Law and Critique

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 31–56 | Cite as

‘Burqa Avenger’: Law and Religious Practices in Secular Space



The current debate over the hijab is often understood through the lens of a ‘clash of civilizations’ between a tolerant ‘secular’ ‘West’ and a chauvinist ‘religious’ ‘East’. The article argues that this polarization is the result of a specific secular semiotic understanding of religion and religious practices which is nowadays embedded in western law. In my analysis, secular’s normative assumptions, played around the control of women’s bodies and the definition of religious symbols in the public sphere, work as a marker of ‘citizenship’ and ‘racialized religious belonging’. Through women’s bodies, western/secular law creates a link between gender, religion, ethnicity and belonging which forms a specific law and religious subject. Thus, secularism emerges not as the separation between private and public, state and religion, but as the reconfiguration of religious practices and sensitivities in the public secular space through the control of the visible.


Gender Headscarf debate Power of images Secular/religious Semiotics Sovereignty Symbology Women in the Middle East 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawBirkbeck, University of LondonLondonUK

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