Pushing the Boundaries

Legal Approaches to the Definition of Religion


  • Hugh McFaul The Open University




human rights, freedom of religion, definition of religion, legal personality


Deconstructing the definitional boundaries between religion and non-religion is recognised as a fruitful area of investigation for scholars of religion. Taking a critical perspective in understanding the gatekeeping practices of legal institutions, norms and practices in shaping the boundary between religion and non-religion is an important aspect of this methodological approach. Investigating legal gatekeeping practices can prompt critical exploration of how they impact on category formation and facilitate analysis of whose interests are served by legally mandated acts of inclusion or exclusion. This discussion will identify recent instances, where the courts have been active in shaping the boundary between religion and non-religion. Firstly, it will consider recent developments in the definitional approach of domestic UK law. Secondly, it will discuss legal responses to the registration of religious groups in Europe and, thirdly, it will explore attempts to extend freedom of religion protections to commercial corporations. Finally, it will offer some concluding remarks on how this survey of recent developments highlights the contemporary configuration of the legal boundaries between religion and non-religion.

Author Biography

Hugh McFaul, The Open University

Lecturer in Law The Open University

Profile: http://www.open.ac.uk/people/hjm242


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How to Cite

McFaul, H. (2019). Pushing the Boundaries: Legal Approaches to the Definition of Religion. Implicit Religion, 21(3), 223–238. https://doi.org/10.1558/imre.38268