Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Norms and Local Practices

“Politics of Religious Freedom” is an ambitious project that proposes to study how religious freedom is being transformed through legal and political contestations in the United States, the Middle East, South Asia, and the European Union. Departing from the assumption that there is a single and stable conception of religious liberty, enshrined in international law, the United Nations protocols and national constitutions, this project undertakes a comparative study of the multiple historical trajectories, concepts, and practices now organized under the rubric of religious freedom.

Funded by Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, the Politics of Religious Freedom project will bring together academics, key human rights and civil society organizations, along with jurists and policy makers who have helped to reshape the debate on religious freedom in the United States, the European Union, India, Egypt, and South Africa.  Based on workshops held among participants from these regions alongside the core research team, the project plans the following publications: (a) a co-authored handbook to be used by legal practitioners and civil society organizations; (b) translations of, and commentaries on, key legal cases involving religious freedom from India, Egypt, the U.K., South Africa, and the United States; (c) key papers from project workshops (to be held in Venice, Chiangmai, and Cairo) and proceedings of the capstone conference in special issues of journals in the fields of anthropology, international law, religion, and international relations.  Finally, the project also entails a pedagogical component that includes: (a) developing undergraduate and graduate syllabi on the comparative history of religious freedom globally; and (b) support four graduate student interns (over a period of two years) to conduct research related to the project themes in Egypt, Turkey, and Lebanon.

Winnifred Fallers Sullivan and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd have organized a public discussion series on the Social Science Research Council blog The Immanent Frame in which scholars from different fields consider the multiple histories and genealogies of religious freedom.

Saba Mahmood and Peter G. Danchin recently edited a special issue of SAQ: South Atlantic Quarterly, volume 113 and issue 1, on “Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Genealogies,” published by Duke Universtiy Press.

The project team includes:

This three-year project (2011-2014) will be jointly based at the University of California, Berkeley and Northwestern University and will be affiliated with Indiana University and University of Maryland Law.