Tejirian & Simon, “Conflict, Conquest, and Conversion”

In the nineteenth century, missionaries from the West, mostly Protestant, desired to bring Christianity to the Middle East. They were a little late, of course. Christianity had been born in the Middle East and, notwithstanding centuries of Muslim dominance, Christian communities had remained there. No matter: the missionaries zealously established churches, schools, and hospitals. They were not too successful in converting Muslims, but they did have a major, destabilizing impact on Ottoman society. The missionaries brought with them Western concepts, like legal equality and religious freedom, which challenged classical Islamic norms and sparked a violent conservative backlash. If one wishes to understand contemporary debates about “universal” human rights in the context of the Middle East, the history of the nineteenth century missions is essential.

A new book from Columbia University Press, Conflict, Conquest, and Conversion: Two Thousand Years of Christian Missions in the Middle East (2012), by Eleanor H. Tejirian and Reeva Spector Simon, situates the nineteenth-century missionaries in the sweep of other Christian missionary work over the past two thousand years. It looks very interesting. The publisher’s description follows:  

Conflict, Conquest, and Conversion surveys two thousand years of the Christian missionary enterprise in the Middle East within the context of the region’s political evolution. Its broad, rich narrative follows Christian missions as they interacted with imperial powers and as the momentum of religious change shifted from Christianity to Islam and back, adding new dimensions to the history of the region and the nature of the relationship between the Middle East and the West.

Historians and political scientists increasingly recognize the importance of integrating religion into political analysis, and this volume, using long-neglected sources, uniquely advances this effort. It surveys Christian missions from the earliest days of Christianity to the present, paying particular attention to the role of Christian missions, both Protestant and Catholic, in shaping the political and economic imperialism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Eleanor H. Tejirian and Reeva Spector Simon delineate the ongoing tensions between conversion and the focus on witness and “good works” within the missionary movement, which contributed to the development and spread of nongovernmental organizations. Through its conscientious, systematic study, this volume offers an unparalleled encounter with the social, political, and economic consequences of such trends.

Flanders on Koppelman and Religious Neutrality

Chad Flanders (Saint Louis University School of Law) has posted Can We Please Stop Talking About Neutrality?: Koppelman Between Scalia and Rawls. The abstract follows.

In his essay, Religious Liberty as Liberty, Douglas Laycock cautioned against what he would later dub “the Puritan mistake,” which is the mistake, as he put it, of looking at whether religion is a good (or bad) thing rather than seeing religious liberty as “first and foremost a guarantee of liberty.” We should not, Laycock warned, let our understanding of the religion clauses be driven by what we think, substantively, about the value of religion. It should be driven, instead, by an interest in protecting the freedom of religion, and not religion per se.

Although Andy Koppelman positions himself in much the same conceptual space as Laycock, I think he makes (and would probably admit to making) a version of the “Puritan mistake.” Koppelman says that he is interested in avoiding the extreme of radical secularism that favors “the complete eradication of religion from public life” but also the extreme of religious traditionalism, which sees nothing wrong with “frank endorsement of religious propositions.”

Koppelman, like Laycock, wants to find a way between these two extremes. But instead of rejecting the traditionalist view outright, Koppelman instead insists that religion is a good thing (this is the Puritan mistake), but — partly in a bid to appease the secularists — that religion ought to be defined at a very high level of abstraction. Read more

Annicchino on Freedom of Religion in the European Union’s Foreign Policy

Pasquale Annicchino (European University Institute – Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies) has posted Freedom of Religion or Belief in the Foreign Policy of the European Union: Much Ado About Nothing? The abstract follows.

Part One of this article introduces the new European External Action Service. Part Two focuses especially on the recent policies undertaken by the European Union to include the protection of religious freedom or belief in its external action. Part Three compares the action undertaken by EU institutions with the model that served as its source of inspiration, namely the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Part Four offers some tentative conclusions. I will argue that thus far, analyzing the concrete measures approved by EU institutions in the field, the enthusiasm or early critics is not justified. The EU guidelines on freedom of religion or belief will probably only constitute a first minimal step, but more time will be needed to assess the real policy intentions in the field in concreto.