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Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context

CLSGC Graduate Workshop with Professor Ralf Michaels

7 March 2019

Time: 2:00 - 4:00pm
Venue: Laws 313, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS

The Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context (CLSGC) is delighted to announce this one-off workshop for graduate students by Professor Ralf Michaels, one of the world’s leading experts in comparative law and conflict of laws. Professor Michael, who is Arthur Larson Professor of Law at Duke University and a Global Law Professor at QMUL, will address the highly topical issue of legal bans of facial veiling, drawing on his recent paper ‘Banning Burqas: The Perspective of Postsecular Comparative Law’. Both PhD and LLM students are welcome to attend (but places are limited, and priority will be given to the former). To register, please email Dr Noam Gur at

The above paper is to be read by attendees in advance – it can be downloaded here or obtained from Dr Gur via email. An additional paper of Professor Michaels, entitled ‘Böckenförde Theorem and Burqa Ban’, is further optional reading, which can be downloaded.  

About the Workshop

More and more countries, in Europe and elsewhere, have begun to ban face veils (often incorrectly referred to as burqas). These regulations, ostentatiously neutral but in fact directed against Islamic gear, are puzzling: face veil wearers in Europe are exceedingly rare, and yet states spend a disproportionate effort on regulating them. This suggests that what is being regulated here is not an actual social problem. Instead, legislation against face veils is symbolic, expressive. Burqa bans are means by which the state can express something about its understanding of the other and of itself. Burqa bans, I suggest, must be seen as exercises in national identity-building. This raises questions: what Islam does the Western state have in mind when it bans face veils? And what, in turn, do such bans tell us about the Western state? 

In looking at these questions, I use an approach to comparative law that I call postsecular comparative law. Postsecular comparative law is a proposal for an expanded comparative law that creates space for religious laws as objects of comparison. In this focus on religious laws, postsecular comparative law can help bring to the fore essential differences between state law and religious law, but it can also demonstrate underappreciated similarities. It can show how much religious law operates like state law, but also ways in which state law ultimately operates as religious law. In this, postsecular comparative law focuses not just on religious law; it also allows new and hopefully richer understandings of the modern state.

As specific focus lies on the justification for such veil bans, first proposed in France and later copied elsewhere, that emphasizes the principle of “living together.” The Court of Human Rights has twice approved of this justification, without clarifying what it means. I trace the notion back to French ideas about the nation as expressed by Ernest Renan in the 19th century in favor of a specific kind of secularism. This suggests the peculiarity of this seemingly universal idea; it also opens up a space for critique of a secular idea in a postsecular age.


For directions to the venue, please refer to the map.

How to book

To register, please email Dr Noam Gur:


For more information on this event, please email

Photography, video and audio recording

School of Law events may be photographed or video and audio recorded. These materials will be used for internal and external promotional purposes only by Queen Mary University of London. If you object to appearing in the photographs, please let our photographer know on the day. Alternatively you can email in advance of the event that you are attending.

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