Think Tank (May to June 2019)
Professor Tariq Modood
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Prof Tariq Modood on Multiculturalism, Religious Diversity and Secularism
13 May 2019

The Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) at RSIS hosted Professor Tariq Modood in Singapore from 13 to 17 May 2019 under the CENS Distinguished Visitors Programme. Prof Modood is Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy and the founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol, UK, and the co-founder of the international journal Ethnicities.

Given his distinguished accomplishments in the fields of academia and policy, Prof Modood is considered a leading authority in the study of multiculturalism, citizenship, and secularism and the management of religion.

As part of the visit programme, RSIS organised three seminars by Prof Modood titled “Western Concepts/ Western Problems? Multiculturalism and the Portability of Conceptions and Solutions”, “Secularism and the Governance of Religious Diversity”, and “Multicultural Nationalism”. Among other ideas that Prof Modood shared at these seminars was his view that “race”/ “racism” is not about biology or phenotype per se but how groups or individuals are viewed by processes of racialisation. For example, he noted, anti-Semitism has been brought about by racialising Jews and emphasising their cultural dimensions irrespective of their countries of origin. This concept may explain the plight of Muslims in Europe, where being Muslim as an ethno-religious identity is “racialised”, thereby leading to anti-Muslim racism or Islamophobia. Racism, therefore, has evolved from prejudice against people based on biology to also bias against people because of their culture, he said.

Prof Modood espoused what he called accommodative or “moderate” secularism, which he characterised according to five features: (i) the relative independence of religion and the state; (ii) considering religion to be a public good by uniting people within the state, creating political stability and delivering social and civic services; (iii) the legitimate involvement of the state in encouraging religion as a public good; (iv) accepting that the Church belongs to the people who make up society, not merely its members; and (v) the fact that these features can take different forms in various times and contexts.

In Prof Modood’s view, civic and institutional spaces should not always be “religion blind”. He noted that there are two distinct ways in which religious equality can be practised within a state: (i) classical liberal equality; and (ii) equality as respect for difference. Classical liberal equality is based on non-discrimination and prescribes equal rights for all individuals in society. This equalisation can be done upwards or downwards; equalising upwards requires that all minority groups are provided for in the same manner as the majority, whereas equalising downwards abolishes the additional privileges accorded to the majority groups. On the other hand, equality as respect for difference requires differential treatment to be accorded to minority groups according to their needs. This can include such concessions as catering to various dietary requirements in public schools.

While in Singapore, Prof Modood also met with several research units, academics and government agencies such as the National Security Coordination Secretariat (NSCS) and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS). He was also interviewed live on Channel NewsAsia.

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