Postgraduate students

Thomas White, MA (Edinburgh), MA (Durham), PhD candidate

Recognising the Sacred in Drafting Secular Constitutions: The Case of Fiji

In 2012, during the drafting-process for Fiji’s new constitution, a Methodist Circuit Minister named Reverend Vuata proposed in a submission to the Constitution Commission that Fiji should be declared a Christian State. He said, ‘if we [Fijians] want the favour and blessings of the Almighty, we must be reminded that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship we have with God.’

This thesis begins with the question: can a secular, constitutional discourse, without compromising on principles of religious freedom and political equality, reach out to people such as Reverend Vuata? Even when common meaning appears to collapse to such a state of mutual miscomprehension? Where or how may such ‘religious’ outliers be meaningfully included and recognised in Fiji’s secular constitutionalism, if at all?

The PhD draws on a broad archive, including: 7,000+ public submissions collected by the Fiji Constitution Commission—as well as submissions made to Fiji’s previous constitutional commissions—and the transcripts from their public hearings; political commentaries in print media, blogs and the academic community; Government statements and legislation; key areas of judicial review, and Fiji’s three independently drafted constitutions (1990, 1997 and 2013). This investigation aims not just to elucidate the origins and options for Christian State ideals in Fiji, but more critically, to explore and evaluate how international norms of secular constitutionalism construct, authorize and regulate different modes of sacrality in contemporary Fijian society.

Supervisors: Dr Ben Schonthal and Dr John Shaver.

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme