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Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Case for Religious Freedom

The Witherspoon Institute recently released a very interesting report on religious liberty ("Religious Freedom: Why Now? Defending an Embattled Human Right"). The report is the product of a three-year effort that seeks to make the legal, moral, psychological, and political case that religious liberty is a good thing for both individuals and for societies. The principal author is Professor Timothy Shah, who is featured on a recent Research on Religion podcast, which focuses on this report ("Timothy Shah on the Case for Religious Liberty"). Here's the description of the podcast from the Research on Religion website:
What case can be made for promoting religious freedom worldwide? Prof. Timothy Shah discusses the moral, political, and strategic reasons why religious liberty is a crucial human right and why it is often called “the first freedom.” He reviews the justifications for religious freedom from three different faith traditions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — as well as the ontological reasons why religion should be considered for special consideration in debates about human rights. Tony even uses the word ontology in the discussion, but don’t let that scare you off since he didn’t know what it meant until very recently and our conversation is both enlightening and extremely accessible.
Here's a quick overview of the report that is less than 100 pages (86 to be exact):
  1. What is Religion? The Anthropological Basis of Religious Freedom
    • Building upon the work of cognitive scientists of religion (in particular, Justin Barrett, author of Why Would Anyone Believe in God?, Jesse Bering, author of The Belief Instinct, and Robert McCauley, author of Why Religion is Natural and Science Isn't), the report notes that human beings are naturally religious
    • By this, the report is not arguing that religion is natural in the sense that it is biologically determined, that everyone is religious, or that what people come to believe is necessarily true; rather, it simply argues that it is cognitively easy for humans to be religious because "religion belongs to a set of human cognitive capacities that seem to be part of the natural maturing process" (p. 14)
    • Thus, the report argues, that the "anthropological case for religious freedom suggests that religious freedom is not special pleading, for the simple reason that religion is not a sideshow in human experience or an incidental feature of human life... Religion is so profoundly intertwined with human existence the it cannot be repressed except at the price of undermining individuality and disrupting society"
  2. A Political Case for Religious Freedom
  3. A Moral Case for Religious Freedom
    • This chapter focuses on respecting the dignity and integrity of human beings
    • It argues that when people lose their religious freedom, they lose their freedom to be human
  4. A Religious Case for Religious Freedom
    • After a brief introduction this chapter explores notions of religious freedom from three different faith perspectives: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
    • The Jewish case for religious freedom is written by David Novak, Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Toronto
    • The Christian case for religious freedom is written by Nicholas Wolterstorff, Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale University
    • The Islamic case for religious freedom is written by Abdullah Sayeed, Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne
  5. A Legal Case for Religious Freedom
    • This chapter notes the prominence of religious freedom in the legal traditions, statutes, constitutions, and international covenants of modern times
    • In notes that it is often help up in such documents as the "first freedom" in terms of importance
  6. A Strategic Case for Religious Freedom
    • This chapter begins by noting the widely-held belief among intellectuals that as the world became increasingly modernized, religion would wane
    • That clearly has not been the case. In fact, one could argue that in recent years there has been a resurgence of religion, and that to ignore this or pretend that it isn't happening is not in the strategic interests of nations around the world
    • The one response that isn't helpful, however, is religious repression; as I noted above, the research of Grim and Finke has found that the repression of religious belief is associated with increases in religious violence
  7. The Strategic Dimension: Policy Implications
    • The final chapter notes that currently there are three major threats to religious freedom: theocracies (e.g., Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Burma), seculocracies (e.g., China, North Korea, Vietnam, Syria), and radical movements (e.g., Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the Bharatiya Janata Party (Hindu) in India, and Sinhalese Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (Buddhist) group in Sri Lanka)
    • It then offers a series of policy recommendations that would address these threats and help promote religious freedom around the world
So, here's what I recommend. Listen to the podcast interview with Timothy Shah. Then buy the report (it's only $5.95 on Amazon); my summary above doesn't do it justice. Then let's see if together we can do something to promote religious freedom around the world.

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