Our friend at Cardozo Law, Faraz Sanei, passes along an announcement for an event in new York next week on international religious freedom, “Mapping the Landscape of International Religious Freedom Policy,” sponsored by the Religious Freedom Institute. Speakers include Sanei and Tom Farr, who spoke at our own conference on international religious freedom in Rome in 2014 (time flies). Looks very worthwhile. Details at the link.
Lately, scholars have begun to pay serious attention to the Christian roots of current international human rights law–Samuel Moyn’s interesting work comes to mind. One shouldn’t be surprised to learn about Christian roots; Christians like Maritain and Malik were instrumental in the post-war human rights revolution, to cite just a couple of names. A new book from Yale University Press, Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, by University of Virginia historian James Loeffler, makes the point that contemporary human rights law has Jewish roots as well. Here’s the description from the Yale website:
A stunningly original look at the forgotten Jewish political roots of contemporary international human rights, told through the moving stories of five key activists
The year 2018 marks the seventieth anniversary of two momentous events in twentieth-century history: the birth of the State of Israel and the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Both remain tied together in the ongoing debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, global antisemitism, and American foreign policy. Yet the surprising connections between Zionism and the origins of international human rights are completely unknown today. In this riveting account, James Loeffler explores this controversial history through the stories of five remarkable Jewish founders of international human rights, following them from the prewar shtetls of eastern Europe to the postwar United Nations, a journey that includes the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, the founding of Amnesty International, and the UN resolution of 1975 labeling Zionism as racism. The result is a book that challenges long-held assumptions about the history of human rights and offers a startlingly new perspective on the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I’m delighted to post this forthcoming book by Forum guest blogger and Tradition Project member Pasquale Annicchino, Law and International Religious Freedom: The Rise and Decline of the American Model (Routledge). Pasquale, a fellow at the European University Institute, is a rising star in comparative law and religion studies, with a special focus on international religious freedom. The issues he highlights in this book — the debate between individualistic and communitarian understandings of religion and the need for law to focus on major rights violations — are important ones, in America and abroad. Here’s a description of his book from the Routledge website:
This book analyzes the promotion and protection of freedom of religion in the international arena with a particular focus on the role and influence of the US International Religious Freedom Act, 1998. It also investigates the impact of the IRFA on the legislation and policies of third countries and the EU. The book develops the story of the protection of religious freedom through foreign policy by showing how religious laws affect and shape a more communitarian dimension of the notion of freedom of religion which stands in contrast with a traditionally Western individualistic understanding of the right. It is argued that it is still possible to defend the unstable category of freedom of religion or belief especially when major violations are at stake. The book presents a balanced contribution to the academic debate on the promotion and protection of religious freedom. The comparative approach and interdisciplinary methodology make it a valuable resource for academics, students and policy- makers in Law, International Relations and Strategic Studies.
In June, the University of Notre Dame Press will release “Religion, Tradition, and Restorative Justice in Sierra Leone,” by Lyn Graybill. The publisher’s description follows:
In this groundbreaking study of post-conflict Sierra Leone, Lyn Graybill examines the ways in which both religion and local tradition supported restorative justice initiatives such as the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and village-level Fambul Tok ceremonies.
Through her interviews with Christian and Muslim leaders of the Inter-Religious Council, Graybill uncovers a rich trove of perspectives about the meaning of reconciliation, the role of acknowledgment, and the significance of forgiveness. Through an abundance of polling data and her review of traditional practices among the various ethnic groups, Graybill also shows that these perspectives of religious leaders did not at all conflict with the opinions of the local population, whose preferences for restorative justice over retributive justice were compatible with traditional values that prioritized reconciliation over punishment.
These local sentiments, however, were at odds with the international community’s preference for retributive justice, as embodied in the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which ran concurrently with the TRC. Graybill warns that with the dominance of the International Criminal Court in Africa—there are currently eighteen pending cases in eight countries—local preferences may continue to be sidelined in favor of prosecutions. She argues that the international community is risking the loss of its most valuable assets in post-conflict peacebuilding by pushing aside religious and traditional values of reconciliation in favor of Western legal norms.
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:
In 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.
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 devastation 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.
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 organizations. 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.
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 experts 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.
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.
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.