The Wheel of Law - India's Secularism in Comparative Constitutional Context

The Wheel of Law - India's Secularism in Comparative Constitutional Context

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Author: Gary Jeffrey Jacobsohn
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2003
Language: English
Pages: 324
ISBN/UPC (if available): 0195667247


How can religious liberty be guaranteed in societies where religion pervades everyday life? In The Wheel of Law, Gary Jacobsohn addresses this dilemma by examining the constitutional development of secularism in India within an unprecedented cross-national framework that includes Israel and the United States. He argues that a country's particular constitutional theory and practice must be understood within its social and political context. The experience of India, where religious life is in profound tension with secular democratic commitment, offers a valuable perspective not only on questions of jurisprudence and political theory arising in countries where religion permeates the fabric of society, but also on the broader task of ensuring religious liberty in constitutional polities.

India's social structure is so entwined with religion, Jacobsohn emphasizes, that meaningful social reform presupposes state intervention in the spiritual domain. Hence India's ameliorative model of secular constitutionalism is designed to reduce the disabling effects of the caste system and other religion-based practices. Jacobsohn contrasts this with the visionary secularism of Israel, where the state identifies itself with a particular religion, and with America's assimilative secularism.
Jacobsohn concludes that constitutional globalization is as much a reality as economic globalization, and within this phenomenon the place of religion in liberal democracy is among the most vexing challenges confronting us today.

A richly textured account of the Indian experience with secularism, developed in a broad comparative framework, this book will be of immense value to scholars and students of law, political science, sociology, and general readers interested in issues of secularism and law.


One of a handful of studies that looks at law as the medium through which the project of secularization is carried out, The Wheel of Law is the first major book-length study of Indian secularism and the law since the sixties. Careful, meticulous, admirably unbullying, and impressive in its range of reference, it is also the only comparative study of constitutionalism in India, the United States, and Israel.
-Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Centre for law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Consistently interesting, often challenging, and at times brilliant, this book is a fantastically rich intellectual achievement. Jacobsohn's nuanced argument that commitments to secularism must be understood as contextual is original and highly illuminating, as is his elaboration of distinctions between different forms of secularism and between the thickness or thinness of different dominant religions insofar as this relates to the state's official posture about favoured religions and religious freedom.
-Vicki C Jackson, Georgetown University Law School



Introduction: Ashoka's Wheel

PART ONE: Three Models of Secular Constitutional Design

Nations and Constitutions: Dimensions of Secular Configuration

Secularism in Context