Is the Body Secular? Circumcision, Religious Freedom, and Bodily Integrity
Recent legal and public debates over circumcision in Germany have tended to pit religious freedom against bodily integrity. This paper examines the background assumptions about religion and the body on which this framing depends. Insofar as the body is assumed to represent a fixed point determinable independently of ‘religion’, to frame the debate over circumcision in terms of a clash between rights pertaining respectively to religion and the body is, I argue, to circumscribe and contain religion within boundaries marked by the non-religious and non-negotiable. The secular body is thus not simply an additional consideration to be weighed against religious freedom but a condition of and limit to the modern conception of (free) religion itself. If the physical body is a synecdoche for the social system, the normative, uncircumcised body can be interpreted as standing in for the universalist order of secular law.