Jacoby, “Strange Gods”

Conversion is perhaps the most controversial subject in international religious freedom. Although the idea that people should be able freely to convert from one religion to another is widely accepted in the West, even among religious believers, it is not widely accepted elsewhere, especially in Muslim-majority countries, where conversion from Islam is often still illegal. In fact, although human rights advocates insist that the right to convert is part of international law, the status of the right is somewhat ambiguous.

In February, Penguin Random House will release a new history of conversion, Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion, by writer Susan Jacoby. Looks interesting, though grouping George W. Bush and Muhammad Ali together in the same category seems a little odd. Jacoby argues, among other things, that the idea of individual religious choice is a product of the secular Enlightenment–which may explain why the non-Western world is still deeply suspicious.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

9780375423758In a groundbreaking historical work that addresses religious conversion in the West from an uncompromisingly secular perspective, Susan Jacoby challenges the conventional narrative of conversion as a purely spiritual journey. From the transformation on the road to Damascus of the Jew Saul into the Christian evangelist Paul to a twenty-first-century “religious marketplace” in which half of Americans have changed faiths at least once, nothing has been more important in the struggle for reason than the right to believe in the God of one’s choice or to reject belief in God altogether.

Focusing on the long, tense convergence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—each claiming possession of absolute truth—Jacoby examines conversions within a social and economic framework that includes theocratic coercion (unto torture and death) and the more friendly persuasion of political advantage, economic opportunism, and interreligious marriage. Moving through time, continents, and cultures—the triumph of Christianity over paganism in late antiquity, the Spanish Inquisition, John Calvin’s dour theocracy, Southern plantations where African slaves had to accept their masters’ religion—the narrative is punctuated by portraits of individual converts embodying the sacred and profane. The cast includes Augustine of Hippo; John Donne; the German Jew Edith Stein, whose conversion to Catholicism did not save her from Auschwitz; boxing champion Muhammad Ali; and former President George W. Bush. The story also encompasses conversions to rigid secular ideologies, notably Stalinist Communism, with their own truth claims.

Finally, Jacoby offers a powerful case for religious choice as a product of the secular Enlightenment. In a forthright and unsettling conclusion linking the present with the most violent parts of the West’s religious past, she reminds us that in the absence of Enlightenment values, radical Islamists are persecuting Christians, many other Muslims, and atheists in ways that recall the worst of the Middle Ages.

Morsink, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Challenge of Religion”

In January, the University of Missouri Press will release “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Challenge of Religion,” by Johannes Morsink (Drew University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Repulsed by evil Nazi practices and desiring to create a better world after the productimagehandlerdevastation of World War II, in 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Because of the secular imprint of this text, it has faced a series of challenges from the world’s religions, both when it was crafted and in subsequent political and legal struggles.

The book mixes philosophical, legal, and archival arguments to make the point that the language of human rights is a valid one to address the world’s disputes. It updates the rationale used by the early UN visionaries and makes it available to twenty-first-century believers and unbelievers alike. The book shows how the debates that informed the adoption of this pivotal normative international text can be used by scholars to make broad and important policy points.

Omaka, “The Biafran Humanitarian Crisis, 1967–1970”

In October, the Fairleigh Dickinson University Press will release “The Biafran Humanitarian Crisis, 1967–1970: International Human Rights and Joint Church Aid,” by Arua Oko Omaka (Federal University, Nigeria).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book focuses on the Biafran humanitarian crisis of 1967–1970 which generated a surge of human rights anxieties and attracted the attention of world humanitarian 9781611479737organizations. For the first time in recent history, different church groups and humanitarian activists around the world came together for the sole purpose of alleviating human suffering and saving lives regardless of theological differences, race, ethnic affiliation, nationality, and geographical distance. Despite their role in shaping the course and outcome of the conflict, most scholars of the Nigeria-Biafra War treat the humanitarian aspect of the war as a footnote, making it appear less important among other issues of interest in the conflict. Notable exceptions, however, include Joseph Thomson’s American Policy and African Famine, which focuses on American policy on the humanitarian aid, and Reverend Tony Byrne’s Airlift to Biafra.

This study underlines that the international humanitarian aid largely contributed to the internationalization of the war. The efforts of the churches from thirty-three countries which remain virtually unexplored was not just the first of its kind in the developing world but also the largest civilian airlift in history. While the paucity of scholarship on the humanitarian aspect of the Biafra war could be attributed to the newness of this field of enquiry, the increase in conflicts in different parts of the world has just opened humanitarian aid studies as a new frontier in academic study. This book is a masterful example of scholarship in this newly emergent field.

“Religion and Equality” (Durham & Thayer, eds.)

In June, Routledge released “Religion and Equality: Law in Conflict,” edited by W. Cole Durham, Jr. (Brigham Young University) and Donlu Thayer (Brigham Young University).  The publisher’s description follows:

This volume presents an analysis of controversial events and issues shaping a rapidly changing international legal, political, and social landscape. Leading scholars and 9781472459152experts in law, religious studies and international relations, thoughtfully consider issues and tensions arising in contemporary debates over religion and equality in many parts of the world. The book is in two parts. The first section focuses on the anti-discrimination dimension of religious freedom norms, examining the developing law on equality and human rights and how it operates at international and national levels. The second section provides a series of case studies exploring the contemporary issue of same-sex marriage and how it affects religious groups and believers. This collection will be of interest to academics and scholars of law, religious studies, political science, and sociology, as well as policymakers and legal practitioners.

Last Night at First Things

me and Rusty

L-R: Movsesian, Reno

Thanks to Rusty Reno and First Things Magazine for hosting a dinner seminar last night on my new paper, Of Human Dignities. (That’s a picture of me and Rusty at the event, listening in rapt attention to one of the many insightful interventions). I greatly enjoyed the discussion and am grateful to all the participants for their careful readings of the paper. For those who would like to download a copy of the paper, which appears in the current edition of the Notre Dame Law Review, please click here.

Movsesian “Human Dignities” Paper Now on SSRN

For those who are interested, a draft version of my article, “Of Human Dignities,” is now available on SSRN. The article will appear in a forthcoming symposium issue of the Notre Dame Law Review. Here’s the abstract:

This paper, written for a symposium on the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Catholic Church’s declaration on religious freedom, explores the conception of human dignity in international human rights law. I argue that, notwithstanding a surface consensus, no generally accepted conception of human dignity exists in contemporary human rights law. Radically different understandings compete against one another and prevent agreement on crucial issues. For example, the Catholic Church and other religious bodies favor objective understandings that tie dignity to external factors beyond personal choice. By contrast, many secular human rights advocates favor subjective definitions that ground dignity in individual will. These conceptions clash, most notably in contemporary debates on traditional values resolutions and same-sex marriage. Similarly, individualist conceptions of dignity, familiar to most of us in the West, compete with corporate conceptions that emphasize the dignity of traditional religions — a clash that plays out in the context of the proselytism and the right to convert. Rather than try to forge agreement on a universal definition of dignity, I argue, we lawyers should commit to a more modest approach, one that accepts the reality of disagreement and finds a humane way to accommodate it.

You can download the paper (more than once!) here.

 

USCIRF Issues Annual Report

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released its annual report, finding that that religious freedom is under “serious and sustained assault” across the globe. The report, which covers the period from February 1, 2015-February 29, 2016, highlights religious freedom violations in more than 30 countries, including China, Sudan, North Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. It cites abuses by both state and non-state entities.

Rome Conference Proceedings Now in Print

3486274_cartaI’m happy to report that the proceedings of our 2014 Rome conference on international religious freedom, at which Pope Francis delivered the keynote address, are now in print. Edited by our colleague at LUMSA, Dean Monica Lugato, the proceedings, titled La Libertà Religiosa Secondo Il Diritto Internationale e Il Conflitto Globale dei Valori, are available here from the Italian publisher, Giappichelli, in paperback and ebook format. Papers are in English and Italian. Get it while it’s hot!

Movsesian on Human Dignity (Rome, March 7)

logoFor those who are interested, next month I’ll be giving a faculty workshop at Università LUMSA (Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta) in Rome. The workshop, sponsored by the university’s law faculty, will take place on March 7. I’ll present my current draft, “Of Human Dignities,” a reflection on the incompatible understandings of dignity in contemporary human rights law, especially with respect to religious freedom . Details about the event are here. My talk will be in English. CLR Forum readers in Italy, please stop by and say hello!

Bielefeldt et al, “Freedom of Religion or Belief”

In March, the Oxford University Press will release “Freedom of Religion or Belief: An International Law Commentary,” by Heiner Bielefeldt (United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief), Nazila Ghanea (University of Oxford), and Michael Wiener (Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and University of Oxford).  The publisher’s description follows:

Violations of religious freedom and violence committed in the name of religion grab our attention on a daily basis. Freedom of Religion or Belief is a 9780198703983key human right, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, numerous conventions, declarations and soft law standards include specific provisions on freedom of religion or belief. The 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief has been interpreted since 1986 by the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. Special Rapporteurs (for example those on racism, freedom of expression, minority issues and cultural rights) and Treaty Bodies (for example the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on the Rights of the Child) have also elaborated on freedom of religion or belief in the context of their respective mandates.

Freedom of Religion or Belief: An International Law Commentary is the first commentary to look comprehensively at the international provisions for the protection of freedom of religion or belief, considering how they are interpreted by various United Nations Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies. Structured around the thematic categories of the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s framework for communications, the commentary analyses the limitations on the wearing of religious symbols and vulnerable situations, including those of women, detainees, refugees, children, minorities and migrants, through a combination of scholarly expertise and practical experience.

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