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Let me begin with a methodological remark. What I can offer is a European perspective of religious freedom in an intercultural world. The horizon of this ‘Comment’ piece will be global, but the point of view is inevitably European. Only God, if he exists, can have a regard from above: our regard is always from within.
This article examines two interpretations of the process of secularisation that can be traced back through European legal and political thought, and a more recent trend that challenges both of them. It does this through the prism of the public sphere, because in today's Europe one of the most debated issues is the place and role of religion in this sphere, understood as the space where decisions concerning questions of general interest are discussed. The article concludes, first, that the paradigm through which relations between the secular and the religious have been interpreted is shifting and, second, that this change is going to have an impact on the notion of religious freedom and, consequently, on the recognised position of religions in the public sphere.1
The term “proselytism” as used in this article means the activity of communicating a religion or worldview through verbal communication or through various related activities as an invitation to others to adopt the religion or worldview. This “neutral” definition of proselytism is not the one most frequently in use today. Proselytism is now a term that has acquired a negative connotation in many religions: in Christian theological and legal terminology, it frequently indicates a corruption of the Christian witness, and it is often set against evangelization, meaning the announcement of the good news, that is the redeeming message of Christ.
The use of the term “proselytism” in a negative sense does, however, cause some confusion. Indeed leaders of the Christian churches often speak of “aggressive” proselytism, and in its rulings the European Court of Human Rights writes of “improper” proselytism. Such terminology implies that there is a “bad” (aggressive or improper) kind of proselytism and a “good,” or at least legitimate, kind. To avoid this confusion, I shall use the term “proselytism” in the neutral sense indicated at the beginning of this chapter.
The different uses of the term “proselytism” reflect deeper concerns about the concept. First, there is the difficulty of distinguishing between proselytism and evangelization. All Christian religious denominations agree about excluding forms of coercion and many improper means of inducing or persuading converts to the faith. But that said, “one group's evangelization is another group's proselytism.
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