Carozza & Philpott on The Catholic Church, Human Rights, and Democracy

Paolo G. Carozza (Notre Dame Law School) Daniel Philpott (Notre Dame) have posted The Catholic Church, Human Rights, and Democracy: Convergence and Conflict with the Modern State. The abstract follows.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s address to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2006, he made reference to the Catholic Church’s own journey toward embracing human rights and religious freedom.1 Perhaps surprisingly to some, he gave credit for this development to the Enlightenment, which he said could count human rights and religious freedom as its “true conquests.” More predictably to most, he reiterated his longstanding criticism of the Enlightenment’s attempt to ground these principles on positivist and skeptical foundations. He argued rather that a constructive synergy of faith and reason was the best foundation for tolerance, human rights, and the preservation of religious freedom.

Benedict’s thesis points to an ambivalent historical relationship between the social teachings of the Catholic Church and modern political institutions based on human rights and democracy. It is in part a story of convergence. Gradually, over the course of the twentieth century, then far more rapidly beginning with the Second Vatican Council, following upon several centuries of consistent resistance to the momentum of European politics, the Church came to embrace norms of human rights and democracy reflective of those that appeared in international instruments like the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the constitutions of western democracies. As the term convergence—rather than accommodation or adaptation—suggests, the Church did not simply conform itself to what others had long before pioneered. True, as Benedict argues, a dialogue with the Enlightenment did beget Catholic evolution in certain dimensions of rights, especially religious freedom. But it is also the case, as we point out below, that the Church has articulated a tradition of rights since as early as the sixteenth century. Read more

Developments in Pakistani Quran-Burning Case

Some interesting developments in the case of Rimsha Masih, the 13-year old mentally handicapped Pakistani girl currently under arrest for violating that country’s blasphemy law. Masih is in custody on charges that she burned pages from a Quran; as a result of threatened reprisals, 900 of her fellow Christians have fled their neighborhood outside the capital of Islamabad. Yesterday, Pakistani police arrested one of the Masih’s  main accusers, a mullah named Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, on charges that he framed the girl by placing pages from a Quran in a trash bag she was carrying. Two of the mullah’s assistants have come forward to say that Chishti did this in order to drive Christians from the neighborhood, where Muslims wish to build a madrasa. Today, one of Pakistan’s senior Muslim clerics intervened in the controversy, condemning Chishiti and the plot to drive out Christians and personally guaranteeing the safety of Masih if she is released from prison.  The Guardian (why is the  American news media ignoring this story?) reports that the support for Masih “from the chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, a grouping of Islamic clerics, is being seen as a remarkable turn of events in a country where individuals accused of insulting Islam are almost never helped by powerful public figures.” Last year, a regional governor and cabinet minister were assassinated after they publicly criticized the country’s blasphemy law.

Deringil, “Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire”

Conversion is a problematic concept for Muslim-majority societies. Classical  Islamic law makes conversion from Islam a capital offense, and many Muslim-majority countries today, even those that do not apply classical fiqh, fail to recognize a right to convert.  Turkey’s current draft constitution for the first time grants such a right, although the right’s contours are uncertain. A forthcoming book by Turkish historian Selim Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire (Cambridge 2012) situates the subject historically, describing the pressures on Christians to convert in the nineteenth- century Ottoman Empire. These pressures coincided, ironically, with a secularization campaign known as the Tanzimat, which, as a formal matter, made religion irrelevant to Ottoman political identity. Deringil, a professor at Istanbul’s Bogazici University, no doubt deals with the ironies in his forthcoming book, which looks like a very worthwhile read. The publisher’s description follows:

The commonly accepted wisdom is that nationalism replaced religion in the age of modernity. In the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire, the focus of Selim Deringil’s book, traditional religious structures crumbled as the empire itself began to fall apart. The state’s answer to schism was regulation and control, administered in the form of a number of edicts in the early part of the century. It is against this background that different religious communities and individuals negotiated survival by converting to Islam when their political interests or their lives were at stake. As the century progressed, however, and as this engaging study illustrates with examples from real-life cases, conversion was no longer sufficient to guarantee citizenship and property rights as the state became increasingly paranoid about its apostates and what it perceived as their “de-nationalization.” The book tells the story of the struggle for the bodies and the souls of people, waged between the Ottoman state, the Great Powers, and a multitude of evangelical organizations. Many of the stories shed light on current flash-points in the Arab world and the Balkans, offering alternative perspectives on national and religious identity and the interconnections between the two.

Muslim Students at Catholic Universities

Here is an interesting story about how many Muslim female students prefer university life on Catholic campuses.  Though the story somehow still manages to snicker at Catholic higher education — would it be so intolerably wrong, one wonders, to require a single course in Catholic thought or history at a Catholic university? — it conveys the comfort of devout Muslim students within a Catholic university.  Though the story does not mention it, President John Garvey of Catholic University once made similar statements about the religious life of Muslim students at Catholic University in response to a cooked-up, and subsequently discredited, controversy.