Religion and Human Rights: An Introduction

By John Witte Jr.; M. Christian Green | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

For several years, in order to take part in a University of Minnesota Law School project, I accepted the invitation of Professor Robert Stein to spend a day annually with advanced participants. They were working with him on “The Rule of Law.” Religion, not law, being my own scholarly field, I might have felt out of place. The first session convinced me that religion was very much in place, a conviction reinforced now by my reading of the essays which follow. The subfield I was to address had to do with my own project of some years earlier, a comparative study of the ways in which what we called “militant religious fundamentalisms” related to the rule of law in various polities and nations.

Finding cases for examination back then was easy, particularly because in the score of years after the Cold War ended, few subjects bade for attention more urgently than understanding such totalistic and belligerent uses of religion in international affairs. In my several meetings with the seminar, I would come armed with an outline of that season’s topic and a sheaf of recent clippings or print-outs detailing the ways such religious movements or governments created problems for everyone who did not share the fundamentalists’ views. Significantly, almost all these documentations, no matter what other topics they discussed—whether ritual, doctrine, strategy, or ways of life—revealed that the pinch point, finally, was the rule of law and challenges to it.

So radically did these problems and points increase in number and complexity that in 2008 I threw in the figurative towel, admitting in combined awe and resignation that I could not stay ahead or even keep up. Had this new book been available to me, I would have had much more to say and explore in the face of these most stressful and distressing set of questions. These revolved around one theme: What does religion or what do religions have to say about human rights, and, what do legal, political, and military conflicts over human rights have to do with and say about religion?

The “Rule of Law” seminars did not isolate and concentrate on this most profound theme, but instead set it into context. To prepare for that pursuit, I found significant resource in a book which anticipates this one: Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective: Religious Perspectives (John Witte, Jr., and Johan D. van der Vyver, eds. (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1996)). Some of the authors in that earlier book reappear in this one, having been given an opportunity to revisit, update, and advance their earlier research and essays. What is here now reinforces the case that the question of “Religious Human Rights” is at or near the center of multitudes of “rule of law” issues with which legal scholars, jurists, lawyers, religious leaders, and the public must deal. Were I to return to the scene of the seminars in Minnesota, this would be my first reference work and a volume I would commend

-vii-

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