Recognizing Religion in a Secular Society: Essays in Pluralism, Religion, and Public Policy


201 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2834-2
DDC 322'.1'0971




Edited by Douglas Farrow
Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. His
most recently published works are Biblical Religion and Family Values,
Inauthentic Culture and Its Philosophical Critics, and Religion and


This is another of those university press books based on a set of
conference papers. The star performers at the 2002 Conference on
Pluralism, Religion and Public Policy in Montreal were a Jordanian
prince, Hassan bin Talal (a moderator of the World Conference on
Religion and Peace), and Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin. The
other seven contributors, including a couple of scholars who have
appeared regularly in the Canadian mass media, are all to some extent
committed to the view that secularizing elites in the academy, law, and
politics have underestimated the positive value of religion in public
life. The prince speaks largely in the voice of the diplomat, though he
focuses in his paper on the wisdom of Islam regarding the issues at
hand. Justice McLachlin speaks largely in the voice of the lawyer,
though she lets us know that she has read some scholarly literature in
the humanities and social sciences. Because of her office, and possibly
also by conviction and temperament, McLachlin offers a vision rather
more balanced than the visions of the other contributors; and on a
certain level, she represents the kind of cultural influence of whom the
others are critical.

The papers in the collection, though generally not possessing much
philosophical or theological substance, are almost all intelligent and
articulate, and the more ideologically strident contributors have for
the most part toned down their rhetoric. The issues addressed are in
fact exceedingly complex and pose a wide range of practical as well as
theoretical dilemmas. While most of the papers were likely stimulating
to those attending the conference, they will strike many readers who
scrutinize them closely, particularly readers conversant with the
subject matter, as somewhat lightweight. In the case of the Chief
Justice’s remarks, this is more than a little troubling. For some
unexplained reason, only a short excerpt is included from the late
Claude Ryan’s contribution to the conference, and that brief excerpt
may well lead one to regret the absence of the full paper.


“Recognizing Religion in a Secular Society: Essays in Pluralism, Religion, and Public Policy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,