BYU’s Seventh Annual Religious Liberty Student Writing Competition

Courtesy of our friends at BYU’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies, I’m happy to announce the seventh annual Religious Liberty Student Writing Competition, co-sponsored by the J. Reuben Clark Law Society. Details below (n.b.: prizes seem to be on the heftier side this year!). A prideful aside: one of our inaugural fellows, Andrew Hamilton, was awarded this prize a few years ago.

Religious Liberty Student Writing Competition



To promote legal and academic studies in the field of religious liberty by law students and students pursuing related graduate studies. Students who have graduated from law school but who are not yet practicing law due to clerkships or other similar pursuits are also invited to submit papers.


Scholarly paper relating to the topic of domestic or international religious liberty, broadly or narrowly construed, consisting of 9,000-13,000 words, including footnotes. Eligible papers must be typed, thoroughly cited and presented in a format suitable for publication, with no additional editing required. Papers must conform to Bluebook requirements and may include footnotes. Papers prepared for academic coursework are permitted.


All papers must be submitted on or before July 1, 2016. Papers should be submitted by e-mail to papers@ in pdf and/or docx formats. A current resume should also be included. You will receive e-mail confirmation of your submission. Questions regarding submission may be directed to


Top entries will receive the following awards:

FIRST PLACE  $4000 cash award

SECOND PLACE  $3000 cash award

THIRD PLACE  $2000 cash award

HONORABLE MENTION  Four $1000 cash awards


All papers will be reviewed for their conformity to the above requirements and for their substantive treatment of the topic. Awards will be presented at the Religious Liberty Award Dinner in Washington, DC on Thursday, October 6, 2016.

Merry Christmas

Ethiopian Icon

To all who celebrate, best wishes for a joyful holiday.

Otterbeck & Nielsen, “Muslims in Western Europe”

In November, Edinburgh University Press released  the fourth edition of “Muslims in Western Europe” by Jonas Otterbeck (Lund University) and Jørgen S. Nielsen (University of Copenhagen). The publisher’s description follows:

This introduction to the story of Muslims in Western Europe describes their early history and outlines the causes and courses of modern Muslim immigration. It explains how Muslim communities have developed in individual countries, their origins, present-day ethnic composition, distribution and organisational patterns, and the political, legal and cultural contexts in which they exist are explored. There is also a comparative consideration of issues common to Muslims in all Western European countries including the role of the family, and the questions of worship, education and religious thought.

“Religion as an Agent of Change” (Ingesman, ed.)

In February, Brill Publishing will release “Religion as an Agent of Change,” edited by Per Ingesman (Aarhus University). The publisher’s description follows:

Throughout the history of mankind religion has been a creative and innovative factor of great strength, able to change societies, create new cultures, and shape strong identities. In Religion as an Agent of Change leading historians and Church historians discuss religion as a driving force in historical development on the basis of three particular cases from the history of Christianity in Western Europe: the Crusades, the Reformation, and Pietism. The empirical case studies in the book present important results and viewpoints from new research in these three historical phenomena, to a large degree undertaken in our own generation, thus establishing a solid foundation for further scholarly discussions about the role of the Christian religion as a driving force in history.


Petersen, “For Humanity or for the Umma?”

In February, the Oxford University Press will release: “For Humanity Or For The Umma?: Aid and Islam in Transnational Muslim NGOs,” by Marie Juul Petersen (Danish Institute for Human Rights). The publisher’s description follows:

Seeking to broaden our understanding of these organisations, Marie9781849044325 Juul Petersen explores how Muslim NGOs conceptualise their
provision of aid and the role Islam plays in this. Her book offers insights into a new kind of NGO in the global field of aid provision. The book is based on empirical case studies of four of the biggest transnational Muslim NGOs, and draws on extensive research in Britain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Bangladesh, and more than 100 interviews with those involved in such organisations.

Prudlo, “Certain Sainthood”

In November, the Cornell University Press released “Certain Sainthood: Canonization and the Origins of Papal Infallibility in the Medieval Church,” by Donald S. Prudlo (Jacksonville State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The doctrine of papal infallibility is a central tenet of Roman Catholicism, and yet it is frequently misunderstood by Catholics and 80140100894470lnon-Catholics alike. Much of the present-day theological discussion points to the definition of papal infallibility made at Vatican I in 1870, but the origins of the debate are much older than that. In Certain Sainthood, Donald S. Prudlo traces this history back to the Middle Ages, to a time when Rome was struggling to extend the limits of papal authority over Western Christendom. Indeed, as he shows, the very notion of papal infallibility grew out of debates over the pope’s authority to canonize saints.

Prudlo’s story begins in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when Rome was increasingly focused on the fight against heresy. Toward this end the papacy enlisted the support of the young mendicant orders, specifically the Dominicans and Franciscans. As Prudlo shows, a key theme in the papacy’s battle with heresy was control of canonization: heretical groups not only objected to the canonizing of specific saints, they challenged the concept of sainthood in general. In so doing they attacked the roots of papal authority. Eventually, with mendicant support, the very act of challenging a papally created saint was deemed heresy.

Certain Sainthood draws on the insights of a new generation of scholarship that integrates both lived religion and intellectual history into the study of theology and canon law. The result is a work that will fascinate scholars and students of church history as well as a wider public interested in the evolution of one of the world’s most important religious institutions.

Routledge Handbook of Religion and Politics (2d ed.) (Haynes, ed.)

In February. Routledge releases the second edition of the Routledge Handbook 9781138826991of Religion and Politics, edited by Jeffrey Haynes (London Metropolitan University). The publisher’s description follows:

From the United States to the Middle East, Asia and Africa, religion continues to be an important factor in political activity and organisation. The second edition of this successful handbook provides the definitive global survey of the interaction of religion and politics.

Featuring contributions from an international team of experts, it examines the political aspects of all the world’s major religions, including such crucial contemporary issues as religious fundamentalism, terrorism, the ‘war on terror’, the ‘clash of civilizations’, the Arab Spring, and science and religion. Each chapter has been updated to reflect the latest developments and thinking in the field, and new chapters such as ‘Postsecularism and international relations’ and ‘Securitization and Secularization: The two pillars of state regulation of European Islam’ have been added to ensure the book is a comprehensive and up-to-date resource.

Four main themes addressed include:

  • World religions and politics
  • Religion and governance
  • Religion and international relations
  • Religion, security and development

References at the end of each chapter have been overhauled to guide the reader towards the most up-to-date information on various topics. This book is an indispensable source of information for students, academics and the wider public interested in the dynamic relationship between politics and religion.

Lehmann, “Religious NGOs in International Relations”

In February, Routledge will release Religious NGOs in International Relations: 9781138856356The Construction of “the Religious” and “the Secular”, by Karsten Lehmann (International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue – Vienna). The publisher’s description follows:

Over the last 30 years, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become increasingly present in international discourses and active in international decision-making. Among the estimated several million NGOs in existence today, an increasingly visible number of organizations are defining themselves in religious terms – referring to themselves as “religious”, “spiritual”, or “faith-based” NGOs. This book documents the initial encounters between the particularly international segment of those organizations and the UN while at the same time covering the Protestant and Catholic spectrum that dominated the early years of their activities in the UN-context.

This book focuses on the construction of the human rights discourse inside two religiously affiliated organizations: The Commissions of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) and Pax Romana (IMCS / ICMICA). These organizations have been formally accredited as NGOs by the UN, label themselves as religious, and look back upon a long and intense cooperation with the UN. Lehmann presents material from the archives of those two organizations that has so far rarely been used for academic analysis. In doing so, as well as documenting the encounters between those organizations and the UN, and looking at the Protestant and Catholic spectrum, the book provides new insights into the very construction of the notions of ‘the religious’ and the ‘secular’ inside those organizations.

This work will be of great interest to all students of religion and international relations, and will also be of interest to those studying related subjects such as global institutions, comparative politics and international politics.

Movsesian on Moyn on Christian Human Rights

For those who are interested, my review of Samuel Moyn’s new book, Christian Human Rights, is now available on the First Things website (subscription required). Here’s a sample:

Samuel Moyn, a professor of law and history at Harvard University, makes a provocative claim: Human rights, the foundational principle of global, secular progressivism, originated as the project of Christian conservatives in the mid-twentieth century. During and immediately after World War II, these Christians—Moyn is concerned principally with European Catholics, but he also discusses American Protestants—appropriated the Enlightenment’s concept of human rights and transformed it into its opposite.

The Enlightenment had advanced the rights of man. The modern state was commissioned to secure these rights and break the power of a reactionary Church. In the postwar period, however, Christian thinkers and politicians such as Pope Pius XII, Jacques Maritain, Charles Malik, Robert Schuman, John Foster Dulles, and others captured the language of human rights, particularly the concept of human dignity. The post-Christian totalitarianisms of the twentieth century gained control of powerful nation states, trampling individual liberties and suffocating civil society. For Christian Democratic movements in Europe, human rights became the favored instrument for criticizing these ideologies and limiting the power of the modern secular state. It was a remarkable act of intellectual jujitsu.

Human Rights As a Religion

Roger Scruton

Check out this superb essay on the Heritage website by philosopher Roger Scruton (left), “The Future of European Civilization: Lessons for America.” There’s much to ponder, but I’d like to focus on just one point. Scruton argues that “Human Rights” has replaced Christianity as the religion of Europe’s elites.

Human Rights purports to provide a grounding for morality and social order—what Christianity used to do. The problem, Scruton says, is that Human Rights is itself without foundation and therefore cannot play the role people wish to assign it:

“If you ask what religion commands or forbids, you usually get a clear answer in terms of God’s revealed law or the Magisterium of the church. If you ask what rights are human or natural or fundamental, you get a different answer depending on whom you ask, and nobody seems to agree with anyone else regarding the procedure for resolving conflicts.

“Consider the dispute over marriage. Is it a right or not? If so, what does it permit? Does it grant a right to marry a partner of the same sex? And if yes, does it therefore permit incestuous marriage too? The arguments are endless, and nobody knows how to settle them.…

“We are witnessing, in effect, the removal of the old religion that provided foundations to the moral and legal inheritance of Europe and its replacement with a quasi-religion that is inherently foundationless. Nobody knows how to settle the question whether this or that privilege, freedom, or claim is a “human right,” and the European Court of Human Rights is now overwhelmed by a backlog of cases in which just about every piece of legislation passed by national parliaments in recent times is at stake.”

It’s an important point, and Scruton makes it with his usual grace and insight. He’s correct that the left often talks about Human Rights as though it were a kind of religion and, in fact, an improvement on the old faith. For example, in his recent book, Christian Human Rights, which I review in the current issue of the magazine, First Things, Harvard scholar Samuel Moyn compares Human Rights with Christianity, and concludes that Human Rights has the potential to do a superior job in improving people and making the world a more moral place.

Scruton is right, too, that competing understandings of Human Rights exist, and that they lead to different practical results in some cases. For example, a Catholic understanding, based on an objective conception of human nature and human dignity, does not allow for same-sex marriage as a human right. By contrast, the dominant secular understanding, based on the value of subjective choice, does. In the contemporary West, the latter view dominates. In the global context, however, it’s not so clear. In addition to the Catholic understanding, there are also Islamic and Orthodox Christian conceptions of human rights that differ markedly from the secular, subjective version—as well from each other.

The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) famously avoided these debates. Philosophical agreement would be unnecessary, they thought, as long as nations signed up for the basic idea of human rights. Besides, nations would always retain some discretion in applying the so-called “universal” rights in the context of their own cultures. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore debates about the grounding for human rights now, and aside from the power of office – “we control international human rights organizations and you don’t”– there doesn’t seem a clear way to resolve them.

Nonetheless, Scruton overstates his case a bit. It’s true that there is much disagreement about Human Rights at the global level. But within Europe? I wonder whether the absence of agreement on particular cases makes today’s commitment to Human Rights all that different, as a practical matter, from yesterday’s commitment to Christianity. It’s not like Christians have always agreed among themselves on what Christianity requires for law and politics, either. (See: The Protestant Reformation). May Christians divorce and remarry? May they use artificial contraception? Some Christian communions say yes, others no. Do these disagreements mean Christianity is useless as a means of ordering society? I wouldn’t think so. Besides, even if one disagrees with it, there is a consistent European Court jurisprudence on many human-rights questions.

I suppose the response would go something like this. Fundamentally, Human Rights – at least, the dominant secular version – denies the basis for any objective truth claims. So there’s no way to resolve any issue, other than deferring to individual subjectivity, which is no basis for a legal system. It’s not a matter of a few difficult cases here and there, but the whole run of possible cases. Without a commitment to some objective value, something other than individual choice, the whole system will ultimately collapse.

I’ll need to think about this more. Whatever your view, Scruton’s essay is, as always, profound, elegant, and thought provoking.