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.
Posts Tagged ‘international affairs’
Having been invited to reflect upon the themes of this forum, first raised during the European University Institute (EUI) workshop “Beyond Critique,” I hope the reader will not mind if I begin my essay with a story about shipwrecks.
In a now-famous talk, the Columbia University historian Carol Gluck suggestively argued that history finds itself, temporally and conceptually, “after the shipwreck.” The “shipwreck,” for Gluck, stands as a metaphor for the destruction of the major metanarratives (scientific objectivism, progress, modernity, chronological linearity, historical materialism, the nation) and paradigms (Marxism, Liberalism, Nationalism) that have underpinned much of modern historiography. The deconstruction of such metanarratives is inseparable from the scholarly turn to critical theory, post-structuralism, and post-colonial approaches to the study of history starting in the late 1980s.
On November 7th, 2013, on the heels of a heated public debate about the role of religion in public life, the government of Quebec tabled its controversial Bill 60, “Charte affirmant les valeurs de laïcité et de neutralité religieuse de l’État ainsi que d’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes et encadrant les demandes d’accommodement” (Charter affirming the values of state secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests). The legislation, introduced by Bernard Drainville, the minister for Democratic institutions and active citizenship, seeks to affirm the religious neutrality of the state, specifically by prohibiting public sector employees—including those working in hospitals, schools, daycare centers, and universities—from wearing “signes ostentatoires” [conspicuous religious symbols], examples of which include hijabs, kippas, Sikh turbans, and “large” crucifixes. The legislation also proposes to amend Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, in order to enshrine the equality of men and women as the highest human right, to which other rights (e.g. freedom of religious expression) would be subordinated.
The slim crescent that rose above the skyline on July 9th signifies the beginning of this year’s holy month of Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where I have been teaching for the last four years. Pious Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking, sex, swearing, and other unlawful behaviors from dawn to dusk, following the traditions of the Prophet to get closer to God. During this sacred month of spiritual renewal, the ritual of sharing food after sunset, known as Iftar, serves important social functions such as bringing families together and reinforcing community bonds. As the last strands of sunlight disappear from the horizon, many celebrate the day by enjoying a lavish dinner with friends and family. In the UAE, as everywhere else, Iftar parties have also become an opportunity for Muslims to reach out to non-Muslims and for non-Muslims to reciprocate the hospitality.
I have been fortunate enough to attend a number of Iftars parties this Ramadan, hosted by several institutions, both secular and religious. The most recent Iftar party that I attended was hosted by the Chinese Consulate General in Dubai, in a popular family restaurant situated on the legendary Sheikh Zayed Road. To strengthen the Unified Front and in the interest of building harmonious relationships among Chinese communities overseas, the Consul General extended invitations to more than 150 Chinese expatriates from various walks of life and different ethnic backgrounds, both Muslims and non-Muslims.
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.
The Transatlantic Academy is seeking candidates to serve as resident Fellows from September 2014-June 2015 to examine the research theme, Religion and the Liberal Order.
For those of you following The Immanent Frame‘s off the cuff discussion of the new State Department’s office of religious engagement, officially announced as the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, another perspective can be added into the mix.
In late July, The Immanent Frame published a set of reflections on the Department of State’s plans for a new office dedicated to engaging religion. Following an official announcement by Secretary Kerry on August 7th, scholars and policy commentators have continued to weigh in on the implications, challenges, and potential of the new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives.