Hans Joas’s Faith as an Option is primarily concerned with debunking two myths: first, the idea that modernization—advances in technology and the sciences—renders religious belief obsolete; second, the argument that secularization leads to moral decay. Joas, a leading European social theorist, is more than aware that criticisms of these claims are hardly new—contemporary scholars no longer prove keen to establish a law or rule connecting modernization and secularization, and there seems to be little or no correlation between societies with higher rates of atheism and moral decline. Instead, Joas’s study mainly aims to provide a series of illuminating explanations for why these views captured the imaginations of so many for so long.
Posts Tagged ‘human rights’
Mark Fathi Massoud, Assistant Professor of Politics and Legal Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, examines the trials and tribulations of law in Sudan in his new book, Law’s Fragile State: Colonial, Authoritarian, and Humanitarian Legacies in Sudan. In an interview with Jadaliyya, Massoud speaks about his motivation to uncover the essence of how law—and lawlessness—operate in the context of fragile states. Massoud also elaborates on his topic in a blog post at the Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa Blog.
Earlier this summer, The Immanent Frame published an off the cuff exchange about the State Department’s new initiative to engage religious communities in US diplomacy. Conversation and critiques are still going strong; Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, an original contributor to “Engaging religion at the Department of State,” has penned a commentary for Al Jazeera America in which she critiques US faith-based engagement abroad as a violation of the separation of church and state.
This Wednesday will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s landmark “I have a dream” speech and the 1963 March on Washington. In commemoration of the great moment in American civil rights history, scholars and commentators have dedicated much of this past month to recognizing Dr. King’s legacy. At Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron and Adelle M. Banks offer insights from academics of religion and discuss the speech’s continued relevance.
As several contributors to this forum have pointed out, legal provisions regarding religious freedom do not emerge from history fully formed and self-interpreting. At their core, they are iterations of words and texts, (re)produced and (re)authorized by different persons or groups for different purposes. What they mean depends on local facts.
This contribution expands upon this observation by offering a different story about drafting religious rights in a particular place and time. I will show the ways in which religious rights, as rhetoric, serve not as apolitical instruments, but as indicia of political alliances; not as generic, universalizable norms, but as specific formulations of norms suited to particular moments and in service of particular political programs. In this version of the story, religious rights, rather than conclude conflict and harmonize societies, signpost disagreement.
The New York Review of Books’ blog recently posted a debate between women’s rights groups and Human Rights Watch entitled, Women and Islam: A Debate With Human Rights Watch.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently released a new guide, Partnering with Religious Communities for Children, intended to support UNICEF staff and other child rights organizations build effective partnerships with religious communities, in particular religious leaders, networks, and local faith communities.
Like a good movie, the story of international religious freedom offers something for everyone. It pits cowardly oppressors against heroic saviors. It is a story of the triumph of international law over those who fail to adhere to global norms and standards. It is a story of secular tolerance versus violent religion. And today especially, it is a story of the need for the U.S. government and its friends to “convince” others—particularly Muslims—that they should endorse a particular model of religious liberty as a template for organizing and democratizing their politics and societies.
Lila Abu-Lughod and Anumpama Rao—editors of Women’s Rights, Muslim Family Law, and the Politics of Consent, a special issue of SocialDifference-Online—sat down for a conversation with the editors of Jadaliyya.
In its Room for Debate forum, The New York Times recently published a debate on the state of religious freedom in the United States.
The global feminist blog Gender Across Borders, in partnership with Violence is Not Our Culture: the Global Campaign to End Violence Against Women in the Name of ‘Culture,’ is seeking writers for an upcoming series on gender-based violence, culture, and women’s rights. The series will run on October 27th and 28th, and will feature personal narratives, profiles, book reviews, journalistic articles, analytical pieces, critical essays, and editorials.
Saba Mahmood is an anthropologist who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and whose work raises challenging questions about the relationship between religion and secularism, ethics and politics, agency and freedom. Her book Politics of Piety, a study of a grassroots women’s piety movement in Cairo, questions the analytical and political claims of feminism as well as the secular liberal assumptions on the basis of which such movements are often judged. In the volume Is Critique Secular? she joins Talal Asad, Judith Butler, and Wendy Brown in rethinking the Danish cartoon controversy as a conflict between blasphemy and free speech, between secular and religious world views. Now, Mahmood is working on a comparative project about the right to religious liberty and minority-majority relations in the Middle East. We spoke over breakfast in New York City.
A post at the New York Times philosophy blog “The Stone” reflects on the differences between religious and secular underpinnings of human rights. The author, Anat Biletzki, critiques the argument that human rights are impossible without religion, or, particularly, belief in God. Instead, she asserts that the secular basis for human rights is in fact more faithful to humanity than religious justifications, which she defines as rooted in the authority of a superhuman creator (i.e., God) rather than in the value of the human.
Must human rights be grounded in a religious or metaphysical worldview in order for them to be understood and implemented globally? Or should they be developed based on broad consensus, divorced from religious grounds? These are the questions that open Grace Kao’s new book Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World. Kao situates herself between these two positions, developing a rationale for human rights that is based on her retrieval of particular elements of the most prominent methods for justifying human rights approaches.
April 3rd marks the first day of the 2011 Carter Center Human Rights Defenders Forum. The theme for this year’s forum is Religion, Belief, and Women’s Rights. The formal conference on April 5-6 will be webcast live on the Carter Center’s website, and select portions of the conference will be live tweeted by Carter Center staff. Follow the Carter Center’s twitter feed @CarterCenter and join in the discussion at #Women’sRights11.
Early 2011 will mark the first US television broadcast of the critically acclaimed documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Released in 2008, Pray the Devil back to Hell awakened a global audience to the work of the women of Liberia in bringing about peace in their country after a fourteen-year civil war. The film chronicles Christian and Muslim women’s combined efforts to peacefully protest the war, demonstrating that women are active participants in peacebuilding work and that religious traditions and beliefs can be a vital resource for peace and reconciliation.
In a recent Newsweek article, “Saint Sarah,” Lisa Miller chronicles Sarah Palin’s iconic status among evangelical Christian women in the United States, noting that Palin blends talk of politics and faith in a way that resonates among her “mama grizzly” followers. . . . What I find fascinating in the “Saint Sarah” piece, and what I will explore over the summer in this blog, is the ways that the stories we tell—about self, nation, human rights, and other things we hold dear—often reveal a complicated intermingling of the things once characterized as distinctly separate: church and state, religion and politics, spirituality and human rights.
Though currently on sabbatical at the University of Zürich, Richard Amesbury teaches religious and philosophical ethics at the Claremont School of Theology, where he is is involved in establishing a new School of Ethics, Politics, and Society. He is the author of Morality and Social Criticism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and Faith and Human Rights (Fortress, 2008), as well as numerous articles. His interests reach across many themes and fields in which the concept of “religion” is constructed and mobilized, from human rights law to civil religion to the New Atheism.
At the Guardian, Mervyn Thomas contextualizes the recent Chinese government crackdowns on Christian worship.
Talal Asad and Abdullahi An-Na’im both stand at the forefront of the challenging and constructive exchange taking place today between European and Islamic traditions of political, legal, and religious thought. At a recent event organized by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, the two scholars traded questions and criticisms concerning the concept of human rights. Moderated by José Casanova, the discussion addressed the intrinsic limitations and historical failures of the language of human rights, as well as its formidable capacity to challenge autocratic and state-centric distributions of power, creating openings for democratic contestation and political self-determination. The following is a short excerpt of the conversation, which is available for download in its entirety here (pdf). You can see video from the event at here & there.
John Milbank, in his recent essay “Against Human Rights” (PDF), contends that Christian thought demands a notion and practice of justice as objective “right order,” and resolutely does not provide the theological basis for a doctrine of human rights qua the subjectively grounded rights of the claimant, as Nicholas Wolterstorff argues in Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton UP, 2009). A political order grounded solely in subjective rights is, for Milbank, anathema to Christian justice.
In short, I agree with Wolterstorff that, while there is no theory in this extremely diverse array of biblical texts, readers may “nonetheless sense a certain rhetorical unity pervading the great bulk of these writings.” We just disagree about what this narrative unity is. What if we said that the “red thread” (so to speak) which unites these tales is not a “frame” guaranteeing rights but rather the clear and repeated indication that humanity is faced with traumatic contingency, surprise, and uncertainty, and that they are at times (for this very reason) subjects of remarkable, even Promethean moments of invention?
At first glance, Justice is an internecine wrangle between theists (or better put, Christians). On the one side is Alasdair MacIntyre and his crowd, with their passively pious, neo-Aristotelian foundationalism. “We are waiting not for a Godot but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict,” MacIntyre concludes in his After Virtue, and I assume he is waiting still, whoever happens now to be sitting in the chair of St. Peter. On the other side, those like Wolterstorff who hope that Christianity might still have something to say in contemporary conversations about politics, justice, and human rights. Kozinski and Smith take up this wrangle in various ways. But it is a wrangle that I, standing over here, view with some detachment. What do I care whether Christianity can reconcile itself with a theory of inherent rights?
If it is indeed the case that “the social ontology of rights talk generally assumes that, at bottom, the kind of relation between social entities is conflictual or competitive,” then I dissociate myself from that generality. No guilt by association here; I don’t hang out with Hobbes. The agonistic social ontology that James K.A. Smith attributes to me is not mine. To affirm natural inherent rights is not to presuppose such an ontology, nor does my account of such rights presuppose such an ontology. Nothing Smith says shows anything to the contrary.
It does certainly seem, as Simone Chambers points out in “Do good philosophers make good citizens?“, that Dr. Wolterstorff ultimately asserts, rather than adequately demonstrates, that only theistic belief can guarantee human rights in perpetuity for all humans. Why? I think it is because he knows that there is ultimately no philosophical demonstration possible for such a conclusion. […]
Nicholas Wolterstorff’s calm, careful, humble response to my posts might make me look like an overly pugilistic polemicist. But I think he’s just from a different school of pugilism. (As a Canadian and long-time hockey player, I think pugilism is a great way to spend a Friday night, with beers afterward.) Wolterstorff is a careful student of the “bob and weave” school of philosophical polemics, turning ill-advised haymakers into merely glancing blows. I, on the other hand, tend to be a student of the George Foreman school of philosophical polemics (and frequent user of his grills to boot!): I’m easily sucked in by rope-a-dopes. Why stop now?
I want to re-emphasize the structure of my discussion about secular accounts of human rights. The project of trying to ground human rights is the project of trying to find what it is about human beings that gives each and every one a dignity sufficient for their possessing human rights.
I’ll close my contribution to this symposium with some broad brush strokes by suggesting that Wolterstorff’s project can be seen as a powerful, persuasive version of a Whig Calvinism, which, instead of ending up with a neoconservativism, ends up with a theistic liberalism.
Perhaps one might argue that Justice: Rights and Wrongs is not simply a contribution to a conversation among philosophers. It is also a contribution to a public dialogue about human rights and thus a conversation among citizens. Here one might argue that because human rights are the sorts of things that are instituted and enforced by governments, we need to approach the conversation from the point of view of what we could agree upon, and not from the point of view of establishing what we think is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Wolterstorff (not unlike Jeff Stout) sometimes assumes that commitment to liberal democracy is the only way to care about justice; so a critique or rejection of the paradigms of liberal democracy or rights-talk is seen as a lack of concern for justice per se. Thus when he sketches the influential narrative of MacIntyre and Hauerwas, he narrates it as “a hostility to justice and rights”—taking it to be the case that an opposition to rights talk is equivalent to an opposition to justice per se. That seems clearly false to me (to adopt a Wolterstorffian locution!) unless one sets up the matter in a way that simply begs the question.
Everywhere in Justice Wolterstorff’s interest in theological and philosophical history collides with his desire for syllogism, or for causal necessity, or for foundational or axiomatic truth. He is always rushing headlong toward the moment when, blessedly, “it proves impossible not to continue” toward the terminus of thought—indeed, for the moment when we can lay down thinking altogether—even if, lost in the rush, the relief of having arrived at a foundation obscures from the mind its having reached a parallel conclusion, like the sanction of state violence.
It seems to me that what worries Wolterstorff about “right order” theories of justice (i.e., communitarian accounts) is that they leave justice at the whim of a particular story, a particular community, and thus leave the wronged without recourse, without a basis for appeal. If rights are going to “work”—that is, if they are going to provide an extra-story and supra-community criterion for naming wrongs—then the worth of the human person needs to be grounded in some feature or property that is not conditioned by a particular story and which is a feature of all human beings.
Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs is a unique—and uniquely readable—book. It skillfully constructs a case for the continuing force of political discussions of rights, properly understood not only in their “possessive” articulations, but also more broadly as social articulations of “rights against” others in pursuit of life-goods. The point of this rather subtle turn is to take on those who would reduce rights discourse to a kind of flattened and shallow individualism, as well as to argue against modern eudaimonist thinkers who would reject the language of rights altogether. […]
Why should we conclude that God’s love for human beings takes the form of attachment love as opposed, for instance, to the agape love dominant in the Christian tradition? Why should we conclude that God loves us at all? And if God and God’s love exist, why should we conclude that God loves every human being equally?
Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs is a profoundly ambitious book. His normative aspiration is nothing less than “speaking up for the wronged of the world” by reorienting contemporary thinking on rights and justice. … But what about the practice of liberal democracy? What would it mean to govern so that members of a society can “enjoy the goods to which they have a right”? Justice is not a book of practical application, but it is clearly on Wolterstorff’s mind.
The truly dynamic discussion in America today about religion and politics is not between “wall of separation” secularists and Christian political theologians attempting to turn American into a theocracy. Instead, the promising but fledgling discussion is between religious and non-religious democrats who are acutely aware of the two horns of this essential American dilemma. First, one has a right to express one’s convictions in whatever terms one holds them, including religious terms; second, one cannot assume that one’s fellow citizens’ convictions are shaped by the same terms.
In December, we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, it has served as a charter for the modern human rights movement. Many scholars are unaware of the religious underpinnings of the Declaration. […]
The central claim of Nicholas Wolsterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs is that justice is based on natural human rights that inhere in the worth of human beings, a worth that is bestowed on each and every human being through God’s love. He contrasts this view of “justice as inherent rights” with an alternative notion of “justice as right order,” the view that was espoused by pagan philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle and dominated philosophical thinking until relatively recent times. […]
In the Muslim world, as in Europe and much of the world, Obama is welcomed as an internationalist president.
For human rights advocates in Turkey, all political alliances are necessarily alliances of convenience. The reasons for this are myriad, ranging from the particular militancy of Turkish nationalism, to the bitterness of Turkey’s struggle with Kurdish separatism, to the remarkable trust that Turkish culture continues to bestow on Devlet Baba, the “Father State.” Under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is frequently framed as an Islamist Party and just as frequently as a liberal one, supporters of expanded human rights in Turkey have won significant victories and have many, many reasons for concern. […]
Islam and The Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari`a is avowedly didactic, aiming to persuade Muslims in public debate that constitutional rule of law, human rights and democratic citizenship in a secular state represent the only form of political regime consistent with Islam in the modern world. Despite lengthy and repetitious exposition of the notions of democratic constitutionalism, “civic reason,” citizenship and human rights, An-Na`im fails in his explicit purpose of justifying and legitimizing them in Islamic terms, which appear somewhat incidentally and do not carry the primary charge of justification. In this regard, his preaching can only have an effect on those already converted.
I am grateful for the kind and thoughtful comments posted at The Immanent Frame about Islam and the Secular State. It is fascinating and instructive to see a text grow to have a life of its own, with some readers adding clarification and more effective communication of what one is attempting to say. Even misunderstanding is helpful in alerting an author to the risks of miscommunication, instead of assuming that people do understand what we say as we mean it. Indeed, it is the combination of the author’s purpose and the reader’s comprehension that determines what is actually communicated. It is that complex outcome unfolding over time, and not an author’s unilateral theorizing, that can make “a good theory,” for according to Kurt Lewin’s helpful insight, “there is nothing so practical as a good theory.” In this light, I offer the following reflections in the spirit of contributing to a process of collaborative theory-making. […]
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im’s erudite and thought-provoking book Islam and The Secular State provides a clear-sighted argument made from within the Islamic tradition for a state formation that allows Islamic beliefs and culture to enter the public domain through politics (as one of many rationally contested visions) and thereby influence the laws of the land. The keys to An-Na’im’s vision are Islamic morality and civic reason, both of which, in his interpretation, ensure a shared respect for constitutionalism, citizenship and human rights, and a neutral, secular state that provides an even playing field for public debate and makes sure that non-democratic instincts are kept in check. An-Na’im’s utopian vision stumbles here, however, in failing to provide any mechanisms for achieving its desired outcomes beyond good will, morality, and reason. […]
What is interesting about An-Na`im’s arguments is that they ground the case for the secular state not in the Quran, not in claims about the presence of the imago Dei in the person or in some other source of the person’s intrinsic dignity, not in natural law, some closely similar type of practical reason, or universal moral precepts, but rather in what might be called “second order” observations about the phenomenology of belief, the character of government, the lessons of history, and the like. To be sure, good reasons for the secular state lie therein. But are these arguments sufficient to ground an Islamic case for constitutionalism, human rights, and the secular state? I doubt it.
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im’s expressed goal in Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a is to convince Muslims on religious grounds that, in order for Islam to flourish, they need to establish secular states based on the protection of human rights. I would say in response that convincing Muslims of this would inflect Islamic politics progressively in a world where most of the forces that shape Islamic politics are not indigenously Islamic. […]
If the state is going to enforce any principle from Islamic sources, according to Abdullahi An-Na‘im, then it should implement the principle that the state should not enforce Islamic principles. This is the crux of An-Na‘im’s new book, Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari‘a. An-Na‘im, a renowned Islamic scholar and human rights activist, is a leading member of the generation of Muslim intellectuals that came to prominence in the 1980s as critics of both Islamist revolutionaries and post-colonial dictators. According to An-Na‘im, the secular state is not just a good thing on public-policy grounds; it is also justified on Islamic grounds. […]