The Agency of Agencies: Bureaucracy and the Politics of Religious Freedom

In a further cross-post triggered by Helge Årsheim’s essay on bureaucracy and religion, Richard Amesbury, Chair and Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Clemson University, suggests that administrative decisions are not always as “apolitical” as the administrators would seek to claim.

In his post “Deus in Machina,” Helge Årsheim calls attention to the role civil servants play in shaping religious freedom, grinding out decisions on “the proper legal boundaries of religious beliefs, practices, organizations, buildings, garments and dietary products every day.” Where much recent scholarship on law and religion has pointed to the “juridification” of religion, Årsheim emphasizes its bureaucratization. God is in the machine, and the devil in the details.

One reason this is significant is that bureaucratic, administrative governance takes place largely out of sight, in a zone in which sovereignty is experienced as “soft” and diffuse, a matter less of decision than of discretion. Continue reading