The seminar examines a constitutionally explicit tension between religious freedom and public order. Focusing on Muslim apostasy and heresy in Pakistan and Malaysia, I discuss some of the ways in which certain manifestations of (non-violent) personal belief are ‘securitized’ as a potential source of public disorder (and, therein, vulnerability to external threats)—leading, ultimately, to the (legal) derogation of fundamental rights. This pattern should not be attributed to constitutional provisions referencing ‘Islam’. In many countries with secular constitutions (ref. China, Switzerland), formal legal protections for religious freedom hinge on the constitutionally prior role that politically contingent notions of public order play in the construction of so-called ‘existential’ threats.
About the Speaker:
Matthew Nelson (PhD Columbia) is a Reader in Politics at SOAS. His research focuses on the comparative and international politics of South Asia, with an emphasis on non-elite politics, comparative political thought, the politics of Islamic institutions, and democracy. Before coming to SOAS, Dr Nelson taught at UC Santa Cruz, Bates College, and Yale University. In 2009-2010 Dr Nelson was the Wolfensohn Family Member at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton; in 2011 he was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (WWICS) in Washington, D.C.; in 2014-15 he was a Fellow at the Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung (ZiF) in Bielefeld (Germany). Dr Nelson has spent several years conducting archival, ethnographic, and survey-based research in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. His first book was titled In the Shadow of Shari‘ah: Islam, Islamic Law, and Democracy in Pakistan (Columbia, 2011); his current research focuses on comparative constitutional politics and the politics of sectarian and doctrinal diversity in Islamic law and education. Dr Nelson has completed several consultancies for The Brookings Institution, the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), The Asia Foundation, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the British Foreign Office (FCO), the British Department for International Development (DFID), and others.