Beyond Religious Freedom

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomBeyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion is a study of recent state-led efforts to promote religious freedom, religious engagement, and the rights of religious minorities internationally. Elizabeth Shakman Hurd brings together the study of contemporary religion and the study of global politics to chart these projects and their context and to develop a better understanding of their consequences for both politics and religion. Hurd challenges the claim that the legalization of freedom of religion, state-sponsored religious engagement, and legal protections for religious minorities emancipate society from persecution and discrimination. Instead, she shows how these efforts exacerbate social tensions by making religious difference a matter of law, enacting a divide between the religion of those in power and the religion of those without it. This leads to a politics defined by religious difference and favors forms of religion authorized by those in positions of power. It also obscures other factors that contribute to discrimination and violence. The book does not argue “against” religious freedominstead, it asks: what are the effects of constructing a legal regime around “religious freedom” and a discursive world around that? Does it advance or impede efforts to live together across deep lines of difference, which are often accompanied by persistent and multiplex forms of inequality? Advocates of religious freedom presume that the answer is self-evident and affirmative. Hurd sees the answer as more complex and the outcome as much less utopian.

In this series, scholars from across the disciplines engage with and respond to Hurd’s work.

August 3rd, 2016

Religion and politics beyond religious freedom

posted by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomI would like to thank each of the contributors to this series for their generous engagement with my book, Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion. In this response I address a question that arose in several of the posts: what is the role of the scholar or expert in responding to what comes “after” or lies “beyond” religious freedom? In working on this project I have encountered considerable anxiety concerning what Jeremy Walton refers to as the threat of a “conceptual and political vacuum” arising in the wake of the argument of this book. I am interested in engaging with the concerns that motivate that anxiety. I also want to push back against the insistence that a strong prescriptive stance is required to do the work that I do. There are other paths forward and I’ll discuss a few of them here.

Read Religion and politics beyond religious freedom.
July 22nd, 2016

Rethinking religion in a political scientific wilderness

posted by Ruth Marshall

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomBeyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion makes an extremely important and timely contribution to a conversation that the discipline of political science should be but still isn’t really having. The continued lack of serious, analytically sophisticated attention to religion and religious phenomena by scholars of international relations and comparative politics is all the more baffling given the place of religion in political life around the world today. Religious affiliation has become the central category for a geo-political remapping of the world since 9/11. The results have been depressingly vapid analyses that underscore, once again, the ideological force of Samuel Huntington’s self-fulfilling prophecy, and the bankruptcy of dominant approaches in our discipline that continue to treat religion in the most reductionist, identarian, instrumentalist, and frankly, unthinking fashion. In this regard, Shakman Hurd’s book constitutes a truly novel and vital contribution and I cannot recommend this book highly enough to my co-disciplinarians, whether interested in religion or not. I underscore this point, since many scholars who frequent The Immanent Frame are not mainstream political scientists and are thus unaware of the bleak nature of the wilderness into which rare and prophetic voices like Shakman Hurd’s are crying.

Read Rethinking religion in a political scientific wilderness.
May 5th, 2016

Paradoxes of international religious freedom

posted by Elizabeth A. Castelli

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomIt has been almost twenty years since the US Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which was signed into law in 1998 by then President Bill Clinton. The IRFA inscribed into law and US foreign policy a set of definitions and monitoring protocols, and it mandated the creation of a bureaucracy within the US State Department—the Office of Religious Freedom, which is charged with promoting religious freedom as a core objective of US foreign policy. Under the language and mandate of the IRFA, this office produces yearly reports on religious freedom around the globe, and its work becomes the basis by which the Secretary of State categorizes some countries as “countries of particular concern” for their “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Such a designation can trigger various disciplinary and punitive responses by the US government, including economic sanctions. As Elizabeth Shakman Hurd shows through incisive analysis in her recently published Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion, the impact of IRFA and other efforts to mobilize a religious freedom framework in international relations is far-reaching, not only in practical terms, but also at the level of defining “religion” itself.

Read Paradoxes of international religious freedom.
April 26th, 2016

The new global politics of religion: A view from the other side

posted by Noah Salomon

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomIn the summer of 2013, the international Islamic magazine al-Bayan published its Ramadan issue with a striking cover. Flanked by titles on the Qur’anic and Biblical figure Haman, jihad and the great battles won by Muslims in the month of Ramadan, and an interview with the Iraqi Islamist intellectual ‘Imad al-Din Khalil, the image that the editors chose for the cover article was clearly meant to cause controversy. Casually strewn across a map of the Middle East and North Africa was a simple sibha, a chain of beads used to count repetitive prayers known collectively as adhkar. In recent years, the sibha has come to be associated as a marker of Sufi Mulims, given that non-Sufi reformist Muslims of various stripes have stipulated that it constitutes an innovation in worship and thus a straying from the perfect path laid down by the Prophet himself for praising God. Attached to the end of this sibha, where a bead or other decoration might normally be located, was a small American flag, resembling those lapel pins that US government officials began to wear following 9/11. If the implications of the image itself were not clear, the headline on which it sat most certainly was: “American Infiltration through the Sufi zawiyas.”

Read The new global politics of religion: A view from the other side.
April 21st, 2016

The uncertainty principles of Heisenberg and Hurd

posted by Benjamin Schonthal

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomIn the late 1920s, the theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg wrote a series of scientific papers proposing that the universe could not be known with perfect certainty. His theory, which came to be known as the “uncertainty principle,” blamed the limitations of scientific measurement. Perfect knowledge was impossible, Heisenberg theorized, because scientists changed the quantum universe through the very act of measuring it. Observers could not watch the universe voyeuristically, as though from the sidelines. To sight quantum reality was to alter it.

Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion introduces something like an uncertainty principle into the targeting of religion in international relations. In a manner not dissimilar to Heisenberg, Hurd argues that, in the process of singling out religion for support or censure, governments, lawmakers, advocacy groups and others alter the complex field of social relations that they purport to manage. They change religion through the process of sighting it.

Read The uncertainty principles of Heisenberg and Hurd.
April 19th, 2016

A more anxious freedom

posted by Matthew Scherer

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomElizabeth Shakman Hurd’s Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion is notable for its subtlety and intellectual generosity, as well as its breadth and depth of engagement with contemporary scholarship and public affairs. This is also a book with a big, hard-hitting idea of its own. Its primary thesis is crystal clear, timely, and provocative: “religion” cannot serve as the basis for scholarly analyses or the formation of policy. I agree with that: individuals, communities, and events are more complex than the idea of religion can capture; indeed, the very idea of religion often gets in the way of understanding how those things work.

Read A more anxious freedom.
April 12th, 2016

A salutary tremor

posted by Jeremy F. Walton

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomWhat logics, strategies, and effects characterize the category of religion as an instrument for governing social life? What possibilities and foreclosures result from summoning religion to serve novel political ends? Questions such as these subtend much contemporary scholarship on religion; their ascendancy testifies to the puissance of recent deconstructions of the concept of religion, especially those marshalled by critiques of secularism. Rather than conceiving religion as the disavowed other of secular modernity, the burgeoning field of secularism studies has demanded attention to the continual consolidation of “religion” within the problem space of secularism, especially in relation to the dispensation of the modern nation-state. Despite the recent interest in the relationship between secularism and religion, however, the distinctive forms and functions of “religious freedom”—as both a principle for and an object of global governance—have received less attention. Thankfully, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion, has arrived to decisively fill this lacuna.

Read A salutary tremor.
April 7th, 2016

The pathologies of religious freedom

posted by Benjamin L. Berger

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomIn the preface to his 1947 essay, Humanism and Terror: An Essay on the Communist Problem, French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote forcefully of the need to push past official accounts and declared principles when assessing the character and justness of a society. Focusing on the lived effects of ideas instead of on “tired sayings” formulated as “venerable truths” was precisely the genius of Marx’s critique of liberalism, Merleau-Ponty explained: “In refusing to judge liberalism in terms of the ideas it espouses and inscribes in constitutions and in demanding that these ideals be compared with the prevailing relations between men in a liberal state, Marx is not simply speaking in the name of a debatable materialist philosophy—he is providing a formula for the concrete study of society which cannot be refuted by idealist arguments.”

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March 31st, 2016

Religious freedom, past and future

posted by Jolyon Baraka Thomas

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomFor those of us who have been following the Politics of Religious Freedom project on this website and elsewhere, Beyond Religious Freedom bears a distinct yet familiar flavor. Other scholars writing on religion and secularity have already shown that significant differences exist between “top-down,” “bottom-up,” and “from outside” definitions of religion favored by policymakers, clerics, and academics. Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s own categories of “governed religion,” “lived religion,” and “expert religion” reproduce this tripartite division, but add a degree of nuance by showing, for example, that the definitions of religion favored by elites such as policymakers and ecclesial authorities may not match the “lived religion” experienced by ordinary people. Similarly, expertise on religion comes in a variety of forms, from the policy-relevant academic knowledge sought out by federal agencies pursuing counterterrorism objectives to the quasi-missiological scholarship generated by “religious engagement” advocacy groups.

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March 29th, 2016

Engaging the R word

posted by Helge Årsheim

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomAs it promises on the dust jacket, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s Beyond Religious Freedom delivers a critique of the politics of promoting religious freedom that is both timely and forceful. The critique expands and empirically illustrates an argument that Hurd has presented earlier—that religion in international politics is governed by a Manichean view of “religion” as either “good,” and therefore eligible for support, or “bad,” and therefore in need of control, monitoring, and suppression. The critique is timely because it addresses the incontrovertible empirical fact that new methods and terms used by NGOs, think tanks, and state agencies have decisively changed the landscape of the domestic and international promotion of religious engagement and religious freedom.

Read Engaging the R word.
March 17th, 2016

Beyond Religious Freedom—An introduction

posted by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomLast summer I read All Can Be Saved by the eminent historian of colonial Latin America, Stuart Schwartz. It’s a compelling story of inter-religious tolerance and boundary-blurring coexistence in the Hispanic world in the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. Near the end of the book, Schwartz sums up his approach: “One must go beneath the histories of state policies and religious dogmas that have dominated the writing of history, and one must look not primarily in learned discourse (usually controlled) and at the policy of government and kings, but in the actions and words of people who sought to think for themselves.”

Beyond Religious Freedom addresses a parallel set of concerns in a different setting. It asks scholars of law, religion, and global politics to consider not only the histories of learned discourse (expert religion) and the policies of governments and kings (official or governed religion) but also the actions and words of ordinary people (lived or everyday religion). The interactions between these overlapping fields, the power dynamics through which they shape each other, and their deep immersion and fluid entanglements with their socio-cultural, legal, economic, and political surroundings are, on one level, the subject of the book.

Read Beyond Religious Freedom—An introduction.