Lunch Seminar with Dan Philpott

By Thomas Cavanna

On March 5, Notre Dame Professor Dan Philpott, a leading scholar of religion and global politics, presented his new book, Religious Freedom in Islam: The Fate of a Universal Human Right in the Muslim World Today, at the Center for Strategic Studies.

After briefly discussing why religious freedom is a fundamental human right, Philpott introduced his methodological approach and provided a broad overview of the current situation in the world’s 47 Muslim-majority states. Using data from Pew’s Scale of Religious Freedom, he analyzed the types of religious repression, political regimes, and possible pathways to increased religious tolerance. One of his key insights was that about 25 percent of Muslim-majority states are characterized by a high degree of religious freedom, permitting dialogues with other local religious groups. In particular, the so-called West Africa Seven constitute a bright example despite the recent rise of Islamist groups and existence of serious political challenges.

Philpott distinguished between secularly repressive and religiously repressive political regimes in Muslim-majority states and discussed the ways each attempt to control religion for political gains. He also emphasized that 15 of the 36 secularly repressive regimes covered in his analysis, including Turkey, Egypt, and Syria, have religious populations, which partly contradicts the frequent claim that a regime’s religiosity and its degree of religious repression should correlate. Following his analysis, Philpott offered several policy prescriptions to help improve religious freedom. He drew comparisons with the development of religious freedom within the Catholic Church since 1965 and insisted on the importance of building upon the existing “seeds” within the Islamic tradition and the Koran.

The presentation was followed by many questions from Fletcher students and faculty members from CSS and beyond. Philpott addressed various topics such as the United States’ degree of commitment to religious freedom in the Muslim world after 9/11, the impact of great power geopolitics on local intolerance, the shadow of the colonial past on the present-day Islamic resurgence, the exact meaning of concepts such as “Muslim world,” the connection between religious repression and domestic politics (illustrated by the case of Pakistan in the 1970s), the consequences of the rise of the “culture war” and Islamophobia in the West on the Islamic world, and the special case of India.

CSS would like to thank Professor Dan Philpott for an extremely insightful session and looks forward to the development of his new projects on religion, global politics, and theology.

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