Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Introduction: Pluralism, Proselytism, and Nationalism in Eastern Europe

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Introduction: Pluralism, Proselytism, and Nationalism in Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

In a series of projects conducted over the past decade, the Law and Religion Program of Emory University in Atlanta has explored the religious sources and dimensions of human rights and democracy. These projects have sought to uncover the contributions of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other faiths to the cultivation--and abridgement--of ideas and institutions of human rights and democracy. These projects have also sought to uncover, within these religious cultures, sources and sanctions for an emerging global understanding and practice of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

The obvious premise of these projects is that a regime of law, human rights, and democracy is indispensable to the establishment of local and world order. The less obvious premise is that religion is a vital dimension of any such regime. Democratic and human-rights norms are inherently abstract ideals -- universal statements of the good life and the good society. They depend upon the visions and values of human communities and cultures to give them content and coherence. Religion is an ineradicable condition of human persons and communities. Religion invariably provides universal sources and scales of values by which many persons and communities govern and measure themselves. Religion invariably provides the sources and scales of dignity and responsibility, shame and respect, restitution and reconciliation that democracy and human rights need to survive and to flourish. Religions must thus be seen as indispensable allies in the modern struggle for human rights and democratization. Their faith and works, their symbols and structures must be adduced to give meaning and measure to the abstract claims of democratic and human-rights norms.

Our first project, on "Christianity and Democracy in Global Context" (1989-92), was designed to review the past and potential contributions of Christianity to the precocious rise of democratic movements in various parts of the world. That project commissioned a series of case studies of the positive and negative contributions of Christianity to the democratic transformation of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Latin and Central America, and the former Soviet Union. The findings were reported in a large international conference in Atlanta in 1991, in several journal publications, and in a comprehensive anthology, Christianity and Democracy in Global Context (Boulder, CO, and London: Westview Press, 1993).

Our second project, on "Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective" (1992-96), had a broader theological scope but a narrower legal scope. This project analyzed the positive and negative contributions that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have made and could make to the theory and law of religious rights and liberties. The project commissioned a series of critical studies of both the human-rights theories and laws developed by Christians, Jews, and Muslims and the religious-rights protections offered by political leaders in the United Nations, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. The project's findings were reported in a major international conference in Atlanta in 1994, in a number of journal publications and reports, and in a two-volume anthology, Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective (The Hague and London: Martinus Nijhoff, 1996).

Both projects uncovered a growing paradox of the new global revolution of human rights and democracy. In the 1990's, the world seems to have entered something of a "Dickensian era." We have some of the best human-rights protections and democratic polities on the books but some of the worst human-rights abuses and autocratic policies on the ground. Religious groups -- in all their theological, cultural, and ethnic diversity -- have emerged as both leading villains and leading victims in this Dickensian drama.

Our most recent project, on "The Problem and Promise of Proselytism in the New Democratic World Order" (1996-99), has been focused on one dimension of this emerging global problem of religious conflict -- the growing clash within and between indigenous faiths and foreign faiths over proselytism and conversion. …

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