Introduction to Case Studies

Introduction to Case Studies

This project has been both global and historical in scope and one of its main objects has been to generate a body of research and writing on the global history and politics of religious freedom that can serve scholars, teachers and researchers, contemporary policy debates, international human rights circles, and local civil society organizations involved in this issue. Premised upon the assumption that religious freedom exists in the plural and not the singular, it has undertaken a collaborative international study of the concept and practice of religious freedom as it has taken shape in different contexts, past and present, and in different countries.

An important component of the project has been to publish translations of and commentaries on legal (not simply judicial but also legislative and administrative) cases from around the world involving claims to and contestation regarding religious freedom.  The case studies and associated background materials assembled below are the results of these efforts.  The primary motivation in publishing these case studies is to make available English-language resources and analysis of legal cases from various parts of the world that invoke a claim to religious freedom.

Our hope is that these case studies will be of interest to teachers and scholars across the disciplines—religious studies, political science, anthropology, critical theory, sociology, international relations, legal studies—and to legal practitioners in various parts of the world. We have found that the majority of case books on the topic of religious freedom, especially those used in law schools, focus on the legal arguments and judgments in the cases and are concerned mainly with Euro-Atlantic jurisprudence. By contrast, our objective has been to focus on a broader cultural context.

The case studies explore different understandings of religious freedom in an attempt to de-center conceptualizations that have dominated the discussion in the U.S. and international policy circles. The authors each discern and engage with a broader and more diverse field of practices than conventionally designated and defended as “religious freedom” in mainstream debates. By making these narratives available, the case studies each thus provide new templates for thinking about the question of religious freedom and its relation to the politics of human rights and the politics of religious difference.

Viewed together, the case studies reveal that disagreements about what religious freedom might mean often unfold around certain themes. These themes, while specific to certain historical and political contexts, also cut across this specificity and reveal the structural tensions that haunt the debate around religious freedom. Some of the key themes around which such conflicts occur include: religious freedom conceived as an individual versus a collective right; the proper “source(s)” or philosophical basis of religious freedom as a human right; the place of minorities in a democracy and the protections accorded to them; the proper boundary between religion and state; the relation of religious freedom to global politics; and what religion is imagined to be in struggles over religious liberty.

In conclusion, religious freedom, not unlike other fundamental freedoms invented in the last century, is a contested and multivalent historical construct that has taken on new lives of its own in the world. These case studies investigate these lives and raise a host of questions for future thought and inquiry: What models of religious freedom can be identified in a world of plural landscapes of religious co-existence? Who mobilizes them, and toward what ends? How are local practices of religious co-existence being transformed by the introduction of Western discourses on religious freedom? What differences and incommensurabilities may be identified between state-centered notions of religious freedom and forms of religious co-existence practiced by communities? What kinds of religious subjects are presumed and created by the various formulations of religious freedom that have assumed hegemony in past decades? In what ways does religious freedom become intertwined with other regimes of power and knowledge, such as strategic interests, international legal debates, global and regional power politics, and neoliberal economic agendas,, and with what effects? And finally, what does international religious freedom signify in a context in which Euro-American understandings of religion have diversified far beyond the protestant forms around which they were originally articulated and institutionalized? Is it possible to imagine forms of religious (or non-religious) freedom that do not become a mode of exercising power through the claim that (Christian or Protestant) secular practices of religious freedom are neutral and universal?

For teachers, scholars, researchers, policy-makers, and students interested in understanding the contemporary law and politics of religious freedom, these case studies will stimulate such unfamiliar and, at times, uncomfortable lines of thought and inquiry.  

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