This past month, the Religious Freedom Project's Timothy Shah, Rebecca Shah, and Robert Woodberry directed a two-week intensive seminar with the Nagel Institute on the drivers and consequences of economic and social change in India. This week on Cornerstone, we're asking seminar participants to reflect on their understanding of religion and development in India. Can certain kinds of religious beliefs, virtues, and practices
contribute to the well-being of the poor? Do religiously-motivated virtues such as hope and dignity build “spiritual
capital” that can empower the poor and alleviate
poverty? How do governments, NGOs, and other actors devise policies that respect
or threaten religion's pro-developmental power? And finally, what role does inter-religious dialogues play in promoting religious
freedom in India?
The West’s cultural war over Islam has entered an intense
new phase since the rise of the Islamic State. The debates are familiar: Is
Islam inherently violent and intolerant, or is it peaceful, diverse and often
the victim of Western domination? A good criterion for answering the question
is religious freedom—the civic right of
persons and religious communities to practice, express, change, renounce and
spread their religion. Whether the adherents of one religion can respect the
beliefs and practices of another, or whether they respond to this otherness by
violence or discrimination, is at the heart of these debates.
“…[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or
support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be
enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall
otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all
men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in
matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or
affect their civil capacities….”
- Thomas Jefferson, Virginia
Statute on Religious Freedom, 1786
change for religious freedom is often hard to document. Some may wonder if all
the conferences, seminars, and workshops on religious freedom are worth the
money, time, and human resources spent on promoting this crucial human right.
But the patience is worth it, as people like Malcolm Gladwell argue in his book
complex systems can take a long time for change to surface.
According to the Pew Research Center, governmental and social restrictions on religion continue to rise. Today 77 percent of the world’s population lives in religiously repressive countries.
In anticipation of our event "Religious Freedom: Rising Threats to a Fundamental Human Right," Cornerstone is examining the severe and growing challenges facing minority religions around the world. We're revisiting previous pieces by conference scholars that cover a diverse range of threats to religious freedom, including the religious persecution of women and rising restrictions on religious minorities in Europe, the Middle East, and Russia.
"Help Me to Stay," Frank Wolf Keynote speaker Congressman Frank Wolf calls for greater US intervention to put an end to the persecution of Christian religious minorities in the Middle East.
"The Women Justice Ginsburg Forgot," Helen Alvare Helen Alvaré discusses the relationship between religious freedom and women's rights in the United States following the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Recently the RFP sat down with Dr. Uddin, director general of the Arakan Rohingya Union, to talk about the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. What follows is the second half of the interview. Part I is available here.
Why is this happening to the Rohingya community? What is motivating the
government to act in such a violent way? Uddin:
The religious persecution in Burma is coming from growing nationalism and militancy
in Burma, which is connected to the Buddhist religion. Religious persecution
started as a form of ethnic cleansing. The original aim was to eliminate the
minority religions, Islam and Christianity, based on the philosophy of purity
in the Buddhist religion. Radicals in Burmese society, as well as the
government, wanted to have a pure Buddhist society. There should not be anybody
but Buddhists, no other religion but Buddhism.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Recently the RFP sat down with Dr. Uddin, director general of the Arakan Rohingya Union, to talk about the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. What follows is the first half of the interview.Read Part II here.
Freedom Project (RFP): Good afternoon, Dr. Uddin. Could you
tell us a bit about who you are, where you work, and why you’re here today? Dr.
Wakar Uddin (Uddin): I am Dr. Wakar Uddin. I am Rohingya, an
ethnic minority in the Arakan state in Burma, currently known as Rahkine state.
I’m here today with the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center to
answer your questions about Rohingya Muslims and religious freedom in Burma.
classic form, American exceptionalism is the notion that the United States has
a special destiny given by divine providence to be the world’s example,
vanguard, and champion of liberty—including a particular priority on religious
liberty. But today more than ever, religious freedom needs all the friends it
can get. America cannot and should not stand alone in defending this
Ruling in favor of Obergefell, the Supreme Court decided that states must issue a marriage license between people of the same sex, legalizing same-sex marriage in all fifty states. In this week's conversation, scholars discuss the implications of this decision for religious freedom and explore the wider role of religion in American public life.
Editor's Note: As we await the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, Matthew Franck offers a prediction on the role of religious freedom in the ruling and its aftermath.
Obergefell v. Hodges, the pending Supreme Court case on same-sex marriage, is the year’s most closely watched case among advocates of religious freedom. Yet it is doubtful that considerations of religious freedom, or questions of individual conscience, will enter into the central reasons for judgment given by the justices in deciding the case. Such considerations may not even be mentioned at all in the opinions of the justices.