Religion and Spirituality in Society International Award for Excellence

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the Religion and Spirituality in Society Research Network.

Award Winner for Volume 8

The Significance of Communal Religious Freedom for Liberal Democracy

Leading US scholar of constitutional interpretation Michael Paulsen has developed an interesting theory of religious freedom called “The Priority of God.” Paulsen distinguishes, first of all, a liberal conception of religious freedom, according to which it is widely assumed that religious truth exists in a society and the state is tolerant towards various faiths and other traditions. The US, however, has developed in the direction of a modern conception of religious freedom, which no longer recognises religious truth although the state remains tolerant. Moreover, still according to Paulsen, several European countries have adopted a postmodern conception of religious freedom. This conception does not only no longer recognise religious truth, but also implies a considerably less tolerant state, as secularism becomes the established “religion.” This view paradoxically resembles the preliberal stance of religious intolerance out of the conviction that religious truth exists. In response to such developments, the current article makes a case for the classical liberal position with respect to religious freedom. A liberal religious freedom conception forms the best guarantee that societal institutions will be able to fulfil their constitutional functions of a check on the government and as “seedbeds of virtue.”


The main argument of my recent book Constitutionalism, Democracy and Religious Freedom. To Be Fully Human (Routledge, 2017) is that the so-called ‘New Critics of Religious Freedom’ in fact, consciously or unconsciously, criticize liberal democracy as such. Now, it has become quite common for liberal democracy to be criticized not just outside the West, but also from within the West. My book constitutes an exception to this rule in that it is written in defense of liberal democracy and, consequently, also in defense of the so-called liberal conception of the right to religious freedom. The awarded article reflects the same argument that the book aims to make. Earlier versions of the article were presented during the XXI World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions, Erfurt, Germany, 23-29 August 2015; the Cardiff Festival for Law and Religion, Cardiff, Wales, 5-6 May 2017; and the Annual Conference of the International Society of Public Law, Copenhagen, Denmark, 5-7 July 2017. In its emphasis on the role of anthropology, among other things, the article also reflects the Acton University Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that I attended from 20-23 June 2017. If I remember correctly, I wrote its final draft during the flight home from that occasion. I am grateful to the two anonymous referees from whose comments on that draft the article benefited greatly. Hopefully, the publication of this article, and the current award, will help to open the eyes of scholars outside my discipline to what I consider to be the beauty of liberal democracy in general and the right to religious freedom in particular as it was initially conceived during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Hans-Martien ten Napel

Past Award Winners

Volume 7

The Study of Buddhist Self-Immolation Beyond Religious Tradition and Political Context

Easten Law, The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp. 25-41.


Volume 6

Black Church Leaders’ Attitudes about Seeking Mental Health Services: Role of Religiosity and Spirituality

Okunrounmu, Elizabeth, Argie Allen-Wilson, Maureen Davey, and Adam Davey, The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp. 45-55.


Volume 5

Restoring a Rhythm of Sacred Rest in a 24/7 World: An Exploration of Technology Sabbath and Connection to the Earth Community

Lisa Naas Cook, The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.17-27


Volume 4

On the Emergence of a Western-Islamic Public Sphere

Dilyana Mincheva, The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp.15-26


Volume 3

Spirituality as Strength: Reflections of Homeless Women in Canada

Christine A. Walsh and Carolyn Gulbrandsen, The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp.97-112


Volume 2

Western Muslim Intellectuals in Dialogue with Secularism: From Religion to Social Critique

Dilyana Mincheva, The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.13-24


Volume 1

Logology, Guilt, and the Rhetoric of Religious Discourse: A Burkean Analysis of Religious Language in Contemporary Politics

David Greene, The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.97-106