Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin-NUS Law Joint Project

From left to right: Professor Christian Waldhoff, Associate Professor Jaclyn Neo, Associate Professor Arif Jamal, Matthias Rossbach , Professor Thio Li-ann, Adjunct Professor Kevin Tan, Dr Alexander Tischbirek, and Associate Professor Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman

On 2 June, Associate Professor Jaclyn Neo ’03, Matthias Rossbach, and Professor Christian Waldhoff organised a comparative workshop on Solidarity in Diversity: State Responses to Religious Diversity in Germany and Singapore. The workshop is a Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) – National University of Singapore (NUS) Joint Project, funded under a competitive university-wide research grant. The grant aims to foster new collaborative initiatives in research between Germany and Singapore and builds on the diversity of its partners to promote durable cooperation across disciplines.

The research project seeks to interrogate similarities, divergences, as well as points of learning between the Singapore and Germany approaches to religious diversity. Religious diversity is a reality in both Singapore and Germany. Management of diversity has been a key obsession of the Singapore government since its independence in 1965. In comparison, while religious diversity has been a key characteristic of Singaporean society since its inception into statehood, German society had until recently been dominated by the Christian (both Lutheran and Catholic) faiths, but reunification and migration have led to diversification of its society with increased numbers of non-Christian adherents and persons who profess no religious commitment (e.g. atheists and agnostics). In particular, the arrival of refugees from Syria and other countries in the last two years has entailed a public debate about their “integration” into German society – especially with regard to their religious beliefs and practices. This debate pertains to the role of the state in managing emerging conflicts between religions (citizen-citizen) and to the relationship between legal duties and religious beliefs (citizen-state).

Thus, a key dilemma for both the Singapore and German state is this: how does and how should the state respond to religious diversity and diversification? What should be the overarching objective of such responses? Does the state need to actively manage inter-religious relations in order to ensure the solidarity and long-term sustainability of the state? What are the normative limits to such state action? These are the central questions that this research project seeks to address.

The research project takes an inter-disciplinary approach and brings together researchers from law, theology, and the social sciences. At the HU workshop, participants had a productive time presenting their preliminary papers on their respective topics. Matthias Rossbach discussed various legal answers to religious diversity in Germany while Dr Alexander Tischbirek examined conflict between state and European Union laws involving religion. Adjunct Professor Kevin Tan ’86 presented a paper examining the management of ethnic and religious diversity in Singapore from colonial times to the present day. Professor Thio Li-ann discussed the approach of relational constitutionalism in Singapore towards religious diversity. Associate Professor Noor Aisha Bte Abdul Rahman (Malay Studies) provided an overview of Singapore’s Administration of Muslim Law Act. Associate Professor Arif Jamal examined divergent multiculturalist approaches in Singapore and Canada while Associate Professor Jaclyn Neo interrogated three conceptions of harmony.

The workshop in Berlin is the first of two workshops to be organised under this research grant. A second follow up workshop is scheduled for 2 November this year.