“Religion, Education and Human Rights” (Sjöborg & Ziebertz, eds.)

In May, Springer will release “Religion, Education and Human Rights: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives,” edited by Anders Sjöborg (Uppsala University) and Hans-Georg Ziebertz (University of Würzburg).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book examines the interconnectedness between religion, education, and human rights from an international perspective using an interdisciplinary approach. It deals 9783319540689with compulsory or secondary school education in different contexts, as well as higher education, and has as its common theme the multiplicity of secularisms in different national contexts. Presenting rich cases, the contributions include empirical and theoretical perspectives on how international trends of migration and cultural diversity, as well as judicialization of social and political processes, and rapid religious and social changes come into play as societies find their way in an increasingly diverse context. The book contains chapters that present case studies on how confessional or non-confessional Religious Education (RE) at schools in different societal contexts is related to the concept of universal human rights. It presents cases studies that display an intriguing array of problems that point to the role of religion in the public sphere and show that historical contexts play important and different roles. Other contributions deal with higher education, where one questions how human rights as a concept and as discourse is taught and examines whether withdrawing from certain clinical training when in university education to become a medical doctor or a midwife on the grounds of conscientious objections can be claimed as a human right. From a judicial point of view one chapter discerns the construction of the concept of religion in the Swedish Education Act, in relation to the Swedish constitution as well European legislation. Finally, an empirical study comparing data from young people in six different countries in three continents investigates factors that explain attitudes towards human rights.

“Fragile Freedoms” (Lecce et al, eds.)

In May, Oxford University Press will release “Fragile Freedoms: The Global Struggle for Human Rights,” edited by Steven Lecce (University of Manitoba), Neil McArthur (University of Manitoba), and Arthur Schafer (University of Manitoba).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book is based upon a lecture series inaugurating the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights that took place in Winnipeg, Canada between September 2013 and May 97801902271802014.  Fragile Freedoms brings together some of the most influential contemporary thinkers on the theory and practice of human rights. The first two chapters, by Anthony Grayling and Steven Pinker, are primarily historical: they trace the emergence of human rights to a particular time and place, and they try to show how that emergence changed the world for the better. The next two chapters, by Martha Nussbaum and Kwame Anthony Appiah, are normative arguments about the philosophical foundations of human rights. The final three chapters, by John Borrows, Baroness Helena Kennedy, and Germaine Greer, are innovative applications of human rights to indigenous peoples, globalization and international law, and women. Wide ranging in its philosophical perspectives and implications, this volume is an indispensable contribution to the contemporary thinking on the rights that must be safeguarded for all people.

How the US Hurt Mideast Christians

This month, I’m guest blogging at the Library of Law and Liberty. I’ve begun with a series of posts on the persecution of Christians in the Mideast. This persecution has many causes, including social attitudes formed by centuries of existence as dhimmis. In today’s post, though, I argue that the West bears some responsibility as well, including the US. Here’s a sample:

Finally, there are the recent actions of the United States. The Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, coupled with the precipitous withdrawal of American troops under the Obama Administration, has been a disaster for local Christians. The invasion exposed Christians to reprisals from Islamists; the withdrawal of troops allowed the reprisals to take place on a wide scale. In Syria, the Obama Administration’s signal that it would support the overthrow of Assad—recall the red line in the summer of 2013—encouraged a rebellion; its failure to back up its words with action has led to slaughter. This is not to say the US should have intervened militarily in Syria. But it shouldn’t have encouraged a rebellion it was not prepared to back, either.

You can read the whole post here.

Around the Web This Week

Here are some news stories involving law and religion from this past week:

Chowdhury, “Islam and Women’s Income”

Next month, Routledge will release “Islam and Women’s Income: Dowry and Law in Bangladesh,” by Farah Deeba Chowdhury (York University).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book examines the interrelationship between law, culture, patriarchy and religion 9781138228467in the context of contemporary Bangladesh. It explores the role of Islam in society and politics generally, and its influence on gender equality in particular. The work focuses on the situation of married women. Taking a socio-legal approach, it analyses the changing nature of the dowry practice and its relation to women’s increasing paid labour force activity. Despite anti-dowry legislation, it is argued here that the dowry system continues in the form of the appropriation of wives’ income. The work calls for legal recognition of this action and the amendment of the Dowry Prohibition Act 1980 as a result of the changing social realities that are taking place in the lives of Bangladeshi women. An Islamic approach is applied to equality between men and women in addressing and analysing these issues. The book includes international comparisons on gender equality and discusses the role of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Descrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as well as the dowry system in South Asia.

Yildirim, “The Collective Dimension of Freedom of Religion”

In January, Routledge will release The Collective Dimension of Freedom of Religion: A Case Study on Turkey by Mine Yildirim (Norwegian Helsinki Committee Freedom of Belief Initiative in Turkey). The publisher’s description follows:

collective-dimension-of-freedom-of-religionThe right to freedom of religion or belief, as enshrined in international human rights documents, is unique in its formulation in that it provides protection for the enjoyment of the rights “in community with others”. This book explores the notion of the collective dimension of freedom of religion or belief with a view to advance the protection of this right.

The book considers Turkey which provides a useful test case where both the domestic legislation can be assessed against international standards, while at the same time lessons can be drawn for the improvement of the standard of international review of the protection of the collective dimension of freedom of religion or belief. The book asks two main questions: what is the scope and nature of protection afforded to the collective dimension of freedom of religion or belief in international law, and, secondly, how does the protection of the collective dimension of freedom of religion or belief in Turkey compare and contrast to international standards? In doing so it seeks to identify how the standard of international review of the collective dimension of freedom of religion can be improved.

Fegiery, “Islamic Law and Human Rights”

In September, Cambridge Scholars released “Islamic Law and Human Rights: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt,” by Moataz El Fegiery (International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book explores the development of the Muslim Brotherhood’s thinking on Islamic 0378232_islamic-law-and-human-rights_300law and human rights, and argues that the Muslim Brotherhood has exacerbated, rather than solved, tensions between the two in Egypt. The organisation and its scholars have drawn on hard-line juristic opinions and reinvented certain concepts from Islamic traditions in ways that limit the scope of various human rights, and advocate for Islamic alternatives to international human rights. The Muslim Brotherhood’s practices in opposition and in power have been consistent with its literature. As an opposition party, it embraced human rights language in its struggle against an authoritarian regime, but advocated for broad restrictions on certain rights. However, its recent and short-lived experience in power provides evidence of its inclination to reinforce restrictions on religious freedom, freedom of expression and association, and the rights of religious minorities, and to reverse previous reforms related to women’s rights.

The book concludes that the peaceful management of political and religious diversity in society cannot be realised under the Muslim Brotherhood’s model of a Shari‘a state. The study advocates for the drastic reformation of traditional Islamic law and state impartiality towards religion, as an alternative to the development of a Shari‘a state or exclusionary secularism. This transformation is, however, contingent upon significant long-term political and socio-cultural change, and it is clear that successfully expanding human rights protection in Egypt requires not the exclusion of Islamists, but their transformation. Islamists still have a large constituency and they are not the only actors who are ambivalent about human rights. Meanwhile, Islamic law also appears to continue to influence Egypt’s law. The book explores the prospects for certain constitutional and institutional measures to facilitate an evolutionary interpretation of Islamic law, provide a baseline of human rights and gradually integrate international human rights into Egyptian law.

Grote & Roder, “Constitutionalism, Human Rights, and Islam after the Arab Spring”

This month, the Oxford University Press releases “Constitutionalism, Human Rights, and Islam after the Arab Spring,” by Rainer Grote (University of Heidelberg) and Tilmann J. Röder (Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law).  The publisher’s description follows:

Constitutionalism, Human Rights, and Islam after the Arab Spring offers a comprehensive analysis of the impact that new and draft constitutions and amendments – such as 9780190627645those in Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia – have had on the transformative processes that drive constitutionalism in Arab countries.

This book aims to identify and analyze the key issues facing constitutional law and democratic development in Islamic states, and offers an in-depth examination of the relevance of the transformation processes for the development and future of constitutionalism in Arab countries. Using an encompassing and multi-faceted approach, this book explores underlying trends and currents that have been pivotal to the Arab Spring, while identifying and providing a forward looking view of constitution making in the Arab world.

Divine Rights and Human Rights

That’s the title of a short piece I have over at Law and Liberty, concerning the transformation of the concept of religious freedom from a hybrid divine/human right to an entirely human right. From the beginning (and do see the Mansfield essay, which is about a good deal more than my own):

The eminent political theorist Harvey Mansfield once wrote that the “religious question” is the crucial one for the modern age, because it concerns the ultimate repository of authority and control. Is it human or is it divine?

“All pre-modern regimes,” said Mansfield, “are more or less based on divine right, on appeal to a principle that says men do not control themselves, that they are controlled by a higher power.”

The modern project, by contrast, is centrally concerned with liberation from that higher power:

“For if men cannot act effectively on their own, they will have to return to divine right, notwithstanding the objections that philosophers might propose. Liberation leads to reform. Liberation is not merely skeptical or negative; it is positive and progressive.”

One of the ways that modernity has answered this challenge is by appropriating “religion” and transforming it from a duty that one owes a creator to a duty that one owes to oneself. In law, one sees this transformation clearly in the standard that is conventionally applied by American courts to requests for religious exemptions from general laws, in which sincerity, individual commitment, or personal conviction are alone sufficient to bring a claim (though they are not sufficient to prevail).

That way of perceiving and understanding religion certainly mitigates certain dangers. It locates authority when it comes to religion solely in the individual, thereby removing all authority from the state. The state is disabled from judging in matters of religion both for epistemic and non-establishment reasons.

Furthermore, religion, as a legal category, becomes accessible to more and more Americans, irrespective of what they may believe. That is precisely what happened in the mid-20th century, as the “duty to the Creator” conception of religion was relaxed in favor of a conception locating all authority over religious questions in the individual conscience.

But this revision may also lead to problems, as religion steadily becomes dissociated from any power external to the individual believer. Law, of course, is responsive to and reflective of more general cultural movements, understandings, and programs, and a short post of this kind is no place to document those changes. But the transformation of religion from a divine phenomenon to a human one was brought home to me in reading the “Religion” section of the New York Times Book Review a few weeks ago. Four books about “religion” were reviewed—all favorably. Every one of them reflected this transformation.

Human Rights and the Pan-Orthodox Council

Last week, the Eastern Orthodox Church, a communion of 14 autocephalous, national churches with roots in the Byzantine Christian tradition, concluded an historic synod on the island of Crete. Decades in the planning, the Pan-Orthodox Council, known officially as the Holy and Great Council, was meant to gather patriarchs from all 14 churches for deliberation on a series of issues in contemporary church life, including marriage, fasting, the Orthodox “Diaspora,” and relations with non-Orthodox Christians. At the last minute, four national churches, including the largest, the Russian Orthodox Church, declined to attend—a fact which, notwithstanding the protests of the Council’s supporters, seems as a practical matter to undercut the Council’s significance. Nonetheless, the Council is noteworthy for what it had to say on several topics, including the persecution of Mideast Christians and human rights in general. On the latter, the Council’s documents reveal, once again, important differences with the consensus understanding in the West.

First, though, a word about the churches that stayed away. From what I can tell, most (but not all) of these churches demurred in part because of concerns about what the Council might say about relations with other Christians. Ecumenism occasions much dispute within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Some, especially in monastic communities, believe that ecumenism implies that Orthodoxy has abandoned its claim to represent the one true church. Even referring to non-Orthodox Christians as “churches” can cause controversy.

In its declaration, “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World,” the Council adopted (with all respect) a rather lawyerly solution. Yes, the document indicates, there is only one true church, and that is the Eastern Orthodox Church. But “the Orthodox Church accepts the historical name of other non-Orthodox Christian Churches and Confessions that are not in communion with her and believes that her relations with them should be based on the most speedy and objective clarification possible of the whole ecclesiological question.” In other words, the Council accepts that, historically, other Christian communions have been called “churches” (some of them, even, have been called “Orthodox Churches”!) and will work to clarify the situation. It’s an irenic statement. We’ll see how it is received, especially by those within the Orthodox fold who do not think clarification necessary.

Notwithstanding this hedging on the “ecclesiological question,” the Council did go out of its way to decry the persecution of Christians, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, in the Mideast today. In fact, it condemned the persecution of other religious minorities in the Mideast as well. The encyclical issued at the conclusion of the Council states, “The Orthodox Church is particularly concerned about the situation facing Christians, and other persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East. In particular, she addresses an appeal to governments in that region to protect the Christian populations – Orthodox, Ancient Eastern and other Christians – who have survived in the cradle of Christianity. The indigenous Christian and other populations enjoy the inalienable right to remain in their countries as citizens with equal rights.” The Council refers to two Christian bishops, one Eastern and the other Oriental Orthodox, who were abducted two years in Syria and whose whereabouts are still unknown.

The Council’s official documents also speak about human rights generally, demonstrating, once again, how important the idiom is in contemporary debate. Today, everyone from secular lawyers to church patriarchs declares a commitment to the ideal of “human rights,” based in the concept of “human dignity.” It is the price of admission to polite discussion. But the Council’s documents reveal, once again, how differently people understand those terms. In today’s human rights discourse, people use the same words, but mean very different things.

The Council’s official documents are not always so easy to follow, but, taken together, they stand for these propositions: human dignity derives from the fact of divine creation; human freedom, correctly understood, is the freedom to progress toward spiritual perfection in Christ; and a secular understanding of human rights, which promotes Continue reading

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