Law and religious (un) freedom in the global era

Is promoting “religious freedom” as a legally enforceable “right” the best guarantee for the free exercise of religion and for the accommodation of difference within deeply plural societies? This conference explores religion in and beyond law.

In today’s world religion tends to be practiced in spaces regulated by different layers of codified law. The rising salience of law and the emergence of international legal regimes make it important to ask what assumptions about ‘religion’ are embedded in various forms of ‘secular’ law? Understanding what ‘theory of religion’ (Sullivan 2009) is embedded in modern law is important at this time when great, if not utopian faith, is pinned on its transformative capacities. This is hardly a trivial question given that individual and communal practices are variously protected – or outlawed – depending on whether they are framed as ‘religious’, ‘cultural’ or ‘political’.

Political liberalism renders some religious beliefs and practices invisible, while others become hyper-visible if they do not fit preconceived definitions. Is law and the increasingly globalized language of human rights naturalizing certain conceptions of religion and the category of religion itself? By naturalization we not only mean that law is instrumental in policing boundaries between legitimate/illegitimate, good/bad religion, but that religion may increasingly be conceived as a cultural universal and as a legitimate domain of government. We are also interested in exploring – empirically and conceptually – alternative modes of interreligious engagement – beyond law.


09:15 – 09:20 Welcome, Kari Telle, CMI
09:20 – 10:05 Immunity or Regulation? Religious Freedom as a Technology of Modern Secular Governance
Peter G. Danchin 
(University of Maryland School of Law)
10:05 – 10:15 Q & A
10:15 – 11:00 The World Smith Made
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan 
(Indiana University, Bloomington)
11:00 – 11:10 Coffee break
11:25 – 12:10 Subjects of the Law: Customary Law, Indigenous Rights and Human Rights among Vietnam’s Central Highlanders

Oscar Salemink (University of Copenhagen)

12:10 – 12:25 Q & A