On a beach on Tunisia.  Photo: Getty

On a beach on Tunisia. Photo: Getty


This activity foreshadows Isaiah Berlin's Pluralism in Human Sciences as an Area of Knowledge. We will explore the difficulty of satisfying a range of conflicting freedoms arising from the 2016 Burkini controversy in France.

Competing freedoms include but are not limited to:

  • Freedom of religion

  • Freedom to maintain modesty

  • Freedom from patriarchal impositions on the conduct and dress of women

  • Freedom of a nation state to set its own laws on religious expression in the public realm


Aheda Zanetti designed the Burkini in Australia in 2004. Her online article I created the burkini to give women freedom, not to take it away, in the August 24, 2016 Guardian Opinion section, is an interesting source and contains an additional short video. 

For the larger context perspective, here is a 2014 news item France's burqa ban upheld by human rights court from Kim Willsher, the Guardian's Paris correspondent


In his famous 1762 work The Social Contract, French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau declares that citizens must obey the law and, are “forced to be free.” Discuss this apparent contradiction using the Burkini controversy as a worked through example.

Talk about the pros and cons of the Burkini law in France, including how various freedoms and cultural attitudes the Burkini law entails are promoted or denied.  

Refer to the cartoons as a reminder of our class discussions. Is there a solution?

Continue your argument using a much more extreme example of a nation-state imposed law of your own choosing.

What do you conclude about “cultural relativism.” Do you accept cultural relativism, reject it, or do you have a better idea?

[Word count: First draft 500-600; second draft 600-800]