Clare College’s CIRIS Awarded $330,000 from Luce Foundation

Cambridge, UK – The Cambridge Institute on Religion & International Studies (CIRIS), a research centre based at Clare College, Cambridge, has received a three-year grant of $330,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation in support of its role as the secretariat for the Transatlantic Policy Network on Religion and Diplomacy (TPNRD).

The TPNRD Secretariat facilitates communication, coordination, and collaboration among North American and European diplomats whose portfolios include religion-related foreign policy issues. The network is co-chaired by officials from the US State Department and the European External Action Service.

Officially established with support from the Luce Foundation in 2015, the TPNRD builds on the momentum of several antecedent initiatives, including the British Council’s Luce-funded ‘Bridging Voices’ programme. This new grant will enable the TPNRD Secretariat to continue organising biannual conferences and commissioning research papers for the TPNRD whilst also deepening engagement between diplomats and scholars by developing an academic advisory council and creating an online library of resources on religion and diplomacy.

CIRIS Managing Director Judd Birdsall also serves as Executive Director of the TPNRD. A former US diplomat himself, Birdsall received his PhD in Politics and International Studies at Clare College where he is currently a College Research Associate.

“In a world where religion continues to be a pervasive and politically salient force, for both good and ill, the TPNRD is helping our participating foreign ministries enhance their capacity to understand religious dynamics and engage religious communities,” Birdsall said. “I am grateful for the Luce Foundation’s generous support for the TPNRD’s efforts to foster transatlantic conversation and partnership in the field of religion and foreign affairs.”

Clare College Bursar Paul Warren said, “Clare College is delighted to host CIRIS and to facilitate its important work, including its role as the Secretariat for the Transatlantic Policy Network on Religion and Diplomacy.”

About the Luce FoundationThe Henry Luce Foundation seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities. Launched in 2005, the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion in International Affairs, aims to provide intellectual leadership, develop new paradigms for research and teaching, create new resources and networks, and enhance public understanding of and discussion about religion in the international sphere.

About the Cambridge Institute on Religion & International StudiesCIRIS is a multi-disciplinary research centre based at Clare College, Cambridge that provides students, policymakers, and the general public with credible and engaging insights to shape new scholarship, sound policy, and constructive debate on the role of faith in global affairs. For more information, please visit CIRIS.org.uk.

CIRIS contact: info@ciris.org.uk

 

CIRIS Research Associate Tobias Müller Contributes Chapter to Report on Muslims in Europe

13 July 2017 – CIRIS Graduate Research Associate Tobias Müller recently contributed a chapter in a report on Muslims in the UK and Europe published by the Centre for Islamic Studies at Cambridge University. Müller’s chapter, ‘Constructing Islam and Secularism in the German Islam Conference,’ argues that beyond the intentions expressed by government officials, the aims of the Conference and the expectations towards Muslims prescribe major restructuring measures of the Muslim community, cooperation with security agencies, and alignment with an undetermined set of “German values.” The full report, co-edited by Paul Anderson and Julian Hargreaves, presents papers from a symposium the Centre for Islamic Studies held in May 2016.

CIRIS Facilitates Diplomatic Network Conference in Helsinki

2 June 2017 – This week CIRIS facilitated a conference in Helsinki, in collaboration with the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for the Transatlantic Policy Network on Religion and Diplomacy (TPNRD). The network met with the Lutheran Archbishop of Finland, the Orthodox Metropolitan of Helsinki, and with a range of Helsinki-based scholars and practitioners active at the intersection of religion and international affairs. CIRIS’s role as the secretariat for the TPNRD is supported by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

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The TPNRD with the Archbishop of Finland, Kari Mäkinen.

 

CIRIS Research Associate Edits Special Journal Issue on Religion and Violence

2 May 2017 – CIRIS Graduate Research Associate Matthew Rowley recently edited a collection of essays for the journal Transformation. The special issue, coedited with Dr Emma Wild-Wood, focuses on religion, hermeneutics and violence. Central to each essay is the relationship between readers, texts, and killing. Key questions addressed in the volume include:

  • What causes religious violence? 
  • What is the relationship between beliefs, texts and violence done in the name of God? 
  • How should one respond to historical violence within their own tradition? 
  • How should one respond to acts of violence performed by those in another faith community? 
  • How are harmful beliefs formed and what can be done to prevent believers from doing the unbelievable? 

Rowley contributed two articles to the collection. The co-authored introductory article summarises ‘the state of modern scholarship on key debates concerning religion and violence, [and] encourages the careful study of how individuals or groups in peculiar historical circumstances interact with their sacred texts and beliefs in a way that facilitates violence or oppression’.

Rowley’s second article examines how people come to ‘inhabit’ a particular sacred text and frame their violence through that text. As case studies, the article looks at individual violence (child sacrifice), communal violence (conquest), and eschatologically oriented violence (cosmic war). It ‘examines one common practice among many who believe their killing pleases or is willed by God—inhabiting biblical texts. Focusing on the Abrahamic and Mosaic narratives and on eschatology, [it explains] part of the process whereby individuals and groups come to believe that they are participating in killing patterned on or prophesied in scripture. Finally, this article [suggests] a scripture-based approach aimed at moving an individual or group away from the harmful habitation of sacred texts’.

Contents:

  1. ‘Religion, Hermeneutics and Violence: An Introduction’ (Matthew Patrick Rowley and Emma Wild-Wood).
  2. ‘The Use of Violent Biblical Texts by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda’ (Helen Nambalirwa Nkabala).
  3. ‘Early Modern Religious Violence and the Dark Side of Church History’ (John Coffey). 
  4. ‘Christian Responses to Islamism and Violence in the Name of Islam’ (Colin Chapman).
  5. ‘Child Sacrifice, Conquest and Cosmic War: On the Harmful Habitation of Biblical Texts’ (Matthew Patrick Rowley).
  6. ‘Christian Hermeneutics and Narratives of War in the Carolingian Empire’ (Robert A.H. Evans).

Sage has made articles 1, 3 and 4 open access.

Birdsall Addresses Tbilisi Conference on Religion and Soft Power

16 March 2017 – CIRIS Managing Director Judd Birdsall presented a paper this week on ‘Religion, Politics, and Soft Power: Examples from U.S. Diplomacy’ at a conference at Tbilisi State University exploring ‘Religion and Soft Power in the South Caucasus’. The conference was coordinated by the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP) and the University of Fribourg, and made possible by the financial support of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SCOPES-Program). The conference showcased the publication of a new compendium of policy memos on religion and soft power in the South Caucasus region.

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Photo credits: Georgia Institute of Politics

Birdsall Speaks on Washington Panel on Future of US Religious Freedom Policy

1 Nov. 2016 – Today CIRIS managing director Judd Birdsall participated in a panel discussion on the topic Can the Politics of Religious Freedom Stop at the Water’s Edge?: Faith, Freedom, and Foreign Policy in the Next Administration. The event was hosted by Pepperdine University in partnership with the Institute for Global Engagement. The panel also featured Tom Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute, and Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation. All three speakers contributed articles to a recent issue of The Review of Faith & International Affairs.

Video of the entire event will be posted when available.

 

CIRIS Commissions Report on the Marrakesh Declaration

cover3 Oct. 2016 – CIRIS has co-published a new report with the US Institute of Peace (USIP) on the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities. The report explores how policymakers and practitioners can further the aims of this seminal declaration.

Susan Hayward, director of Religion and Inclusive Societies at USIP, authored the report and presented it to the Transatlantic Policy Network on Religion and Diplomacy at the network’s consultation in Washington in June 2016. Hayward attended the January 2016 conference in Marrakesh that produced the Declaration and has closely monitored its impact and implementation.

Summary from the front page of the report:

  • In recent years, ethnic and religious minorities around the world have faced new threats due to the rise of violent extremist groups and exclusionary nationalist movements. In areas where movements associated with the self-declared Islamic State operate, religious minorities have been treated with particular brutality.
  • Motivated, in part, by concern for this reality, over three hundred Islamic scholars, politicians, and activists, as well as a small group of interfaith observers, gathered in Morocco in January 2016 to affirm the rights of minorities living in Muslim-majority contexts.
  • The conference’s Marrakesh Declaration and the legal framework that informs it draw from Islamic tradition, particularly the seventh century Charter of Medina, to affirm equal citizenship as an Islamic principle and traditional form of governance prescribed by Prophet Muhammad.
  • The Marrakesh Declaration is a powerful response to a pressing global human rights concern and a model for how religious tradition and international human rights law can be mutually reinforcing. This initiative can serve as a powerful resource for legitimizing and advocating for minority rights and equal citizenship more broadly within the Muslim world.
  • Its true test of impact will be in its implementation—the extent to which the ideals, principles, and actions envisioned in the Declaration can spread beyond its purview as an elite enterprise to ignite and mobilize a broad-based movement for social, legal, and political change.
  • Those from non-Muslim majority contexts wishing to support the Marrakesh Declaration must be careful not to undermine its legitimacy as a Muslim-led initiative, particularly in contexts where minority rights and religious freedom have historically been used as pretext for colonialism and Christian missionizing.

Interview: LSE’s Jim Walters on De-problematising Religious Diversity

Walters

In May 2016 CIRIS hosted a seminar with The Revd Dr James Walters, chaplain and interfaith advisor at the London School of Economics. Here CIRIS research associate and Cambridge Divinity PhD student Chris Moses gets Walters’ thoughts on the challenges and opportunities posed by religious diversity on university campuses.

 

CIRIS: Can you tell us a bit about your professional trajectory, including your role at the LSE Faith Centre?

The Revd Dr James Walters: What I love about my role at the LSE is that it’s gathered together all strands from my life so far: a love of priestly ministry, academic interests, and experience in politics. And I guess the new thing that was added through this role has been engagement in interfaith relations, which I had some experience of before, but it has really developed in a new way at the LSE.

 

CIRIS: Can you give some background about the establishment of the LSE Faith Centre?

JW: I think it came out of discussions that began at the LSE after the 7/7 bombings in London, which generated a lot of anxiety about religious cohesion within the city more broadly, and on the LSE campus. That also coincided with the incorporation of religion and belief into the Equality Act, which was passed in 2010. So, there was a perceived need for some kind of facility to make it possible for religious people to express their faith on the campus.
What I have sought to add since I took up post has been the slightly more constructive agenda of seeing the opportunities presented by a very diverse international study body for developing religious understanding and interfaith cohesion as a preparation for graduation into a world where religious conflict is very much on the agenda.

 

CIRIS: What have been the greatest challenges to date?

JW: There’s often moments of crisis, and they require a constructive response. They might relate to events in the wider world, such as the killing of drummer Lee Rigby or the attack on Gaza, which generate repercussions for the LSE student body.

But I would say the more ongoing challenge has been the cultural shift in terms of LSE’s engagement with religion, and particularly those who were concerned that a secular institution was being made ‘religious’ through the creation of this Centre. What I’ve sought to do is explain that if there’s been a shift it’s been in our understanding of secularism, moved from a programmatic secularism which has sought to say, ‘We don’t want to engage with religion in any way at LSE’, towards a procedural secularism, which acknowledges the fact that we are not a confessional university and there is no privilege according to one religious faith, but we can seek to negotiate provision and opportunity for all the different religious and non-religious perspectives within the student body.

 

CIRIS: How do you reach out to those espousing exclusivist accounts of religion, and would not ordinarily be interested in something like the LSE Faith Centre?

JW: We’re very explicit about our agenda. We do not want to get everybody to agree, as if we could distill all these religious perspectives into something we can all share. That was the old agenda of interfaith relations, which is fortunately no longer in vogue.

Being the LSE, we’re trying to be quite pragmatic about it. We’re looking at a world where there is an escalation in religious violence, and we’re saying, ‘We want to reduce this, and we think an important way to do this is simply understand what other people believe, and to deepen respect people have for other positions’. And to say that, we need to do that in honesty, so we want people to bring the fullness of their beliefs and their perspectives to the table.

 

CIRIS: How does the Faith Centre balance its positive perspective on faith with a meaningful engagement with the many problems associated with religion?

JW: The Centre is founded upon a positive vision of the kind of the world of religious coexistence and understanding that we want to see, and everything we do is working towards that. But, if we don’t open up some cans of worms along the way, then we’re not being honest about how to realise the vision. That includes asking the difficult questions about the treatment of women in faith communities, attitudes towards lesbian gay bisexual transgender people, uses and abuses of scripture, and of course, religious violence. So we’re seeking to have those kinds of conversations respectfully, and without the judgement of secular assumptions, but pursuing the agenda of this positive vision.

 

CIRIS: You’ve had experience of both Cambridge and the LSE. How would you compare the place of chaplaincy in these institutions?

JW: I sometimes feel very grateful that I am chaplain in a secular university, where the engagement with religion is quite a new development. So, we’ve been able to do that without some of the baggage that other confessional universities will have, such as how we stay faithful to our traditions while also expanding. There have been questions for us but of a different order because we are a secular university.

I suppose that for a university with a church heritage like Cambridge the task is different, but there are also advantages. There is already a discourse around religion present, and there are already resources around campus for engaging in a broader conversation about religious pluralism and conflict.

But I think the challenge must be how to develop and expand a Christian heritage that has itself been contested in various ways over the years into something that is responsive to both a more religiously diverse student body and a world where we have to take the non-Christian religions more seriously. And that’s a challenge not just for Oxbridge chapels and chaplains, but for the Church of England more broadly.

 

CIRIS: What is the future trajectory of interfaith relations on campus?

JW: All the evidence points to a more difficult situation. Religion seems to be increasingly contentious in the politics of the National Union of Students, and within universities themselves in many places. But, I hope that we’re modeling something constructive that can at least contextualise those disagreements, and put some energy into a more constructive engagement with religious difference on campus.

Birdsall co-authors new report on transatlantic cooperation on religious freedom

FORB report coverCIRIS managing director Judd Birdsall has co-authored a new policy report on FoRB – Recognising our Differences can be Our Strength: Enhancing Transatlantic Cooperation on Promoting Freedom of Religion or Belief. The briefing is the outcome of two 2015 transatlantic policy dialogues on ‘Freedom of Religion or Belief and Foreign Policy’, one at Wilton Park in the United Kingdom in February 2015 and the other at Georgetown University in the United States in October 2015. The project was funded by a ‘Bridging Voices’ grant from the British Council awarded to the University of Sussex and the University of Notre Dame, in partnership with the European University Institute and the University of Milan. The final report was co-authored by Judd Birdsall, Fabio Petito, Dan Philpott, and Silvio Ferrari.

The Policy Brief suggests a shift in policy emphasis and put forward 7 key recommendations to enhance transatlantic cooperation on the promotion of FoRB worldwide:

1.Draw upon transatlantic church-state differences as an asset
2 ‘IRF’ vs ‘FoRB’ – Be mindful of the subtle differences in language
3 Seek collaboration between ‘religious freedom’ and ‘religious engagement’
4 Upgrading the listening mode – enhance knowledge of and training on FoRB
5 Build coalitions and new multilateral strategies to engage FoRB violators
6 Bolster the nascent multinational and transnational FoRB networks
7 Share stories of struggling with religious diversity

 

For media or other enquiries on the Policy Brief, please contact

In Europe:
Dr Fabio Petito
Department of International Relations
School of Global Studies
University of Sussex, UK
E: F.Petito@sussex.ac.uk

In North America:
Professor Daniel Philpott
Center for Civil and Human Rights
University of Notre Dame, USA
E: James.D.Philpott.1@nd.edu

CIRIS’s Tobias Müller’s MPhil Thesis on ‘Contemporary Islamic Thinkers’ Understandings of Secularism’ Now Available

CIRIS research associate Tobias Müller’s Cambridge University MPhil thesis on Contemporary Islamic Thinkers’ Understandings of Secularism is now available online. Müller’s abstract summarises the thesis this way:

Tobias MPhil cover“The public and academic debate on the relation between Islam and secularism has been forcefully revived since 9/11 and the “Arab Spring”. Especially essentialist and monolithic depictions by Western scholars have claimed the incompatibility of Islam with secularism as a prerequisite for democracy. Another strand of literature claims that evidence of Islam’s democratic essence (Esposito and Voll 1994) offers a wide variety of indigenous Islamic concepts and institutions such as Shura (consultation), ijmaʿ (consensus) and ijtihad (independent reasoning) that provide a tradition with strong reasons for Muslims to adopt “modern” democratic principles and even to a secular state organization. However, these accounts of the “secular potential” in Islam often ignore the conceptual differences and contexts when Islamic thinkers talk about secularism. Moreover, secularism is often only dealt with as a universal by-product or precondition for democracy rather than a distinct multidimensional discursive element. This essay contributes to filling this gap by analysing the understandings of secularism of two eminent contemporary Muslim thinkers, Rachid Ghannouchi and Abdolkarim Soroush. Informed by Dallmayr’s framework of “Comparative Political Theory”, this essay demonstrates that both Ghannouchi and Soroush argue in favour of democracy in Muslim societies with a certain degree of secularism in the sense of a primacy of popular collective decisions over religious rules. Both their visions meet the criteria of Stepan’s “twin tolerations” and thereby prove the possibility of an Islamic doctrinal argument in favour of secularism. However, it is only possible to apprehend their understandings of secularism by relating it to their conceptualizations of modernity and democracy in the postcolonial situation.”