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Religion and Political Theory (RAPT) Centre is the home of the RAPT research project, ‘Is Religion Special? Secularism and Religion in Contemporary Legal and Political Theory,’ a 5-year-long project (2011-2016) funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and led by Professor Cécile Laborde FBA. ERC grants aim to support and promote frontier research in Europe and to give independent researchers the resources to design and complete large-scale projects of original research.  

This project aims to offer a comprehensive re-assessment of the conception of religion that underpins contemporary legal and political theory. In western politics and law, religion has a special status. On the one hand, there is supposed to be a unique separation between the state and religion; on the other hand, the state gives special protection to religious beliefs and organisations qua religious. The religious neutrality of the state and respect for freedom of religion are the two salient features of the relationship between religion, law and politics. What is rarely recognised by political and legal theorists is that these features rely on a distinctive understanding of religion, born out of the particular trajectory of western secularisation. One upshot of long-standing, protracted struggles between religious and political authorities is that, in Euro-Atlantic societies at least, religion is seen as importantly and relevantly distinct from other spheres of human and social life.

RAPT aims to re-assess the foundations of the special nature of religion in legal and political theory, by reference to the large and expanding body of multi-disciplinary post-secular literature. This literature points both to the transformations and mutation of religion in contemporary societies and to fundamental ambiguities and contradictions within the secular project itself. While much existing literature tends to rely on a simple dichotomy (secular versus religious or post-secular), RAPT sees religion itself as the contested term in the debate between secularism and its critics. The central hypothesis of RAPT is that the specialness of religion is defensible in light of important political and legal ideals, but that it needs to be substantially modified and refined in response to philosophical, anthropological, historical, political and sociological post-secular critiques. The project offers the first systematic and comprehensive assessment, from the point of view of political theory, of the post-secular view of religion and politics.

Based at UCL’s Department of Political Science, the project is led by Cécile LabordeAurélia Bardon and Lois Lee joined the project in 2013 as research associates. 

RAPT’s core research is developed in collaboration with a number of participants from UCL and around the world. The RAPT workshop provides an interdisciplinary forum for RAPT members and participants to discuss work-in-progress, whilst the RAPT lecture series invites world-leading scholars to contribute to the religion and political theory focus.

Researchers located at and associated with the Centre have a wide range of expertise and work from a range of disciplines to contribute to the central focus on political theory.

Key themes covered by their work include:

  • secularism 
  • religious freedom
  • religion and public justification
  • religion and law
  • conceptual theory of religion / philosophy of religion
  • political sociology of religion
  • nonreligion and religions 'others'
  • religion, conscience, culture and race
  • religion and the constitution
  • religion, secularism and first amendment jurisprudence
  • religion and political history

As well as research publications, RAPT outputs include its various events series as well as a centralised bibliographic resource for researchers, students and teachers in this field, to be housed at this website (forthcoming).