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RELATED EVENTS

Religion & State After the Arab Spring: Devising Ground Rules for a New Era

May 14, 2012

What's So Special About Religious Freedom?

November 17, 2011

Sourcebook Seminar on the Historical Origins of Religious Freedom

April 29, 2011

Policy Consultation on Religious Freedom, Violent Religious Extremism, and Constitutional Reform in Muslim-Majority Countries: Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers

December 7, 2012

The Price of Freedom Denied

October 20, 2011

Sourcebook Seminar on the Historical Origins of Religious Freedom

April 29, 2011

The Cognitive Science of Religion

May 4, 2011

Sourcebook Seminar on Religious Freedom and the Struggle against Extremism

September 23, 2011

What's So Special About Religious Freedom?

November 17, 2011

Standing Seminar: Religion & Human Personhood, Culture, and Society

February 10, 2012

Standing Seminar: Religion, Health, and Happiness

December 5, 2011

Religious Freedom: Why Now? Defending an Embattled Human Right

March 1, 2012

Religious Freedom and Equality: Emerging Conflicts in North America and Europe

April 11, 2012

Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide

January 31, 2012

Equality, Freedom, & Religion

February 13, 2012

Religious Freedom and Religious Extremism: Lessons from the Arab Spring

March 16, 2012

Religious Freedom and Healthcare Reform

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Rethinking Religion and World Affairs

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Religion & State After the Arab Spring: Devising Ground Rules for a New Era

May 14, 2012

Which Model, Whose Liberty?: Differences between the U.S. and European Approaches to Religious Freedom

October 11, 2012

Religious Freedom and the HHS Mandate: a Conversation with Representatives Jeff Fortenberry, Diane Black, Ann Marie Buerkle and Dan Lipinski

June 28, 2012

Catholic Perspectives on Religious Liberty

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Just and Unjust Peace

September 14, 2012

Religious Freedom Past and Future

October 24, 2012

Inaugural Symposium: Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

December 14, 2012

Rick Warren on Religious Freedom - A Conversation

February 12, 2013

Theism and Rationality: A Seminar with Alvin Plantinga and Ernest Sosa

January 7, 2013

The Good Muslim and Religious Freedom

May 31, 2013

Freedom to Flourish: Is Religious Freedom Necessary for Peace, Prosperity, and Democracy?

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British Christianity: Historical Contributions and Contemporary Challenges

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Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

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An International Response to a Global Crisis: A Conversation with Baroness Warsi on Religious Freedom

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Is International Religious Freedom Policy Becoming Respectable?

February 25, 2014

Everybody's Business: The Legal, Economic, and Political Implications of Religious Freedom

March 24, 2014

PROJECT PUBLICATIONS

A Global Crisis of Religious Liberty: Evidence, Origins, and SignificanceA Global Crisis of Religious Liberty: Evidence, Origins, and Significance

June 20, 2014 In this speech delivered at a conference in Rome, Thomas Farr argues that there are many reasons for societies to embrace religious freedom,...

Our Failed Religious Freedom PolicyOur Failed Religious Freedom Policy

November 1, 2013 In this article published in First Things, Thomas Farr elucidates the serious harm done by America's failure to implement the International...

In God's Name: Politics, Religion  and Economic DevelopmentIn God's Name: Politics, Religion and Economic Development

July 25, 2013 In this lecture, given as the 9th Annual AELEX Lecture in Lagos, Nigeria, Timothy Shah argues that religious freedom can be directly tied to...

Religious Liberty: What is It, Why Should We Care?Religious Liberty: What is It, Why Should We Care?

July 3, 2013 In a presentation at the 2013 Lausanne Global Forum, held in Bangalore, India from June 17 to June 21, Tim Shah presented a case for the importance...

Examining the Government’s Record on Implementing the International Religious Freedom ActExamining the Government’s Record on Implementing the International Religious Freedom Act

June 13, 2013 Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project, presented testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform...

Religion and International Relations: A Primer for ResearchReligion and International Relations: A Primer for Research

May 22, 2013 "Religion and International Relations: A Primer for Research" is the report of the Working Group on International Relations and Religion of the...

Religious Freedom, Democratization, and Economic DevelopmentReligious Freedom, Democratization, and Economic Development

April 29, 2013 Based on an extensive survey of relevant scholarly literature in economics, political science, sociology and other disciplines, in this paper...

The Future of Religious Freedom: Global ChallengesThe Future of Religious Freedom: Global Challenges

December 27, 2012 Edited by University of Oklahoma political science professor Allen Hertzke, The Future of Religious Freedom: Global Challenges assembles scholars...

Laws Penalizing Blasphemy, Apostasy and Defamation of Religion are Widespread

November 21, 2012 "Laws Penalizing Blasphemy, Apostasy and Defamation of Religion are Widespread" is an analytical piece based on the 2011 study carried out by the...

Martyrdom with a Message: How Persecuted Christians Witness to Religious FreedomMartyrdom with a Message: How Persecuted Christians Witness to Religious Freedom

November 16, 2012 RFP associate director Timothy Shah joined scholars and religious leaders for a major conference on Christian martyrdom sponsored by the Institute...

<em>God's Century</em> reviewed by Michael Emerson in <em>Contemporary Sociology</em>God's Century reviewed by Michael Emerson in Contemporary Sociology

November 2, 2012 Noted sociologist Michael Emerson reviews God's Century by RFP associate director Timothy Shah and associate scholars Monica Toft and Dan Philpott...

Religious Freedom and National SecurityReligious Freedom and National Security

October 3, 2012 Considering that a strong correlation has existed between religious persecution and national security both in recent years and throughout the...

Of Down Syndrome and Violence: Religious Freedom and US Foreign PolicyOf Down Syndrome and Violence: Religious Freedom and US Foreign Policy

September 13, 2012 RFP Director Tom Farr spoke at a conference on "International Religious Freedom: An Imperative for Peace and the Common Good," held at the Catholic...

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PROJECT LEADERS

Thomas FarrThomas Farr

Thomas F. Farr is director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and a visiting associate...

Timothy ShahTimothy Shah

Timothy Samuel Shah is associate director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and...

ASSOCIATE SCHOLARS

Ilan AlonIlan Alon

Ilan Alon is the George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Chair of International Business and director of the China Center at Rollins College, specializing...

Anthony GillAnthony Gill

Anthony (Tony) Gill is a professor of political science and adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Washington, a distinguished senior...

Brian GrimBrian Grim

Brian J. Grim is president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and a leading expert on the socioeconomic impact of restrictions on...

Allen HertzkeAllen Hertzke

Allen Hertzke is Presidential Professor of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma and faculty fellow in Religious Freedom for OU’s...

William InbodenWilliam Inboden

William Inboden is associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and executive director of the Clements Center for History, Strategy, and...

Karrie KoeselKarrie Koesel

Karrie J. Koesel is assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Oregon and an associate scholar with the Berkley Center's...

Timur KuranTimur Kuran

Timur Kuran is professor of economics and political science and Gorter Family Professor in Islamic Studies at Duke University, as well as an...

John M. OwenJohn M. Owen

John M. Owen IV is the Ambassador Henry J. and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics and faculty fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies...

Daniel PhilpottDaniel Philpott

Daniel Philpott, a professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for Peace Studies and an associate scholar with...

Ani SarkissianAni Sarkissian

Ani Sarkissian is an assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University (MSU) and an associate scholar with the Berkley Center's...

Rebecca ShahRebecca Shah

Rebecca Samuel Shah is a research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and an associate scholar with the Berkley...

W. Bradford WilcoxW. Bradford Wilcox

W. Bradford Wilcox is an associate professor of sociology and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, as well...

Robert WoodberryRobert Woodberry

Robert Woodberry is an associate professor of Political Science and director of the Project on Religion and Economic Change at the National...

PROJECT STAFF

Nicholas FedykNicholas Fedyk

Nicholas Fedyk joined the Berkley Center in June 2014 as a project associate with the Religious Freedom Project. He graduated from Georgetown's...

Claudia WinklerClaudia Winkler

Claudia Winkler joined the Berkley Center in February 2014 as a project associate with the Religious Freedom Project. Before joining the center,...

Citizens or Martyrs? The Uncertain Fate of Christians in the Arab Spring

Daniel Philpott

November 4, 2011

A tense subplot of the Arab Spring is the increasing endangerment of the region’s Christians. In Egypt, Coptic Christians, 10% of the population, have been attacked repeatedly by Salafist Muslims unleashed – many literally released from prison -- by the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. No wonder that Christians in Syria now fear their fate at the hands of the country’s Sunni Muslim majority should President Bashar al-Assad’s government fall.

The experience of Christians in Iraq is hardly encouraging, either. The kidnapping and murder of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho by Muslim militants in early 2008 is emblematic of what Iraq’s Christian community has suffered since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The population of Iraqi Christians has declined from around two million to around 400,000 since the Gulf War of 1991, which weakened Hussein’s rule. Under the dictatorships of Mubarak, Assad, and even Hussein and Qaddafi, all of them unsavory to be sure, Christians enjoyed relative security, though it was sometimes bloodily interrupted and usually attended by pervasive social discrimination. Arab authoritarianism was a leaky shelter but it was nevertheless a roof over their heads.

But however dangerous Arab Christians’ fate now may be, going back to the good old days of dictatorships is not an option. The surge of democracy-demanding youth, popular impatience with corruption and economic stagnation, and a religious reawakening over the past generation all serve to block such a backslide. Of course, for other minorities and for Muslims at odds with their regimes, the good old days were not good at all. They were not good for the residents of Hama, Syria, 10,000 of whose inhabitants were murdered by the current president’s father, Hafez al-Assad; and they are not good for protesters of the son’s dictatorship, over 2900 of whom the regime has killed by now. They were not good for democracy activists or traditional Muslims in Egypt, over 20,000 of whom Mubarak held in his jails. Arab authoritarianism was a model that could not last. Apart from suppressing the dynamism of democracy and the free market, such regimes were repressively secular, creating legions of religious discontents and radicalizing traditional Muslims, often in the direction of violence. Ultimately this shelter for Christians proved to be not only leaky but rotten at its foundations.

The position of today’s Arab Christians is indeed precarious. Among the possible outcomes, Islamist regimes that afford Christians little freedom to practice their faith or participate in politics are entirely plausible. But this outcome is far from inevitable, no more inevitable than was the persistence of dictatorship. Only this past week, elections in Tunisia, the country that ignited the Arab Spring, gave a plurality of votes to an Islamic party, but one that is relatively liberal and that will rule in coalition with non-religious liberal parties. In Egypt, too, the possibilities are more complex than secularist safety and Salafist violence. When Christians are attacked it is not always at the hands of Muslims. The shooting of Christian demonstrators in Cairo this past October 9th was carried out by the army. When Muslims have attacked Christians, far more have defended them. Just after Muslim terrorists slaughtered 25 Coptic worshippers and injured some 100 others in Alexandria on New Year’s Day of this year, thousands of Muslims across the country gathered in candlelight vigils and formed human chains around Coptic churches during worship. Today, Egyptian Muslim office-seekers are divided among proponents of a strongly Islamic state and supporters of liberal rights, including religious freedom for Christians. The scenario of religious freedom, then, is plausible, too.

What can be done on behalf of Arab Christians to make this rosier scenario more likely? For its part, the U.S. government ought to use its power of economic aid and diplomatic recognition far more assertively to protect vulnerable Christians. To his credit, President Obama made religious freedom a tenet of his June 2009 speech in Cairo in which he sought to reorient U.S. relations with the Muslim world. But the response of his State Department to actual attacks on Christians has been tepid. The case for more vigorous U.S. support for Christians is in part one of human rights. But it runs wider. Protecting Christians is a matter of religious freedom, and religious freedom – for Christians as well as all minorities, including dissident Muslims – is an indispensable plank of stable, democratic regimes, a key goal of U.S. foreign policy in the region. In this highly religious part of the world, the attempts of secular dictators to suppress religion have bred violence and encouraged extremism, just as Islamist dictatorships would do were they to emerge. The middle possibility is the sort of democracy that invites the participation of religious communities and channels it in a civic direction. The protection of Christian minorities can be seen as a litmus test for such religious-friendly democracy.

For their part, Christians around the world could do far more to speak out on behalf of their beleaguered brethren. The lesson of Eastern Europe during the Cold War is that dissidents are emboldened and empowered by the support of outsiders. Christians, like the U.S. government, should realize that protection for fellow believers lies not merely in solidarity with the persecuted but in the kind of regime that protects religious freedom for all. Towards this end, Christians within the region as well as without ought to build alliances of friendship with Muslims who share the same goal. An example of such an ally is the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Ali Gomaa, who, following the New Year’s bombing in Alexandria of 2011, strongly condemned the attacks in a blog on the Contending Modernities site of the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame. Two months later he defended religious freedom in a blog on the same site. “The sectarian issue is like an iceberg that is sure to melt down with the sunshine of freedom in our beloved country,” he wrote.

As for Christians in the Middle East, it is understandable that they have allied with secular dictators: a pragmatism of survival. But the strategy is no longer reliable. While the present period’s flux creates danger, its complex and shifting factions also beget opportunity. “Christians could be among the most important architects of a new order in the Arab world,” the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen wrote this past August in a powerful column on Christians in the Arab Spring. As vocal defenders of religious freedom, the region’s Christians could become a powerful and credible force not only for human dignity but also for the kind of regime in which they – and all minorities – are most likely to find protection in the new Arab order. But they need help. To be the architects that Allen envisions, Christians require solidarity from sympathetic governments, Christians outside the region, and like-minded Muslims.

Daniel Philpott is associate professor of political science and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he is on the faculty of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

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To find out more about the origins of religious freedom and its contemporary significance for America, Egypt, and other countries of the Arab Spring, attend the November 17th RFP symposium "What's So Special about Religious Freedom?" or read our more at our resource page.