Tag Archives: International Law

Reichberg & Syse (eds.), “Religion, War, and Ethics”

9780521738279Next month, Cambridge University Press will publish Religion, War, and Ethics: A Sourcebook of Textual Traditions edited by Gregory M. Reichberg (International Peace Research Institute, Oslo) and Henrik Syse (Peace Research Institute). The publisher’s description follows.

Religion, War, and Ethics is a collection of primary sources from the world’s major religions on the ethics of war. Each chapter brings together annotated texts – scriptural, theological, ethical, and legal – from a variety of historical periods that reflect each tradition’s response to perennial questions about the nature of war: When, if ever, is recourse to arms morally justifiable? What moral constraints should apply to military conduct? Can a lasting earthly peace be achieved? Are there sacred reasons for waging war, and special rewards for those who do the fighting? The religions covered include Sunni and Shiite Islam; Judaism; Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity; Theravada Buddhism; East Asian religious traditions (Confucianism, Shinto, Japanese and Korean Buddhism); Hinduism; and Sikhism. Each section is compiled by a specialist, recognized within his or her respective religious tradition, who has also written a commentary on the historical and textual context of the passages selected.

Quote for the Day

On the crisis in Ukraine, from the Washington Post‘s Robert Samuelson:

“We’re relearning an old lesson: History, culture, geography, religion and pride often trump economics.”

Ferrari & Benzo (eds.), “Between Cultural Diversity and Common Heritage”

This April, Ashgate Publishing will publish Between Cultural Diversity and Common Heritage: Legal and Religious Perspectives on the Sacred Places of the Mediterranean edited by Silvio Ferrari (University of Milan, University of Leuven) and Andrea Benzo (Italian Embassy in Riyadh). The publisher’s description follows.

Going beyond the more usual focus on Jerusalem as a sacred place, this book presents legal perspectives on the most important sacred places of the Mediterranean. The first part of the book discusses the notion of sacred places in anthropological, sociological and legal studies and provides an overview of existing legal approaches to the protection of sacred places in order to develop and define a new legal framework. The second part introduces the meaning of sacred places in Jewish, Christian and Islamic thought and focuses on the significance and role that sacred places have in the three major monotheistic religions and how best to preserve their religious nature whilst designing a new international statute. The final part of the book is a detailed analysis of the legal status of key sacred places and holy cities in the Mediterranean area and identifies a set of legal principles to support a general framework within which specific legal measures can be implemented. The book concludes with a useful appendix for the protection of sacred places in the Mediterranean region.

Including contributions from leading law and religion scholars, this interesting book will be valuable to those in the fields of international law, as well as religion and heritage studies.

Fabre & Lazar (eds.), “The Morality of Defensive War”

9780199682836_450This month, Oxford University Press published The Morality of Defensive War edited by Cécile Fabre (Lincoln College, Oxford) and Seth Lazar (Australian National University). The publisher’s description follows.

Most of us take it for granted that wars in defence of one’s political community are the quintessential just wars. Indeed, while in recent years philosophers have subjected all of our other assumptions about just war theory to radical revision, this principle has emerged largely unscathed.

But what underpins the morality of defensive war? In this book, leading moral and political philosophers both show the profoundly challenging nature of that question, and advance novel answers to it. The first part exposes the deep tension between the individualist foundations of much contemporary philosophy and plausible conclusions about the morality of defensive war. The second part offers an individualist attempt to resolve that tension, while the third seeks to justify defensive war by appeal to more collectivist values.

Not to Mention Universities and the News Media

Here’s an odd story, from The Independent:

Christianity dominates the United Nations and a more inclusive system must be introduced at the world peace-making organisation, according to a new study.

The report Religious NGOs and The United Nations found that Christian NGOs are overrepresented at the UN in comparison to other religious groups.

Overall, more than 70 per cent of religious NGOs at the UN are Christian, where the Vatican enjoys a special observer status, as a state and religion, according to research undertaken by Professor Jeremy Carrette from the University of Kent’s Department of Religious Studies.

The study questions claims by the Christian right that cults are running the UN given the scale of Christian NGOs, and calls for greater awareness, transparency and equality, while putting a strong emphasis on religious tolerance.

See, we told you the secularization theory was wrong. Just so you know, according to the article, religious NGOs make up only 7.3% of the total number of NGOs at the UN. So it’s hard to see how Christian NGOs, which amount to even a smaller percentage, could really “dominate” the organization. And the UN doesn’t appear to promote particularly Christian worldviews in its programs. Anyway, maybe there’s more to the study than the Independent suggests. You can follow the links in the article to read more.

Arsheim on the Meanings and Uses of Religious Freedom

Helge Årsheim has an interesting piece on the Immanent Frame blog which recapitulates some of the debates that he has been sponsoring at his PluRel blog (to which I gladly contributed) and offers some thoughts of his own, particularly as respects the meaning and scope of religious freedom in the international sphere. Below is an extended chunk from Helge’s post. The only little addendum to it that I’d make here is that the extent to which US domestic law is “splendidly isolated” from international law is, of course, famously a matter of both descriptive and normative contestation within the US legal community! Here’s Helge:

The international law on religious freedom is not limited to religion, but denotes a set of legal measures set in motion to protect beliefs and their ”manifestations” from undue limitations and interference. Explicitly covering beliefs well beyond the confines of any traditional definition of religion, the right as it is codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and surrounding legal texts – collectively known as the International Bill of Rights – does not require legal systems, whether international or domestic, to decide on the merits of one religion over another. The expansive nature of the freedom of religion or belief in international law thus provides an unequivocal answer in the negative to the overarching question in all dealings with religion in political or legal contexts: whether religion is a special, set apart, sui generis concept that requires particular attention and protection over other concerns. Religion, as it is construed in international legal texts, is just one subset of an expansive range of protected beliefs that can be subjectively held without any form of state interference. While the inclusion of terms like “manifestation,” “observance,” “belief,” and “conscience” are drawn from, and therefore clearly favor, certain religious traditions to the exclusion of others, their interpretation in the practice of the UN Human Rights Committee are explicitly detached from a religious framework.

Once the serene, inclusive, and clear-cut concept of religious freedom in international law is confronted with the myriad cultural, historical, political and academic iterations of religious freedom that dominate domestic legal practice, however, the content of “religion and belief” moves from being non-theist and inclusive to a more ambivalent status: in these competing visions of what religious freedom may or may not be, the contents of both “religion” and its relation to “freedom” is hotly contested. These contestations take place across a wide array of societal spheres, and concern the origin and metaphysical status of religion in society and the political sphere; what groups, doctrines and practices can be construed as “religious” and competencies and duties arising from this identification; and the relationship between majority and minority religious traditions in history and culture. Contrary to the dictates of international law, the vast majority of competing visions of religious freedom in the domestic sphere are united by their emphasis on the determination of religion as religion….

While the disconnect between international and local conceptions of religious freedom is well known and has been decisive to the development of the “margin of appreciation” doctrine of the European Court of Human Rights, the exchange at the PluRel blog displays a number of different positions on how this disconnect can and should be interpreted. Winnifred Sullivan observes in her inaugural post that US law is “…constantly bumping up against the unstable collection of social facts that have come to be assembled under the word “religion,”” and that for this reason, we should “find some other words.”. At the other end of the spectrum, Marc O. DeGirolami observes that US legal actors believe that religion is a “special cultural phenomenon,” the definition of which should be based on analogies to “historical and culturally contingent settlements,” rather than findings from the “academic study of religion.”

Sullivan and DeGirolami prescribe solutions that display very different views of the power of law, but share a basic conviction that social practices that can fall under the rubric of religion are worthy of legal protection or non-interference. Where Sullivan suggests that law is unable to grant this form of protection due to its preference for certain majority traditions over lived religious practice, DeGirolami seems to consider this preference part of the culturally contingent settlements on which law relies, a preference that cannot be unsettled by the findings of academics. Although one would expect a cultural affinity between US and international law on religious freedom in their shared preference for Protestant conceptions of religion, neither Sullivan nor DeGirolami address the international legal framework, demonstrating the splendid isolation of US legislation and jurisprudence on this issue. This isolation is a common feature of US law, which has a longstanding tradition of ignoring international law. Additionally, the turning point of the non-establishment clause of the US constitutional law on religious freedom is the neutrality of the state, an issue entirely outside the purview of international law.

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Allan, “Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile”

This month, Stanford University Press published Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile by Diana Allan (Cornell University).  The Refugees of the Revolutionpublisher’s description follows.

Some sixty-five years after 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homeland, the popular conception of Palestinian refugees still emphasizes their fierce commitment to exercising their “right of return.” Exile has come to seem a kind of historical amber, preserving refugees in a way of life that ended abruptly with “the catastrophe” of 1948 and their camps—inhabited now for four generations—as mere zones of waiting. While reducing refugees to symbols of steadfast single-mindedness has been politically expedient to both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict it comes at a tremendous cost for refugees themselves, overlooking their individual memories and aspirations and obscuring their collective culture in exile.

Refugees of the Revolution is an evocative and provocative examination of everyday life in Shatila, a refugee camp in Beirut. Challenging common assumptions about Palestinian identity and nationalist politics, Diana Allan provides an immersive account of camp experience, of communal and economic life as well as inner lives, tracking how residents relate across generations, cope with poverty and marginalization, and plan––pragmatically and speculatively—for the future. She gives unprecedented attention to credit associations, debt relations, electricity bartering, emigration networks, and NGO provisions, arguing that a distinct Palestinian identity is being forged in the crucible of local pressures.

What would it mean for the generations born in exile to return to a place they never left? Allan addresses this question by rethinking the relationship between home and homeland. In so doing, she reveals how refugees are themselves pushing back against identities rooted in a purely nationalist discourse. This groundbreaking book offers a richly nuanced account of Palestinian exile, and presents new possibilities for the future of the community.

Shakman Hurd on Religious Freedom in International Law

Religion News Service has an interesting interview with Northwestern’s Elizabeth Shakman Hurd on the promotion of religious freedom in international human rights law. A number of states and regional organizations–including Canada, the EU, and the US–now have special diplomatic offices devoted to promoting religious freedom across the glove. Shakman Hurd thinks this is a mistake:

When the United States promotes religious freedom and pursues religious engagement, groups that favor American political, economic and strategic interests are likely to be engaged and promoted, while those that the U.S. disfavors are likely to be classified as cults or extremists and cast aside. In this scenario, it’s surprisingly easy for the particular version of a religion that the U.S. supports to carry more weight politically than others.

A second concern involves the social effects of emphasizing and privileging religion as a fixed, stable, and politically and legally meaningful category. Protecting religious freedom pressures states and courts to eliminate the gray areas surrounding identities, and incentivizes them to classify and govern citizens as “religious” subjects. Not only does this exclude the “non-religious,” however defined, it also risks contributing to the very tensions that these projects are designed to eliminate by hardening what were once more fluid lines of difference between groups and inserting international dimensions into what were once local matters.

To illustrate, she discusses outsiders’ attempts to promote the rights of Coptic Christians in Egypt:

Take the example of Copts in Egypt. One concern is that outside lobbying on behalf of local groups identified as “religious minorities” arguably underscores the very lines of division between Copts and other Egyptians that one  hopes would become politically irrelevant in a democratic society and polity. A second concern is that defending the rights of Egyptians as Copts not only obscures the internal diversity of the Coptic community but also erases those who might not choose to identify as Copts but as Egyptians, humans, environmentalists or something else.

I worry that these campaigns may actually inflame existing tensions by making it more likely that social difference is conceived through the prism of religion. Pro-Coptic intervention by U.S. and other governmental and non-governmental actors may fan the flames of intercommunal violence. Individuals and groups that face persecution and discrimination deserve outside support, but not on the basis of religious affiliation.

Shakman Hurd is very thoughtful, and she has a point about inflaming existing tensions. Muslim cultures historically view Christian minorities as fifth columnists, only too eager to work with outsiders to destroy the state. If Western powers intervene in a clumsy way, they will likely expose Christians to a vicious backlash–as happened in the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century and Iraq in the twenty-first. So, to the extent Shakman Hurd cautions against clumsy interventions, I completely agree with her.

On her larger points, though, I disagree. (That won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s read my posts on Mideast Christians!).  For example, I don’t think it’s all that difficult to identify religion as a category, at least not for diplomatic purposes. True, there are interesting academic debates. And, in the US, the rise of the Nones is putting pressure on our understanding of religion. But most people have a pretty good idea of what religion is, for most purposes, even if they can’t define religion exactly. And these commonsense understandings are good enough for diplomacy.

With respect to her other main point, that by advocating for religious freedom in a foreign country, the US will inevitably pick a side in an internal debate–well, picking a side is really unavoidable. If the US doesn’t stick up for Copts, for example, Egyptians will perceive the US as backing the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. In fact, that is the perception in Egypt and throughout the Middle East today. Neutrality in these matters is impossible. Which side do you choose?

But this isn’t the place for a long debate. The interview is very much worth reading for a different perspective on things. You can read the whole thing here.

Call for Papers: “Cuius Regio, Eius Religio”

The Legal History Blog has a call for papers for an upcoming conference at the Jagiellonian University in Poland, “Cuius Regio, Eius Religio.” The conference will take place in December 2013. Details are here.

Jackson Jr., “Thin Description: Ethnography and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem”

In October, Harvard University Press will publish Thin Description: Ethnography and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem by John Jackson Jr. (University of Pennsylvania). The publisher’s description follows.Cover: Thin Description in HARDCOVER

The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem are often dismissed as a fringe cult for their beliefs that African Americans are descendants of the ancient Israelites and that veganism leads to immortality. But John L. Jackson questions what “fringe” means in a world where cultural practices of every stripe circulate freely on the Internet. In this poignant and sophisticated examination of the limits of ethnography, the reader is invited into the visionary, sometimes vexing world of the AHIJ. Jackson challenges what Clifford Geertz called the “thick description” of anthropological research through a multidisciplinary investigation of how the AHIJ use media and technology to define their public image in the twenty-first century.

 Moving far beyond the “modest witness” of nineteenth-century scientific discourse or the “thick descriptions” of twentieth-century anthropology, Jackson insists that Geertzian thickness is an impossibility, especially in a world where the anthropologist’s subject is a self-aware subject–one who crafts his own autoethnography while critically consuming the ethnographer’s offerings. Thin Description takes as its topic a group situated along the fault lines of several diasporas–African, American, Jewish–and provides an anthropological account of how race, religion, and ethnographic representation must be understood anew in the twenty-first century lest we reenact old mistakes in the study of black humanity.