Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Speaking of religion

What are the foundations of the regulation of blasphemy, and in which manner, in legal as well as in extra-legal terms, has blasphemy developed over the last decades?

While blasphemy was (severely) punished throughout much of Western history, Western countries have softened their approach to combatting blasphemy. Some countries even went all the way and decriminalized blasphemy altogether. Recent examples include England, which abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in 2008, and the Netherlands, which repealed the three provisions prohibiting blasphemy in the Criminal Code in 2014. Yet, the European Court of Human Rights has upheld a number of convictions for blasphemy. Apart from the legal dimension of blasphemy regulation, there have been extra-legal efforts to suppress blasphemy from the public domain. Examples hereof include Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the death of British novelist Salman Rushdie in 1989, the murder of Dutch filmmaker and polemicist Theo van Gogh in 2004, and the murders of Charlie Hebdo staff members in Paris in 2015.

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