here & there

April 21st, 2014

Christianity grows in China

posted by

Over at The Telegraph, Tom Phillips writes about the rapid growth of Christianity in China. The end of the Cultural Revolution has seen religiosity grow rapidly among the Chinese population; The Immanent Frame contributor Fenggang Yang calculates that China will become the most numerous Christian nation by 2030. Reporting from a newly built megachruch in Liushi, Zhejiang, Phillips talks about the change and growth in its Christian congregation over the last 50 years:

It was founded in 1886 after William Edward Soothill, a Yorkshire-born missionary and future Oxford University professor, began evangelising local communities.

But by the late 1950s, as the region was engulfed by Mao’s violent anti-Christian campaigns, it was forced to close.

Liushi remained shut throughout the decade of the Cultural Revolution that began in 1966, as places of worship were destroyed across the country.

Since it reopened in 1978 its congregation has gone from strength to strength as part of China’s officially sanctioned Christian church – along with thousands of others that have accepted Communist Party oversight in return for being allowed to worship.

Today it has 2,600 regular churchgoers and holds up to 70 baptisms each year, according to Shi Xiaoli, its 27-year-old preacher. The parish’s revival reached a crescendo last year with the opening of its new 1,500ft mega-church, reputedly the biggest in mainland China.

“Our old church was small and hard to find,” said Ms Shi. “There wasn’t room in the old building for all the followers, especially at Christmas and at Easter. The new one is big and eye-catching.”

The Liushi church is not alone. From Yunnan province in China’s balmy southwest to Liaoning in its industrial northeast, congregations are booming and more Chinese are thought to attend Sunday services each week than do Christians across the whole of Europe.

This comes on the heels of a recent informal Foreign Policy study of Sina Weibo (China’s microblogging platform) that indicated searches for “God” or “Jesus” far outnumbered those for “Mao Zedong” or “Xi Jinping.” Read the full Telegraph article here. Read our discussion on the state of religion in China, as well as a historical survey of religion in China.

April 16th, 2014

The Charter of Quebec Values derailed

posted by

On April 7th the Quebec Liberal Party won a majority government in the 41st Quebec general election, with incumbent Parti Québécois, and its controversial Charter of Quebec Values, finishing second. The principal architect of the bill, Bernard Drainville, noted that “It’s over, the Charter. We did what we could to get there. Unfortunately, things ended rather abruptly.” Over at Religion Dispatches, Jeremy Stolow writes further on his contribution to our “off the cuff” on the topic and explains how issues over religious identity and inclusion will continue to exist in Québécois politics, despite the collapse of the bill.

However, a longer view of the debate surrounding Bill 60, and of the social factors that fueled this debacle, suggest that the Charter’s underlying politics of religious identity and inclusion have far from subsided.  What follows is a closer analysis of some of the terms on which the previous government sought to regulate religious difference in the public sphere.  It remains to be seen how the newly elected Liberal government in Quebec will manage these questions of religious identity and diversity, and whether they will end up entangled in the very same language of ‘liberal tolerance’ one finds at the root of previous government’s Charter initiative.

Read the full essay here. For more on the Charter of Quebec Values, read our “off the cuff.”

April 15th, 2014

Reverberations is nominated for a Webby!

posted by

We are proud to announce that Reverberations, the site on prayer produced in conjunction with the SSRC’s New Directions in the Study of Prayer (NDSP) initiative, has been selected as one of five nominees for a Webby Award in the Religion and Spirituality Category. These awards are distributed annually by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS). Previously, The Immanent Frame had been selected as an official honoree.

Two awards will be given in each category: The Webby Award, the winner of which will be selected by members of IADAS, and The Webby People’s Voice Award, the winner of which is selected by the voting public. Please help Reverberations win the People’s Voice Award by voting for us here. There are 9 days left in the voting period, so head on over there and cast your vote now!

April 3rd, 2014

Faith in diplomacy

posted by

When Secretary of State John Kerry launched the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives (OFBCI), he extolled the importance and urgency of religious studies: “In fact if I went back to college today I think I would probably major in comparative religion because that’s how integrated it is in everything we are working on, and deciding, and thinking about in life today.” Despite these claims about the virtue and political utility of religious studies, many academics voiced critique and caution about how OFBCI might be haunted by political agendas, subjected to idealistic visions of liberal democracy, and premised on a particular concept of religion as an analytical category. The Immanent Frame’s “off the cuff” feature provided insightful critiques by an impressive group of scholars across the academic spectrum. I would like to revisit some of these anxieties about OFBCI and offer preliminary insights about the vision and strategy of its director, Professor Shaun Casey.

As the Persian Sufi Jalal al-Din Rumi once said, “The best of princes is he who visits scholars.” Secretary Kerry described Dr. Casey—a professor of theology, with a graduate degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government—as the “perfect person” to lead OFBCI. Casey visited Emory University on February 6-7, 2014 and granted an interview with Sacred Matters in which he described his intellectual and political influences, discussed his vision for the future of OFBCI, and addressed the academic critiques of OFBCI.

During Casey’s comments at his formal appointment, he summoned the legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr, the famous moral theologian who sought to influence foreign policy in the earliest years of Cold War politics. While Casey admires Niebuhr’s belief in pragmatism and incremental action (also adored by President Barack Obama), he was careful to mention that he does not necessarily look to Niebuhr for moral and intellectual vision. In this respect, Casey noted that he is “deeply influenced by Catholic social teaching…by some of the radical interpreters of Karth Barth, some of the Helmut Gollwitzer folk…and the sort of cultural-linguistic-ethnography turn in religious studies.” Thus it would not do justice to Casey’s eclectic intellectual and political interests to reduce OFBCI to a single narrative of hegemonic post-Enlightenment political Protestantism.

Casey told me that he understands academics’ anxieties about OFBCI and welcomes the critique. As an anthropologist studying Islam, I was relieved to hear that he sympathizes with the critique that most people around this world do not view religion as a distinct analytical category in the manner of the Post-Enlightenment West. As a scholar, Casey enjoys the graduate seminar. But he cautioned that the seminar model does not necessarily fit the State Department. Conscious that academic jargon can put diplomats to sleep, Casey takes a different approach: “What I try to do at the State Department is try to show how the scholarly religious perspective might shed light that can generate some solutions or mitigation in the conflict of the hour. And then you look for other opportunities…for second order reflection to reflect on, ‘well, what is the religious dynamic in this space?’ And it’s so complicated that, as I often tell my colleagues at the State Department, we’re all pupils with respect to religion and global politics. There is no global expert who has the answer.”

It was heartening to learn that Casey does not cling to some vision of a Protestant ideal for American politics and civil religion. With respect to the concern that an allegiance to liberal democracy would be the price of admission, Casey was adamant that he is “radically inclusive” and has already met with well over 300 groups across the religious and political spectrum. Even if Casey has a critical and inclusive approach to religion, it will not be easy to transform an institution entrenched in its own ways of thinking and beholden to the political tides. It is still too early to know how this approach will play out on the ground. Citing the example of OFBCI’s recent role in conflict mitigation in South Sudan, Casey was surprised that the Department of State did not have a centralized list of official religious contacts who might help coordinate relief efforts.

During a lunchtime conversation with faculty, I pressed Casey on the cultural and religious politics involved in the production of such a list. It is not that he does not understand the inherent politics of creating a list of contacts. As Casey described it, pragmatic concerns can trump theoretical curiosities when he walks into work with “the planet on fire.” I can appreciate the urgency of pragmatism when dealing with crises, refugees, and conflict mitigation in places like South Sudan and Syria. At the same time, however, there is no simple divide between pragmatism and social theory. Political interventions in places like Syria and South Sudan are premised on implicit theories about identity politics (religious, ethnic, or otherwise).

Professor Casey asks that we judge OFBCI by what they do over the course of the next three and a half years, after which he will, in his words, “turn back into a pumpkin and return to academia.” Casey seeks new modes of engagement and shows little interest in occupying himself with the pleasantries of the interfaith seminar circuit. In terms of hiring priorities, he seeks people who can interpret complex contexts in sophisticated ways. Knowledge of religion is important, but not sufficient. Casey wants to build institutional capacities that extend beyond his tenure, and to integrate a religion component into the Foreign Service exam.

What might a Foreign Service religious studies curriculum look like in the case of contemporary Syria? Hopefully it would depart from a religious literacy of the E.D. Hirsch variety, consisting of a list of ahistorical, decontextualized timelines and tenets of sectarian difference. It was not too long ago that then-Senator Joe Biden advocated a three state solution for Iraq, premised on a naive notion of natural sectarian divides. Rather than thinking in terms of the religious causes of political conflict, Foreign Service officers must also cultivate an understanding of the political causes of religious conflict.

Casey ordered case studies of three countries so that his office can gain a better understanding of best practices and lessons learned with regards to religion and diplomacy. Imagine that one such country is Indonesia (where I conduct research). How might knowledge of Islam enhance a Foreign Service officer’s understanding? Indonesia is heralded as the home of “moderate Islam,” but historian Michael Laffan reminds us that such concepts have roots in colonial histories connecting Dutch scholars and Muslim clerics. In this country of over 200 million Muslims, public piety is important, yet Islamist parties have not fared well at the ballot box. Islam plays an enigmatic role.

Perhaps a graduate seminar is precisely what Foreign Service training needs, though I’m not convinced it must be in religious studies. Like many who study religion, I was flattered to hear Secretary Kerry laud its importance. However, as Lila Abu-Lughod observed with respect to the burgeoning interest in Islam after 9/11, politicians and pundits sought answers from Islam when Cold War politics actually offered better explanations for the injustices experienced by Afghan women: “Instead of political and historical explanations…we were offered ones that worked to artificially divide the world into separate spheres—recreating an imaginative geography of West versus East, us versus Muslims, cultures in which First Ladies give speeches versus others where women shuffle around silently in burqas.”

One potential contribution of OFBCI, as I see it, is making sure that Foreign Service officers in Syria, South Sudan, and elsewhere comprehend that conflicts cannot be explained by neatly parsed categories of religion, ethnicity, or economics. Despite Secretary Kerry’s exuberance about religious studies, those of us who study religion should peddle our knowledge with caution. For, as Rumi also said of the scholar, “Whether it is the prince who formally visits him or he who goes to visit the prince, he is in every case the visitor and it is the prince who is visited.”

For more on the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, read our original “off the cuff” feature here.—ed.

March 27th, 2014

Four patriarchs and a Baptist preacher

posted by

A brief glance back at the history of Ukraine reveals a religiously diverse assortment of leaders. According to myth, the area was settled by pagan Varangians from the north. Then, with the help of two Greek missionaries, the local Slavs were converted to Christianity and Christian princes reigned until the Mongols conquered the territory in the thirteenth century. Eventually, the Orthodox Russian Empire emancipated Kiev, but the following centuries would bring Catholic Polish dominion, a return of Orthodox tsarist rule, further Catholic control at the hands of the Austro-Hungarians, and in the twentieth century the warring atheistic Soviets and Nazis. Post-Soviet leadership has been largely Orthodox, until today’s interim president, who is, among other things, a Baptist preacher.

To say that Ukraine has historically negotiated multiple religious and cultural identities is an understatement. 2014 finds the country—and here I include Crimea in spite of recent events—with a much-studied arsenal of religious and cultural identities: Ukrainian, Russian, Crimean, European, Orthodox, Catholic, non-religious, Muslim, Tatar. None of these categories are entirely exclusive and the people of Ukraine have shown that they can, at times, more fluidly navigate these categories than the institutions that aim to serve them. This is particularly clear in the case of religious identity and ecclesial jurisdiction.

The majority of Ukrainians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians; however, in a country with one canonical Orthodox church and two more Orthodox churches unrecognized by the greater Orthodox community, it can be difficult to ascertain exactly what type of Orthodoxy is being practiced. Surveys disagree and the various Orthodox churches—one under Moscow and two claiming independence—all offer rather differing numbers in terms of their Sunday attendance. One likely reason is that real people themselves don’t often make much of jurisdictional differences that result in no functional differences in style of worship or the daily life of the faithful. But, as with Crimeans who have historically identified more with Russia and Crimea than with Ukraine, when political power demands that lines be drawn in the sand, seemingly symbolic differences suddenly matter.

Ukraine is unique because its main Christian confessions represent contested historical, linguistic, and religious claims. In the most simple of terms, Ukraine is historically Orthodox in the East and Catholic in the far West, around Lviv. At first glance, then, it seems as though the religious dimensions of Ukraine’s complicated self-identity may comfortably map onto simplistic binaries of Russian language vs. Ukrainian language, Putin vs. the European Union/NATO, or even the medieval schism between Rome and Byzantium. In reality, national and religious identity and authority are far more complicated and, more often than not, a problem of top-down politics and attempts by church leaders to increase the autonomy of their own offices. Moreover, the painful history of religion in Ukraine—where all faithful, but particularly the Muslim Tatars and the Catholics, were violently oppressed under Joseph Stalin—makes religious affiliation a marker of historical memory as well as of faith.

The majority of Ukrainians are Orthodox, followed by non-believers, then Catholics, and then various other confessions (including Protestants and, in Crimea, a significant number of Muslims). There are three Orthodox churches in Ukraine and one Byzantine Rite Catholic church—known as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest so-called sui juris Eastern Rite Catholic church—and a significant number of Latin Rite Catholics who often worship in Polish. The existence of three Orthodox churches in one nation—all which can celebrate the liturgy in Ukrainian—is evidence of the fractious history of the state of Ukraine in the twentieth century and the legacy of Soviet religious suppression. Of the three Orthodox churches –the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP), and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC)—only the UOC-MP is in communion with the rest of the global Eastern Orthodox Church, while the others are regarded as schismatics by most non-Ukrainian Orthodox.

The UOC-Kiev Patriarchate came into being in 1992, after a split from the Moscow Patriarchate. It is led by Patriarch Filaret, a former priest from the Moscow Patriarchate, who was defrocked amidst allegations of financial and sexual misconduct. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) was first created in the 1920s, when the Moscow Patriarchate was considered compromised by the Soviet government. The UAOC, one of many splinter churches that resulted from early Soviet persecution of religion, has survived in various incarnations, underground, both in Ukraine and in the Ukrainian diaspora, particularly in Canada and the United States.

With no intention of diminishing the theological importance of ecclesial authority, one might say that the three Orthodox churches stem from disputes over leadership and autonomy rather than differences in theology or liturgical practice. And in the case of all four churches, authority and ethnic identity play roles as important as theological doctrine or liturgical tradition. In the case of the current Baptist interim president, we see the rise of religious traditions exported from America into Ukraine’s public sphere; indeed, Ukraine has been host to rapidly growing Protestant movements, particularly Evangelical and Baptist.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, like all three of the Orthodox Churches, traces itself back to the beginnings of Christianity in Kiev, but functionally began in the late sixteenth century with the Union of Brest, when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth forcibly converted its Orthodox subjects to Catholicism, but allowed them to continue to use the Byzantine rite and to retain Eastern customs, such as married priests. Indeed, the head of the Catholic church in Ukraine is popularly referred to as “patriarch”—patriarch being the highest rank within the Orthodox Church and a misnomer in multiple senses in this case, as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has not been designated a patriarchate by Rome and Rome has, instead, given its leader the unique title of “major archbishop.” The unorthodox use of patriarch, highly significant in Orthodoxy as a marker of hierarchy, underscores the Greek Catholic Church’s appropriation of Orthodox symbols in its culturally hybrid environment. While its followers form only 6 to 7 percent of the population, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is well known for its vocal pro-Western position in politics and was disproportionately represented in the recent protests (by some estimates, 25 percent of the Euromaidan protestors identified as Catholic). Centered in the western city of Lviv, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and its major archbishop have vehemently protested Russian involvement in Ukraine, and have advocated a Ukrainian-speaking Ukraine aspiring for European integration. The Catholics have warm relations with the UOC-KP, and both the major archbishop of the Catholics and the patriarch of the Kiev Patriarchate have sought support from America and Europe—ranging from Brussels to the Heritage Foundation—in their campaign against any form of intervention from Moscow, be it ecclesiastic or military.

Since Crimea’s announcement to hold a referendum, Patriarch Filaret and Major Archbishop Sviatoslav have been urging for Russian troops to pull out of Crimea and for the priests of the Moscow Patriarchate to use their influence to defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Filaret has expressed fears that the Kiev Patriarchate churches may be transferred to (that is, seized by) the Moscow Patriarchate. Sviatoslav has warned of threats of violence against Catholic clergy, a reasonable fear considering that Orthodox clergy and property were likewise targeted in different areas of Ukraine during the Maidan protests. Last Sunday, the day of the Crimea referendum, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow gave a speech that did little to assuage their fears: while demanding an end to violence, he emphasized that the Ukrainians were brothers, and that Russia and Ukraine were part of “Holy Rus,” the medieval Slavic kingdom that began in the tenth century. This language of Rus and brotherhood only stoked fears that Moscow saw Crimea—if not all of Ukraine—as its own, and despite Kirill invoking Rus, his detractors were reminded of the Soviet Union and its imperial legacy.

However, on Wednesday, March 19, the Moscow Patriarchate announced that the churches of Crimea would remain under Ukrainian leadership. This came as a surprise to nearly everyone. In effect, the Holy Synod (the leadership body of the Moscow Patriarchate) has doubled down on its promise of treating the Ukrainian church under its jurisdiction as a sister and not as offspring. In fact, Crimea’s political but not ecclesial redefinition has allowed the Moscow Patriarchate to trumpet the Orthodox Church as a dynamic and global communion, rising above petty political squabbles, much as it did during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. Citing the example of Montenegro, which is now a sovereign nation, but whose churches are part of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Synod said that (translation my own): “the borders of the local Orthodox churches quite often do not coincide with the borders of the state and they do not change under the influence of political pressures.” This was hardly the case in the wake of the catastrophic events surrounding the creation and destruction of the U.S.S.R—one might read the Synod’s address as a smart and lasting strategy for attempting to maintain its religious unity (and thereby authority) without appearing to be in Putin’s shadow.

While quiet may be falling over Crimea and Kiev’s Maidan, one ought to bear in mind that religious differences, real or perceived, were never the catalyst for the protests and referendum of the last months. Studies from Ukraine and the United States resoundingly confirm that the people of Ukraine are most concerned about their economic lives—employment, inflation, healthcare—and are most angry about political corruption, cronyism and the oppression of protesters. If churches—Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist or other—want to show their support for the well-being and self-determination of the Ukrainian people, they would be best off using their social, cultural, and political leverage to ensure better lives and better governance for their congregations.

March 26th, 2014

Varieties of Religious Establishment

posted by

In a recently published edited volume, Varieties of Religious Establishment, editors Winnifred Fallers Sullivan and Lori G. Beaman ask contributors to think about religion in public life by considering varieties of religious establishment, rather than of religious freedom. From the publisher:

Advocacy for religious freedom has become a global project while religion, and the management of religion, has become of increasing interest to scholars across a wider range of disciplines. Rather than adopting the common assumption that religious freedom is simply incompletely realized, the authors in this book suggest that the starting point for understanding religion in public life today should be religious establishment. In the hyper-globalized world of the politics of religious freedom today, a focus on establishments brings into view the cultural assumptions, cosmologies, anthropologies, and institutions which structure religion and religious diversity.

Leading international scholars from a diverse range of disciplines explore how countries today live with religious difference and consider how considering establishments reveals the limitations of universal, multicultural, and interfaith models of religious freedom. Examining the various forms religion takes in Tunisia, Canada, Taiwan, South Africa, and the USA, amongst others, this book argues that legal protections for religious freedom can only be understood in a context of socially and culturally specific constraints.

To read more about the book, please click here. Read a preview here.

March 21st, 2014

The Muslim Marvel

posted by

At Religion Dispatches, TIF editorial associate Wei Zhu reviews the landmark first issue of Ms. Marvel, which features a teenaged Muslim girl from Jersey City.

The introduction of Kamala Khan is the latest in the longstanding tradition of comic books diversifying their characters to better reflect and reach out to their audiences. More specifically, Ms. Marvel #1 is part of the All-New Marvel NOW!, an initiative with the explicit aim of attracting new readers, much like DC Comics’ The New 52 revamp.

The last few years have seen several other notable attempts at creating a more diverse comic universe, from the creation of the Jewish and lesbian Kate Kane (as Batwoman) and the Black and Hispanic Miles Morales (as Spider-Man), to the same-sex wedding of X-Men member Northstar.

Of course, these efforts were not received entirely without controversy. Some saw them as mere publicity stunts, while others decried the minority aspect as feeling forced and tokenish.

Kamala’s creators, then, faced a difficult task. She needed to be shaped by her Muslim background, but not an embodiment of all that is Islam. She needed to be more than a one-dimensional stereotype, but not completely free of cultural specificity.

Fortunately, writer G. Willow Wilson, editor Sana Amanat, and artist Adrian Alphona have created a superheroine who stands well on her own.

Read the full piece here.

March 17th, 2014

Securing the Sacred: Religion, National Security, and the Western State

posted by

In his new book, Securing the Sacred, Robert M. Bosco examines how secular states attempt to understand and engage religious ideas and actors in the name of national security. Specifically, Bosco argues that religion became a “national security enigma” for Western, secular states after 9/11. The book compares and contrasts the framing of religion as a national security referent by France, the United Kingdom, and the United States following 9/11, and traces the successes and failures of the policies that flowed from these framings. From the publisher:

Despite significant theoretical distinctions between securitization on the domestic and the international levels, he finds that the outcome of addressing religion within the context of security hinges upon partnerships. Whereas states may harness the power of international allies, they cannot often find analogous domestic allies; therefore, states that attempt to securitize religion at home are more vulnerable to counterattack and more likely to abandon their efforts. This book makes a significant contribution to the fields of political theory, international relations, Islamic studies, and security/military studies.

To read more about the book, please click here.

March 10th, 2014

Egypt after the coup

posted by

EGYPT-POLITICS-UNREST, by Flickr user Globovisión | CC BY-NC 2.0

On July 3, 2013, after four days of intense public protests, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was removed, by force, from elected office. A violent backlash against Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, quickly followed his ouster. Hundreds of protesters—perhaps thousands—were killed when Egyptian security forces raided a pro-Morsi sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque. Several news outlets sympathetic to the Brotherhood have been shuttered and journalists have been detained. Morsi himself is on trial on various charges filed after the coup, and has been kept in a soundproof cage during recent proceedings.

The backlash against Morsi and the Brotherhood reflects deep tensions in Egyptian society over the place of religion in politics and public life. Though the turmoil in the streets has subsided over the last eight months, debate has raged around Egypt’s new constitution, which was approved in a referendum in January 2014. Critics of the constitution focused, in particular, on a provision that bans parties formed “on a religious basis,” which could have consequences for opposition voices on both ends of the spectrum. As Marwa Yaha reports, though Islam remains the state religion, scholars of Egypt predict that Islamic parties will be banned, forcing them to move underground and narrow their focus to a “virtually singular goal: resistance to the military-backed government.”

Meanwhile, the government is expanding its crackdown to an “ever-widening list of enemies,” including Islamic charities, all the while blaming the Brotherhood for the unrest. Some commentators, notably Ashraf El-Sherif and Ed Husain, have argued that the Brotherhood must adapt if it hopes to reenter Egyptian politics, primarily by distancing itself from ultraconservative Islamic sects and moving to the center.

In addition, several observers have examined the “problem of religion” in Egypt. At openDemocracy, Qatari scholar Amr Osman predicts that the fundamentally conservative scholars in Egypt’s “religious establishment” will draw closer to the military government, providing religious justifications for violence and repression. In her interview with scholar Saiyad Ahmad, Johana Bhuiyan details the use of fatwas for this purpose:

"Religion is for God, and the revolution is for all," by Joseph Hill | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“WPJ: Simply stated, have fatwas become politicized?

S.A.: Absolutely. How could they not? I think that people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, invariably commit an unintentional error when discussing and studying Islam and Muslims, and that is that even with the advent of modern times the vast majority of Muslims who do not live in the West simply do not separate politics and religion. They do not consider religion to be one compartment and politics to be another. For them, religion is politics, and politics is religion.”

Meanwhile, at Religion Dispatches, Asma Afsaruddin writes that all sides in the Egyptian conflict are guilty of exploiting religious rhetoric to advance their goals:

“The cynical use of religion to justify calculated political strategies is in fact disturbingly evident on both sides. Al-Sisi and his allies have declared Morsi’s supporters to be “terrorists” guilty of inciting violence against the government, drawing a ready equation between Islamism and terrorism.…

Certain members of the Muslim Brotherhood on the other hand claim to be carrying out a “jihad” against the military government and have been willing to register their moral outrage by risking death at the hands of the army.

Well-established Islamic political thought and history would prove both sides to be abusing Islamic legal terminology. From the viewpoint of classical scholarship, Muslims do not wage jihad against one another; the military form of it was reserved for external aggressors only.”

The crisis in Egypt has also proved thorny for U.S. policymakers, many of whom express disappointment in the apparent “failure” of the democratic experiment there. However, writes Dr. Kent Davis-Packard, Americans and Egyptians disagree on a fundamental level about the meaning and importance of democracy:

“What has democracy done?” lamented a cab driver, who said he would prefer Egypt to go back to the days of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. “People have died. We have more violence and no security.” For Egyptians like him, democracy was the process by which a government—the Muslim Brotherhood—was elected, failed and then was removed from power by a dramatic street uprising with the help of the military. They heard the West’s encouragement to turn back to the ballot box. But from the people’s perspective, the ballot box did not bring “bread, freedom and social justice”—their demands at Tahrir Square. Instead, it brought constant conflict, uncertainty and no relief from increasingly dire security and economic problems. Like two ships passing in the night, western leaders continue to call for democratic transition in Egypt—while Egyptians increasingly wonder whether democracy can really get them what they want.”

The 2013 coup has also prompted reflection on both the fruits and challenges of the 2011 “Arab Spring.” At the Washington Post, Max Fisher questions the objectives of a new documentary about the uprising. Khaled Famy asks what has really changed in Egypt since 2011. For the French magazine OrientXII, Peter Harling and Yasser el-Shimy reflect on “Egypt’s Quest for Itself.” Finally, on his blog, journalist Patrick Galey looks back on the events he covered last year, asserting that “2013 was the year the revolution died.”

March 10th, 2014

Scientology as religion

posted by

As part of the discussion and workshop on “Beyond Critique,” Lorenzo Zucca, Reader in Jurisprudence at King’s College London, writes about the definition of religion as it relates to Scientology. At I·CONnect, the blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law, he writes:

Scientology is a religion: this much is clear in the UK Supreme Court’s December 11 ruling in the high profile case of Hodkin v Registrar. The facts of the case are simple. Mrs. Hodkin wants to get married in Church with her fiancé. The only problem is that the Church of Scientology is not registered as a place of worship according to the Place of Worship Registration Act 1855 (PWRA). Moreover, a 1970 precedent of the Court of Appeal (Segerdal) ruled that Scientology is not a religion because it does not believe in any God (Lord Denning), and in any case it does not worship in a manner that can be compared to any other established religion (Winn & Buckley LJ).

Last week, the UK Supreme Court overruled its precedent in a clear and forceful way. Scientology is a religion and its premises should be registered for the purpose of solemnizing a religious marriage. This result is not surprising and largely expected. It seems to be the correct result since there was no readily available principled reason to exclude Scientology from a religious benefit that applies to all other religions.

Read more here.