Australian Journal of Politics and History: Volume 49, Number 3, 2003, pp. 425-429.

© 2003 Department of History, School of Political Science and International Studies, The University
of Queensland and Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.
Religious Citizenship
Humanities, Griffith University
This short paper raises one side of a pertinent contemporary debate — that religion is still an
important influence in politics. Social science errs by imagining this is a transient phenomenon.
The post-Enlightenment presumption that secular and sacred realms should and could be
isolated, with political activity uncontrolled by scriptural prescription, was probably never
feasible and certainly is not now in those countries where religion plays a large role in political
and social life. This realisation seems to demand a reconsideration of theories of citizenship
and the erstwhile national constitution of rights and obligations. Law and civic belonging will
need to be re-constituted according to multi-faith rather than secular principles, even in
countries like Australia.
Religious government is a neglected topic, partly because western political theory has
tended to minimise the importance of religion in political contexts. Indeed, many
writers on politics assume that religion has no legitimate political role. In civilised
societies, they assume, religion will either die out or become so emasculated that it can
be ignored for most practical purposes. It may play a symbolic role in times of crisis
and ornament public funerals, but it has nothing substantive to contribute to the
management of the state. This is a very narrow and short-sighted view, and one that
takes little account of the role of religion in Catholic countries such as Poland or the
Philippines, in the Islamic world, in India or in Russia. Instead, it is important to
recognise that religion is not declining world-wide, despite some northern European
Moreover, the management of religious diversity is an important issue in many
different parts of the world.

Even if we take religious government seriously, however, there is a paucity of
developed theory to draw upon, especially theory relevant to contemporary conditions
in which reflexivity and global civil society play an increasingly important role.
However, it may be possible to gradually re-theorise the role of religion in government.
In this article I suggest how this may be done in one instance. Specifically, I advance
an exploratory concept of religious citizenship. In part one I locate religious citizenship
in the context of contemporary approaches to citizenship. In part two I offer an account
of religious citizenship. In part three I consider some of the implications of such an
account of religious citizenship for Australians.
Theorising Citizenship
Citizenship is now theorised as multilevel, and considerable account is taken of
different citizenships; for example, nation-state, transnational and global citizenships.
Citizenship is also now theorised as heterogeneous, especially in advanced countries,

For excellent discussion, see Peter Berger, ed., The Desecularisation of the World: Resurgent
Religion and World Politics (Washington, 1999).
For contemporary discussion, see Robert Audi, Religious Commitment and Secular Reason
(Cambridge, 2000), and Nancy L. Rosenblum, ed., Obligations of Citizenship and Demands of Faith:
Religious Accommodation in Pluralist Democracies (Princeton, 2000).
426 Wayne Hudson
because there is no comparability between many forms of citizenship and no single
administrative level at which conflicts between them can be resolved. Finally,
citizenship is now theorised as differential, in the sense that multiple and irreducible
types of citizenship negotiated by the exercises of multiple civic capacities now have to
be reorganised which cannot be reduced to a single uniformitarian citizenship.

This means that:
• citizenship is different on different sites and in different contexts and domains;
• different citizenships involve multiple capacities;
• exercises of civic capacity do not fall under a single citizenship; and
not all citizenships can be totalised by reference to nation-state citizenships.
It is no longer controversial to refer to multiple citizenships, not only in the sense of
cases where a person has dual citizenship, but in the sense that one person has many
citizenships or, more subtly, is angled differently towards distinct citizenships (for
example, national citizenship and reproductive citizenship) because of considerations
of race, gender or, conceivably, religion.
Once citizenship is approached in this broad way, and not reduced to matters of
immigration and passports, crucial though they often are, it makes sense to refer to
religious citizenship as one of the citizenships persons might attract.
Religious Citizenship
I now introduce an exploratory account of religious citizenship. Religious citizenship
can be defined in several different ways. Firstly, there is a nation-state definition,
according to which religious citizenship is the citizenship that your nation-state allows
you to exercise in religious matters, for example, under your nation-state’s constitution.
This account is obviously too narrow and without critical edge in decisive cases such
as atheist Albania or Afghanistan under the Taliban. Secondly, there is a civil society
definition, according to which religious citizenship is the citizenship which citizens
exercise as religious persons in the civic sphere. Civil society models of citizenships
make it possible to show that nation-state citizens develop and exercise different
religious citizenships in different domains,
where some citizenships are not under the
direct control of the nation-state. This opens up useful terrain, but it remains difficult to
determine how many civil societies exist in one nation-state and where either domestic
or global civil society begins or ends.
Thirdly, there is an approach that theorises religious citizenship in terms of the
rights of persons. On this account religious citizenship can be characterised as one of
the citizenships persons may exercise in a specific community, within a nation-state,
nationally, internationally, or globally because they are persons with dignities and
capacities. It involves rights which individuals allegedly have and obligations which
they accordingly acquire — to other persons, to their neighbours, to other groups, to
other citizens of their nation-state, to humanity in general. This approach is difficult to
apply to cloned individuals or to human beings without key attributes of persons.
Fourthly, there is an approach that starts from positive legal documents, documents
found at various levels and in multiple jurisdictions. For example, it is possible to
index religious citizenship by reference to United Nations documents such as the

For differential citizenship, see my chapter in Wayne Hudson and John Kane, eds, Rethinking
Australian Citizenship (Melbourne, 2000).
See Robert Neelly Bellah, The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in a Time of Trial (New
York, 1975); Jean L. Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (Cambridge,
Mass., 1992), and Adam B. Seligman, The Idea of Civil Society (New York, 1992).
Religious Citizenship 427
Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination
Based on Religion or Belief, 25 November 1981, and by reference to specific
legislation and case law at a national, international, or religion-specific level, for
example, ecclesiastical courts. This approach is not very clear about the meta-norms by
which legal positivities are to be judged and has little response to whatever lacunae
such positivities contain. On the other hand, it has the great virtue of being relatively
determinate and, in some cases, of being able to specify mechanisms for enforcement.
Fifthly, it is possible to offer a reflexive account of religious citizenship according to
which persons can acquire such citizenship by adopting specific discursive positions,
for example, by declaring themselves to be believing Christians or Buddhists or
secularists. This account captures cases in which a subjective disposition may be
crucial, for example, to achieving status as a conscientious objector. It also catches
ambiguous examples in which belonging to a religious organisation may not be
sufficient unless the person actually accepts the norm proposed by the organisation, for
example, about the use of medicine or blood transfusions. On the other hand,
discursive position taking is often difficult to document and can be an unstable
technical test, especially in administrative contexts. Indeed, arguments about whether a
particular person really holds a specific belief are often irresolvable.
I now suggest that an historically informed view of religious citizenship may be
possible that maximises the strong points of each of these accounts. This account
would begin with a general claim that persons have the right to exercise religious
freedoms. This right would be seen as historically emergent and as dependent upon the
availability of specific social, cultural and, in some cases, legal personae. It would
proceed to enquire into the degrees of religious citizenship the citizens of particular
nation-states possess, and how persons who are not citizens of the nation-state are
treated in religious contexts. These matters of fact could then be interrogated by
reference to historically emergent rights and to the availability or otherwise of specific
social, cultural and legal personae in particular polities. This emphasis would make the
link between alleged rights, the existence or otherwise of relevant personae within the
nation-state, and the concrete steps that would enable personae to be introduced,
having regard to the wealth of the country and its level of economic, social and cultural
development. The account would then discuss how far citizens of any particular nation-
state are able to act as religious persons in domestic and global civil society. It would
also consider whether persons without a nation-state have standing in global civil
society or in some cosmopolitan moral realm.
The account would go on to consider how legal positivities impact on specific
classes of persons. It would end by placing untraditional emphasis on discursive
creativity as a possible source of emergent citizenships, including religious
citizenships. Here the crucial point would be that some discursive spaces may become
real spaces in the context of international media and the internet. Obviously
discursively constituted religious citizenship may seem utopian and lacking in actual
enforcement mechanisms. Nonetheless, it is very likely that discursive shifts will have
greater impacts in the future. It is already the case that women’s rights have acquired a
discursive legitimacy which does not derive from nation-state regimes, and something
similar is probably emerging, albeit slowly, in the areas of environmental and corporate
governance. In the same way discourse urging human beings to practice social
recognition of each other in their religious differences is likely to become constitutive
of future practices and then legal positivities. It is also possible that a similar extension
of Hegelian social thought may apply in the future to recognition of religious
428 Wayne Hudson
differences among nation-states, even though this is admittedly very weak at the

This account of religious citizenship is open to many objections. It is arguably much
too vague and at best anticipates future doctrine without providing it. This, however, is
partly deliberate since doctrine for any specific nation-state or religious organisation
will need to be inculturated in local terms. All that is offered here is a sketch towards a
more explicit conception of religious citizenship, one requiring that persons be allowed
to exercise religious freedoms on the condition that they extend this right to others and
one urging persons to tolerantly recognise religious differences in the ways in which
they enact their social life.
Religious Citizenship in Australia
This account of religious citizenship has interesting applications to Australians.
Firstly, this account of religious citizenship goes beyond anything envisaged by
existing legal positivities in Australia. It is well-known that the Australian history of
managing citizenship is very thin, reflecting the colonial origins of the country when
Australians were British “subjects”, not “citizens”.
It is not surprising therefore that
Australia does not have a developed conception of religious citizenship.
citizenship, however, has religious features to the extent that the Constitution provides
in section 116:
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any
religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall
be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
There are also cases adjudicating the rights of citizens and corporations in religious
matters and a wide variety of Australian religious organisations are incorporated by
statute. More generally, account needs to be taken of religious establishment in the
nineteenth century,
the governance of religious courts and religious orders, and
famous heresy trials,
as well as endemic sectarian interference in political affairs.
However, as the country becomes increasingly multicultural, we need to develop an
explicit conception of religious citizenship combining general and highly specific
features, that is, reference to specific rights and obligations relative to personae,
including Indigenous personae. In formulating an explicit conception of religious
citizenship, Australians can draw on the experiences — negative as well as positive —
of other countries, including some of our Asian neighbours. For example, Indonesia,

On the recovery of Hegel’s notion of recognition in contemporary social thought see Axel Honneth,
Kampf um Anerkennung. Zur moralischen Grammatik sozialer Konflikte (Frankfurt am Main, 1992)
(English edn: Honneth, trans. Joel Anderson, The Struggle for Recognition: the Moral Grammar of
Social Conflicts, (Cambridge, 1995)).
The standard account is Alastair Davidson, From Subject to Citizen. Australian Citizenship in the
Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 1997).
The lack of a developed concept of religious citizenship has had dire consequences for Indigenous
Australians. See John Chesterman and Brian Galligan, Citizens Without Rights: Aborigines and
Australian Citizenship (Melbourne, 1997).
On religious establishment, see Ian Breward, A History of Australian Churches (Sydney, 1993), and
Roger C. Thompson, Religion in Australia: a History (Melbourne, 1994).
For the problem of heresy trials in Australia see, for example, C. R. Badger, The Reverend Charles
Strong and the Australian Church (Melbourne, 1971); Michael S. Parer, 1933 — Australia’s Last
Heresy Hunt: Samuel Angus (Sydney, 1971), and Susan E. Emilsen, A Whiff of Heresy: Samuel Angus
and the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales (Sydney, 1991).

Religious Citizenship 429
Malaysia and India all have laws on religious citizenship. Relevant materials can also
be found in Thailand and Singapore, even though developments here would obviously
be very different and have a purely Australian historical and geographic specificity. It
would also be instructive to consider the history of cases involving religious citizenship
that have come before the US Supreme Court and the secularist nature of many of its
Secondly, developing a more explicit conception of religious citizenship in Australia
involves changing the way people of faith-traditions regard their own faith-tradition
and its relation to other faith-traditions. It involves imposing a duty on all Australians –
whether religious or not — to respect the rights and religious and cultural traditions of
the diverse religious communities who live here. Internationally, it involves developing
a concern for the good management of faith relations worldwide. After Bali, these are
obviously relevant concerns.
Thirdly, this account of religious citizenship implies that Australia needs to think of
itself as a multi-faith rather than a secular society. This has implications for Indigenous
affairs and for a whole range of legal issues. It implies that liberal neutrality is the
wrong model for the Australian polity, and that we need instead to be committed to
mutual respect for a great diversity of incommensurable religious, anti-religious and
secular commitments. Of course, to say this is controversial and needs to be argued
elsewhere at greater length.