may once have seemed a convenient and sensible barrier, but once opened and subjected to scrutiny, many “private lives” have been shown to subject citizens—primarily women and children—to relations of domination and oppression. We need to think beyond convenient barriers like front doors and bedrooms and ensure that the rights and privileges of citizenship are made readily available to the most vulnerable among us, regardless of where transgressions occur in space. Moreover, we need to rethink the public–private distinction and the legal and political arrangements that give it its institutional form in light of the lessons of the feminist movements and the new circumstances brought about by the advent of modern technologies.

Carol Gilligan, University Professor of Applied Psychology and the Humanities at New York University, begins an examination of these and other questions by focusing on recent advances in developmental psychology that show a new pattern of harm and moral injury. Specifically, Gilligan discusses the complex interaction of cultural and social mores with individual intuitions and moral feelings. She finds that many of us are silenced and subjected to moral injury as we are expected to relegate our personal judgments to those of the wider context, community, and culture as we develop into full members. In an accompanying comment, Virginia Held, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the Graduate Center, CUNY and Hunter College, turns these penetrating insights to a critique of liberalism traditionally understood. Liberalism is, Held argues, at least partly founded on an idea of the individual that Gilligan's research shows is faulty and inconsistent with the evidence. In turn Held argues that actual, existing people require an ethical and political philosophy that is responsive to what they are actually like—and that the ethics of care provides the normative foundation for tackling some of the most vexed issues that liberal theories have been unable to address.

Finally, one of the less well-explored topics within the literature on democratic theory, citizenship, and multiculturalism is that of how the cause of animal rights is meant to fit in to the broader pursuit of liberal-democratic ideals. Many have argued, following a similar line of thought to Susan Moller Okin in the case of women's rights, that multiculturalism is “bad” for animals, licensing state support for cultural practices that are insufficiently sensitive to interests and needs of animals. In their groundbreaking article on this topic for this issue, Sue Donaldson (independent scholar) and Will Kymlicka, Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen's University, take it for granted that the protection of cultural rights should not come at the expense of animal rights. Instead, they turn to the perplexing issue of why the cause of animal rights has been largely abandoned by the left. Kymlicka and Donaldson's bold attempt to address and disarm some of the possible reasons for the left's hesitance to take on the cause of animal rights is highly illuminating.

Of course, the essays collected here leave many important questions unaddressed. How, for instance, should we understand the threat that “terrorism” poses to democracy moving into the twenty-first century, particularly in light of its strong cultural and religious dimensions? How should the impending reality of climate change affect our sense of place, identity, and responsibility within the global community? The twenty-first century may see a rise in the importance of the notion of global citizenship as these vast problems overwhelm local resources and are traced back to nonlocal sources. It is imperative, then, that we continue to think about the questions of identity and citizenship in the context of a rapidly shrinking global village: one that will require increasing degrees of economic and political cooperation in the years to come, and in which communications technologies will likely continue to dramatically transform the manner and ease with which human beings can interact. One of the most exciting possibilities now coming into view as a result of these changes, to be sure, is that of meaningfully improving the material conditions of billions of human beings across the globe. Another is the unprecedented level of cross-cultural understanding that new means of communication and increased cultural interdependence can facilitate. It is our hope that this journal issue will lay fertile ground for future research into these vast, complex, and fascinating new global realities.