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Religion and International Affairs: Through the Prism of Rights and Gender a project funded by the Henry Luce Foundation

“What has happened, in my view, over the centuries is that there’s been so much focus on what women wear that we lose sight of what I think are the more important levers of women’s empowerment, which are women’s access to education, to health care and the opportunity to earn and control income.” —Isobel Coleman

ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict

The Henry Luce Foundation

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Arizona State University promotes interdisciplinary research and education on the dynamics of religion and conflict with the aim of advancing knowledge, seeking solutions, and informing policy. The Center brings together faculty and students from across the disciplines; creates links between the academic world and that of professionals, policymakers, practitioners, and religious leaders; and fosters crosscultural exchange through partnerships and collaborations with international scholars, students, and institutions.

The Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs seeks to deepen understanding of religion as a critical but often neglected dimension of national and international policies and politics. The initiative awards grants that build on existing or emerging efforts at U.S. universities, public policy institutions, and the media, to strengthen or create new programs, to focus on particular issues, or to amplify synergies among those working at the intersection of religion and international affairs.

From the Project Directors


he relations among human rights, religion and gender are complex and fraught, the site of deep divisions and passionate convictions. We launched this multiyear project at Arizona State University to create the space and sustained cross-disciplinary exchanges needed to explore this terrain more fully and deliberately than popular discourse or any single disciplinary approach can do. With generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation, we were able to field a wide range of activities and programs. The following pages provide an overview of ASU’s initiative on “Religion and International Affairs: Through the Prism of Human Rights and Gender,” including the resources, programs, and key insights that emerged from it. Anchoring the project was a multiyear seminar that brought together faculty from across the university’s disciplinary landscape, including political science, religious studies, law, global studies, gender studies, anthropology, and history. The initiative also supported team-taught graduate seminars, visiting scholars and practitioners, international fellows, individual research grants, and a culminating conference—all of which enhanced and deepened the work of faculty seminar participants. The angles into the topic were strikingly different, and eye opening for the participating faculty. The disciplinary assumptions and interpretive frames that each scholar brought to the seminar presented a microcosm of the broader polarized discourses that have sprung up around the site of gender, religion, and rights around the globe. The sustained discussions over the course of the project succeeded in tempering some of the more contentious stances, though, as one might expect from such a large multifaceted project, no single conclusion or policy take-away neatly summarizes the myriad insights that emerged. The search for consensus, while strong, was often elusive. True to the spirit of the project, this booklet captures an array of voices reflecting on the project’s core themes. Not a simple synthesis of lessons learned, it is more of a collage of perspectives refracting the disciplinary range and interests of the participants. Although speaking in one voice about the critical importance of rights to gender justice, the different

reflection pieces that follow consider some of the challenges, obstacles, and limitations—particularly in relation to religion—as they play out in national and international contexts. Some of the pieces sound a cautionary note about the limits of the universal conceit of human rights discourse. Such claims to universality alternately can strengthen or weaken the cultural specificities and political commitments that undergird human rights discourse. On the one hand, universality has conferred a moral clarity, power, and urgency to human rights that has been astonishing in its spread and influence in recent decades. On the other hand, pretentions to universality can harbor insensitivity to alternate values and vocabularies that also ground human dignity and advance human flourishing. The universal positioning of rights limits its own reach when it fails to engage adequately local discourses and practices. Sometimes this can even fuel oppositional discourses anchored in charges of Western imperialism and antireligious secularism. Surely this undermines efforts to confront the gravest injustices that women face. In tandem with such insights and critiques, throughout the project faculty addressed the ambiguities that mark the distinction between scholarship and public engagement. As scholars, we sought to connect our work—which historicizes, contextualizes, and entertains limitations about human rights discourse—with the reality of troubling human rights abuses that persist around the world and at home. How does scholarly work impact the urgency and momentum of a movement that has been so transformative in our time? This project grappled with and challenged— through our sometimes difficult dialogues over the convergence of rights, religion, and gender—the enduring assumptions of the clash of civilization narratives that circulate within the academy and the broader public around this nest of issues. It also envisioned moving beyond this simplistic rhetoric to enhance the likelihood of partnerships and alliances that will further justice for women, and foster human flourishing and mutual understanding nationally and internationally. Linell Cady and Carolyn M. Warner


ho W l r i G a n Dow n u G n a b i Tal ghts i R r o f p 0, 2012 U , October 1 s e Spoke im T rk o —New Y

We All Are

—The Daily Bea

Madonna S to Support trips Down Malala —New York Daily New s, October 14, 2012




2012 ast, October 16,

A Snapshot: The Malala Moment When Taliban members gunned down three Pakistani girls in October 2012, fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai became the most famous youth in recent history to be targeted for assassination—and presumably the only person to be riding a school bus at the time. Shot at point blank range, the precocious Malala was singled out for her passion to learn, her outspoken commitment to education, and her advocacy of children’s rights—in other words, for challenging the Taliban’s religious values. Indeed, while defending the attack and threatening future ones, a Taliban spokesman pegged Malala as “a symbol of Western culture.” Speaking out on behalf of the country, Pakistan’s top public officials loudly decried the assault upon “our daughter” and “our pride.” Some citizens even wagered that Malala’s shooting would provide new impetus “to root out terrorism.” Yet, as news spread around the world and people rushed to support Malala’s cause and miraculous recovery, other fissures deepened. Critiques and conspiracy theories took hold, many of which impugned the United States and its own history of targeted killings in Pakistan. The “Malala moment” seemed to be fading, overshadowed, it seems, by other global forces. Consider this as a snapshot of how complexly human rights and gender have become interwoven in the twenty-first century: on the same day that Malala was undergoing surgery to remove a bullet lodged in her back (near her spinal chord), the pop megastar Madonna held a concert in which she peeled off her clothes to reveal “MALALA” magically marked in bold letters on her lower back (just above her thong). Juxtaposing these two images, one might wonder whether Malala unwittingly had become “a symbol of Western culture” after all. This is but one illustration of a far-ranging, complex set of issues converging in international affairs around the nexus of human rights, religion, and gender. It is this convergence of concerns that the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Arizona State University set out to explore under the auspices of an initiative sponsored by the Henry Luce Foundation. Unpacking the Problem Whatever else may come out of the still unfinished story and life of Malala Yousafzai, she has become an iconic rendering of the global cause of human rights and the increasing importance that rights play for issues involving women and gender. An array of various ideas and assumptions—notably


about religion and secularism—further complicate the relationship between gender and human rights in international affairs. This constellation of forces appears in controversies over female genital cutting/ mutilation, women’s reproductive rights, veiling, and even wars in which the status of women becomes part of the casus belli. In these and other issues, there is reason to wonder how carefully and how well the religious and secular dimensions of gender and rights are understood. Advocates for gender equality often have drawn heavily from secularist human rights discourses, while those opposing such positions have been more inclined to ground their “traditional” positions in religious discourses and scriptural appeals. This presumption that rights and religion are antithetical has been part of a larger narrative about modernity that casts secularism as a liberalizing and liberating force for escaping unenlightened pasts dominated by religion. Such assumptions can be found widely within the academy, government, and other public institutions as well as societies more broadly within, though not limited to, the West. However, traditional paradigms and understandings that have guided modern thought about religion, gender, and rights are also in flux. Many religious actors and institutions have embraced human rights discourses, including those who have offered theological or scriptural justifications for rights. Some women and communities, on whose behalf human rights advocates lobby, resist certain presumptions and goals implicit in rights discourses. In some cases, women have shown themselves strikingly agile enforcers of patriarchal systems that violate women’s rights. Finally, whatever the secular assumptions undergirding rights, all too often secular governments do not defend human rights when it is not in their interest to do so. In these and still other ways, many prevailing assumptions about religion, rights, and gender need to be reexamined and perhaps, in some cases, revised. These themes and related ones are taken up in this booklet through a series of reflection pieces by individual faculty as well as features on the following various components of the research project: n

F  aculty Seminar (pp. 4–5)


I nternational Fellows (pp. 8–9)


V  isiting Scholars and Practitioners (pp. 18–21)


I nterdisciplinary Graduate Seminars (p. 22)


R  esearch Awards (p. 23)


S uggested Readings and Sources Cited (p. 24)

The People

Project Directors Carolyn M. Warner Head of Faculty and Professor of Political Science

Linell Cady Director, Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies

Project Team John Carlson Associate Director, Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Miki Kittilson Associate Professor of Political Science

Daniel Rothenberg Director, Center for Law and Global Affairs and Professor of Practice

Rebecca Tsosie Executive Director, Indian Legal Program and Regents’ Professor of Law

Faculty Seminar Participants Madeleine Adelman Associate Professor of Justice Studies

Roxanne Doty Associate Professor of Political Science

Alesha Durfee Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies

Tracy Fessenden Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Mary Margaret Fonow Director, School of Social Transformation and Professor of Women and Gender Studies

Stanlie James Professor of African and African American Studies and Women and Gender Studies

Sally Kitch Director of the Institute for Humanities Research and Regents’ Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies

Joan McGregor Professor of Philosophy

Yasmin Saikia Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies and Professor of History

Shahla Talebi Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

George Thomas Professor of Global Studies

Reed Wood Assistant Professor of Political Science


Luce Faculty Seminar


he Luce Faculty Seminar provided an intellectual forum for in-depth, interdisciplinary, and cross-cultural conversations

around contentious issues involving religion, human rights, and gender. The seminar served as the cornerstone of the project, regularly bringing together faculty from diverse disciplines across the university to engage with visiting scholars and practitioners and to discuss common readings (including many found in the suggested readings in this booklet). The two-year seminar took on a range of topics including the following: the origins of human rights and women’s rights as told through both secular and religious narratives; the role that religion and human rights have played in shaping modern international politics; whether and how women’s rights enhance women’s development and flourishing; the connections and tensions between human rights and culture; the protections and limitations of international law; various critiques of human rights discourses, practices, and organizations; and the relation between women’s rights and U.S. foreign policy. In all, there was sustained attention to the implications of these topics for the status, development, dignity, and equality of women. While individual participants all came to their own conclusions, the faculty overall came to appreciate insights gained by perspectives beyond their own discipline. As well, participants became far more conscious of how their own disciplines formed—and also limited— their approach to the issues.

“One of the overall benefits of participating in a seminar like this is stepping out of one’s own discipline and discovering the tremendous overlap in concerns that often get parceled into disciplinary boxes. At the teaching level, I started using some of the seminar readings in my Ethics and Human Rights undergraduate class, and it has been well received by the students. The readings and related critiques enable them to engage some real life situations, while also being aware of some of the problematic issues involved in the ways we approach these topics.” — Roxanne Doty

“Through the seminar’s readings and discussions, I saw even more clearly how important the inter-section of rights and religious discourses is to gender conflicts in Afghanistan, even when they are not the ostensible subjects of the disagreement. Both are highly contentious discourses, inflected with colonialism, past and present military conflicts, and long memories of abuses and pain. Together they are powerful proxies for gender disparities in Afghanistan and other areas of the world, shaping debates about women’s education, employment, reproduction, and dress.” — Sally Kitch 5

Is Religion the Problem? Linell Cady


have given new legs to this old story. To take one uman rights discourse is now the dominant example, consider a recent Newsweek cover of a riot moral language for pressing claims for justice under the headline blaring “Muslim Rage.” The across the globe. Why is it that women and religion subtitle features the virulent anti-Islam writer Ayaan occupy such charged terrain in this emerging Hirsi Ali’s essay “How I Survived It. How We Can landscape? End It.” In her impassioned piece, she ruminates on The moral, legal, and rhetorical power of human the protests, riots, and violence associated with the rights accrues from its positioning under the mantle provocative anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims.” of secular universalism. Not the province of any one She weaves her personal story—a faith, it stands for universal values woman oppressed by Islam who to which all human beings can lay A particular story of gains freedom through conversion claim. All too often this positioning modern secular progress to secularism—into these and is located within a triumphalist has both fueled human other episodes that she locates story of modern Western progress rights as a global under the rubric of a “clash of that sees history as moving in a discourse and set limits civilizations.” She concludes with linear fashion from a religious past the affirmation that freedom of to a secular future. In this telling, on its reach. We need thought and expression “is a more to better recognize the sacred thing than any religion.” A unanticipated costs and prominent women in the public ironies of ceding religion eye, Hirsi Ali would have us believe the private sphere. It has that women’s rights are ineluctably helped to broker a devil’s tied to secularism, understood to operate in a zero sum game with bargain as secular rights religion. are set in opposition to In our faculty seminar on patriarchal religions, with religion, rights, and gender it was women caught in the striking how readily religion was middle. viewed as “the problem,” with women’s flourishing hanging in the balance of its containment or defeat. It suggests how deeply embedded the secularization narrative remains within most quarters of the academy despite its debunking within others. This view of religion as the problem buys into the secularist caricature of religion—so visibly on display in the Newsweek piece. It leaves off the radar screen religious voices and movements across the globe that are deeply committed to women’s rights and advancing freedoms, as Isobel Coleman’s recent work on Islamic feminisms calls to our attention. The “promotion of religion conjures up superstition, authoritarianism, women’s rights through Islamic discourse” is a rapidly and otherworldly escapism, while secularism lays claim to reason, freedom, and the amelioration of this spreading global movement whose grassroots appeal is closely tied, Coleman observes, to its striving “to world. In this dichotomous framing of the religious work within the values of Islam, not against them” and the secular, gender equality clearly redounds (Coleman 2010, xviii-xiv). This is a vital insight—all to the credit—and continued fortunes—of secular the more remarkable that it comes from a selfprogress. described secular scholar. In this regard, Coleman The inconvenient truth is that religion hasn’t offers quite a contrast to Hirsi Ali. Viewing religion gone away but rather assumed new and sometimes as the problem sidelines the many thinkers from politically powerful forms in recent decades—which multiple traditions who have long recognized the has posed a serious challenge to the secularization religious resonances, for some even roots, of human narrative. This makes it all the more fascinating to rights. watch how concerns to advance women’s freedoms


That said, all too often religion is the problem. The structural separation within modernity between religion and the secular has helped conservative religious authorities to consolidate their power and dominate the private domain—the space to which they are now consigned. Reinforcing traditional gender roles has increasingly become the mark of religious authority and authenticity across traditions and regions. As we saw so clearly in the faculty seminar in the case of Bosnia and Afghanistan, impeccable legal protections concerning women’s rights co-exist with, but are impotent in the face of, patriarchal religious formations that dominate the private sphere. This structural division between religion and the secular, in an ironic twist, also lends itself to conservative religious voices appealing to the freedom of religion as legal trump to constrain women’s rights, evident for example in recent American politics of reproductive freedoms. So conceived, the legacy of secularization, and its division between public and private realms—has given rise to a secular-religious dispensation that itself spawns persistent and pervasive conflicts over gender, both nationally and globally. Such oppositional framing— dividing public/secular/male-dominated spheres from private/religious realms to which women are often relegated—has not always served well as a solution to women’s oppression. It has undermined the extension of human rights to women in the places and domains where those rights are most severely threatened. A particular story of modern secular progress has both fueled human rights as a global discourse and set limits on its reach. We need to better recognize the unanticipated costs and ironies of ceding religion the private sphere. It has helped to broker a devil’s bargain as secular rights are set in opposition to patriarchal religions, with women caught in the middle. Our challenge is in resisting this dichotomous picture and in breaking out of the rigid and deeply politicized renderings of the religion-secular divide that reinforce talk of clashing civilizations and triumphalist accounts of modern Western progress. There are enough empirical touchstones to keep this old story going, but even more to suggest that a new chapter is needed if women’s rights and flourishing are to be secured.

“I think there needs to be a concerted effort to deconstruct the new paradigm that essentializes religion as the only, or the most important, pathway for social change. I think we need to recognize that there are other pathways that sometimes play an even more important role than religion. This does not mean in any way a negation of the importance of culture. But culture and religion need not necessarily be one and the same all the time. I think when we’re talking about development and policy we need to be able to engage with a plurality of actors and a plurality of spaces. We need multiple normative frameworks we can engage with, so that in cases where the sharia advances women’s rights, let us use the sharia. In cases where it’s the international human rights convention, then let us use the international human rights convention. In cases where it is the national constitution, let us use the national constitution.” —M  ariz Tadros Institute of Development Studies (UK)


Luce International Fellows

operate outside the state justice system. The informal system is also popular for resolving disputes because and practitioners from different parts of the world for residential it is closer, quicker, cheaper, and most importantly, because community-based dispute resolution periods that provided opportunities of sustained engagement with practices have the merit of being deeply rooted in ASU faculty and students. Together, they explored the ways in Afghan traditions and principles that are well-known and respected. The reality is that people refer 85 which various issues involving religion, human rights, and gender percent of their cases to informal justice institutions, play out on the ground in particular cases and countries. such as the village or tribal council. Yet these legal systems also often run contrary to women’s interests. Sometimes the legal decisions are unenforceable; seldom are they recorded. In some incidents they violate human rights through practices such as forced marriage and extrajudicial killings. Even where Legal pluralism—the condition of having multiple these informal legal systems have value in terms of kinds of law and different institutions—is a complex reconciling the parties and providing compensation, challenge for Afghanistan’s legal system. Afghan they undermine the duty and primary responsibility law is a combination of state law, sharia law, and of the state to provide justice. Additionally, informal local tribal and customary laws. Decades of war justice systems are very limited in their ability to have damaged the formal legal systems enormously, address issues broader than the local community, like and the lack of resources, guidelines, and authority systemic violence against women. to determine the relationship among these three Since the re-creation of a fully integrated systems of law causes many problems in Afghanistan. national justice system will take at least two decades, While having multiple forms of law can, at times, compensate for weaknesses in the national rule of law, going forward will require developing new strategies that take advantage of the informal structures while, women’s rights must be better defended at all levels. at the same time, encouraging appropriate reforms. Since the end of Taliban rule, Afghanistan has This model of pluralistic sources formed a new national government In spring 2011, Marzia Basel of law is not new for Afghans. and constitution that establish the became the first of two Luce A functional legal system Historically, there has been rule of law. But, in practice, the International Fellows. Basel in Afghanistan, one that coexistence and competition effectiveness of official laws suffers came to ASU as the founder can be both applied between sharia and customary from many factors: corruption, and director of the Afghanistan by the professionals law. A functional legal system in mistrust by Afghan citizens, Progressive Law Organization Afghanistan, one that can be both and accepted by the insufficient resources, citizens’ lack and the Afghan Women’s Judges applied by the professionals and of access, undue external influences population, will require Association. She played a vital accepted by the population, will in judicial processes (whether role in her country’s transition to incorporation of certain require incorporation of certain by the government or warlords), democratic rule following the end aspects of Islamic and aspects of Islamic and customary and, finally, poor training and of Taliban rule, especially through customary law, within the law, within the limits imposed unqualified judges, prosecutors, her work in support of Afghan limits imposed by human by human rights considerations. and defense lawyers. Despite all of women’s rights. Basel served as It is impossible to reject the rights considerations. these issues, the greatest challenge a judge in both civil and criminal existing body of tribal laws in to the rule of law involves forces of courts in Kabul and also served its entirety, as this will damage extremism, the ongoing insurgency, in Afghanistan’s Supreme Court the legal reform process. At the same time though, and the overall lack of security in the country. The Legal Aid Department. discriminatory practices, especially those against impact of these factors on women is especially acute women, must be abolished. This will require bringing as inadequate government legal aid for indigent about gradual change in popular attitudes concerning people poses serious risks for women’s well-being and the application of rules that infringe upon basic security, and a general lack of legal access results in human rights as well as basic tenets of Islam. The the systematic denial of women’s rights. rule of law in Afghanistan cannot be established as a Given the weakness of the formal legal system unitary project, but requires for its success developing and its inability to respond to the Afghan peoples’ the country’s long tradition of legal pluralism. The need for justice, it is understandable why people integration of human rights and women’s rights is seek support from informal justice bodies such as a simply the latest stage in this on-going development. jirga (tribal assembly) or shura (consultation), which

The Luce International Fellows program brought to campus scholars

Marzia Basel Legal Pluralism


Zilka Spahic´-Šiljak Religious Feminisms

received norms within the religious domain. Within this domain, the autonomy of which secular law in post-socialist BiH also protects, gender remains relatively impervious to the state’s formal legal Within the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) commitment to equality. that was created after the Bosnian War (1992-95), all Thus in order to advance the role of women citizens inhabit the same secular legal context. Civic in society, religion in BiH must be transformed legislation is accompanied by a set of international from within. Such efforts might aim to translate human rights norms and standards that have universal human rights norms, in particular the primacy over domestic national legislation. From ideals of the Committee on the Elimination of a legal perspective, gender equality and women’s Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), into a human rights are better framed cultural and religious language and secured today than they were that is understood and accepted Gender equality is under socialism, though the new by Bosnians of all different faiths. formally accepted by constitution gives greater emphasis Bosnian religious actors and now to civil and political rights than state institutions, both in human rights activists have jointly Bosnia and Kosovo, but to the social and economic rights launched such projects, which call the mindset of ordinary that were guaranteed by the former on the resources of both secular socialist state. Formal civil equality, and religious conceptions of citizens doesn’t find it however, does not translate into human flourishing. Such projects natural and applicable gender equality in political life, in also point the way toward a newer in their own lives. It is the workplace, or in the home. As model of the relation between perceived as something was the case under socialism, the religion and the secular in BiH— imported from the West roles and status of women remain one in which secular rights are and imposed by the state, constrained by a religious and not pitted against or undermined cultural heritage that promotes the by religious norms. An alterntive and not an authentic or image of woman as mother and approach involving religious local initiative. nurturer. What is different is that feminism stands a better chance this religious and cultural heritage, of addressing the rights of women which was suppressed under socialism, now enjoys than is possible under either the socialist antinomy recovered prestige, protection, and deference under between religion and the state or the post-socialist democratic rule. state’s accommodation to patriarchal religious norms. Although Bosnian society is secular, with civil legislation affirming gender equality, the impact of its multiple religious traditions limits its reach. The constitutional and legal framework of the BiH state promotes gender equality and non-discrimination, but it lacks implementation, thanks in large part to the countervailing influence of cultural and religious norms in public life. In the post-war transition, secular liberal democracy did not bring the equal participation of women and men in politics as expected and regulated by the 2003 Gender Equality Law. Although women and men formally support gender equality and women in politics, the realities on the ground point to the Gender Equality Law’s limited reach. Women still must struggle to secure the fundamental rights that are guaranteed by domestic legislation and international human rights standards that are at least formally applied in BiH. This situation underscores the limited reach of secular laws and rights relating to gender when they conflict with


Zilka Spahic´-Šiljak was Luce International Fellow at ASU in spring 2012. Having lived through the Bosnian War in the 1990s, she has labored in the many years since to achieve a peaceful, multi-religious, multiethnic society in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a scholar, activist, and public intellectual, she has worked extensively in governmental and non-governmental sectors on the nexus of human rights, religion, politics, education, gender, and peace-building. She currently serves as deputy director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies at the University of Sarajevo.

Clash of Civilizations? Carolyn M. Warner


high profile human rights abuses involving women amply reinforce this depiction. For example, stoning of women convicted of adultery is justified in several countries, or regions within countries, through sharia based law, while mostly “Western” human rights organizations object. Two cases in the past decade, successfully overturned in Iran and Nigeria, illustrate the “clash”: the appeals of convictions and stoning sentences were brought not on grounds of human rights violations, but on technicalities of interpretations of applicable Islamic law. Clearly, religion plays a central role informing these debates, with those who resist extending full rights to women as individual human beings claiming that they do so in the name of their religion. Indeed, with so much focus on religious freedom, they might very well appeal to the “religious freedom” to practice their religion as their societies, however patriarchal, have defined and interpreted it. In a sense, then, they maintain their “right” to impose their beliefs on others or to restrict others’ rights even when the latter do not subscribe to the same religious beliefs. Practices that are discriminatory and harmful to women (and girls), justified in the name of self-determination and the religious or cultural practices by which it is defined, persist around the globe. Female genital mutilation is a severely harmful practice The human rights that gains protection, even in community especially academic circles, through claims seems to have fallen to cultural and religious traditions. into the trap of Nevertheless, however resilient the “clash of civilizations” may thinking that religious be, it would be a mistake to traditions, doctrines, and conclude that religion is “the practices are static and problem” or that more secularism permanent—that they is the solution. The human rights The stand-off between cannot be reformed or community especially seems to advocates and critics of human reconceptualized. have fallen into the trap of thinking rights provides more evidence that religious traditions, doctrines, that some kind of “clash of and practices are static and permanent—that they civilizations” still exists. Vital tensions—not strict cannot be reformed or reconceptualized. This is far binaries, but certainly different emphases—provide from the truth. Work by numerous women’s rights rough contours to how this “West versus the rest” advocates—including those who have traveled dichotomy endures. Societies emphasizing rights from Afghanistan, Nigeria, and other countries are Western and individualistic, with Christianity to contribute to our project at ASU—make clear and increasingly secularism as formative influences. that religious beliefs and traditions can be vital to Societies pushing back are non-Western and supporting women’s rights, or at least dignity, respect, collectivist, with Islam, Hinduism, and other nonand freedom from physical violence. Religious Christian religions playing pivotal roles. We know, reform and reinterpretation—away from patriarchal of course, that this over-simplified representation doctrines—stands the best chance of shoring up defies many complexities, most notably, the many human rights, and the best chance of breaking down people who support human rights within nonthe clash of civilizations. Western countries. Nevertheless, some of the most he renowned “clash of civilizations” thesis has come in for heavy criticism in recent years. And for good reasons. But some of the underlying fault lines it presumes are visible in contemporary debates about human rights and women’s rights in particular. Human rights discourse is distinctive for its universal appeal and universal reach. In recent years, there has been renewed focus on promoting the rights of women. When promoting human rights or extending them to women in non-Western countries, however, critics often decry such efforts as Western, post-colonial impositions. They appeal to the importance of self-determination, including the right for nations and communities to shape their collective lives according to their religious customs and cultural traditions.


Human Rights and Islam through the Prism of South Asia Yasmin Saikia


any people, scholars included, often presume that human rights are incompatible with Islam. On this reading, human rights originate from a secular, Western, and individualistic heritage that is foreign to many Muslim societies. But Muslims and non-Muslims alike would do well to understand how notions of “the human” and “rights” are embedded in Islamic thought and tradition. I came to an appreciation of the Islamic roots of human rights through my research on the 1971 war of Bangladesh on which I reflected anew during the Luce faculty seminar on human rights, gender, and religion. The 1971 war is the only moment in postcolonial South Asia when the three units of the Indian subcontinent—India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh— met on a common site. Forty years later, the wounds have not healed in the subcontinent as survivors of the war cannot forget the memories of the loss of their humanity or insāniyat. For them, this loss of one’s humanity—one’s dignity or humanness—is the most unforgettable outcome of the war. Even today they struggle to reassemble a sense of their full human selves—to become whole again. As is often the case in war, women and other vulnerable groups suffered tremendously—typically at the hands of men. Beyond the conventional violence and destruction war brings, rape and gender violence destroyed many women’s lives. Yet, their perpetrators, men who were directly involved in war crimes must also be viewed as survivors, and they, too, struggle hard to reclaim their insāniyat—to recover their full identity and dignity as human beings. To that end, some men who committed violence against women and vulnerable groups emphasize the need to do tauba—to repent for their crimes. Repentance, of course, requires truthtelling and taking responsibility for the violations one has committed against others. But what exactly has been violated? This history calls our attention to the Islamic principle of huqquq al-ibād—the rights of human beings—that were transgressed during the war. When men violated women’s bodies, dignity, and humanity, they transgressed the rights of women’s humanity. Within Islamic tradition, huquq al-ibād is a right endowed to all human beings, Muslims and non-Muslims. It is a natural right of being human—necessary to be fully human—and cannot be compromised. In the war of 1971, these rights were superseded and annulled as man became indifferent to his human status and operated as an arm of the impersonal state, committing violence against his fellow man and woman. Huqquq al-ibād entails protective rights; its violations must be redressed by the offenders. The failure to do so is deemed one of the

most severe breaches, and even God cannot forgive the offender. Perpetrators who recognize and reflect on their crimes and the loss of huqquq al-ibād during the war undertake the crucial process of restoring people’s rights by acknowledging the rights their crimes violated. By doing tauba for the violation of huqquq al-ibād, however, perpetrators of war crimes seek to regain their human dignity and to open space for dialogue for improved relations among the states of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. These religiously based concepts of redemptive justice are powerful because they reach deep into local communities in Pakistan and Bangladesh where religion plays an active role and where secular accounts of human rights carry far less weight. A question, nevertheless, that has interested many scholars of Islam in recent years is the relationship between huqquq al-ibad and more secular conceptions of human rights. These scholars propose a space for positive interaction between “Islamic values” and the ongoing development of human rights. I share this commitment, including the idea that Islamic conceptions of insāniyat and human dignity can serve as a foundation for human rights. But modern, liberal, and democratic models of engagement also have something to offer. Like Islamic legal scholar Abdullahi An-Na’im, I contend that a liberal and modern interpretation of Islamic law and rights is essential for advancing the human flourishing and development of Muslims, women especially. This approach can herald an ethically and religiously grounded democratic life that allows people to act according to their faith without being coerced by institutions of the state. Reconnecting with the Islamic roots of human rights also empowers survivors of war to strengthen their local communities as they engage the secular state and religious establishments alike in the effort to realize justice, healing, and reconciliation after violence. This approach transcends the presumed dichotomy between Western and Islamic values. As survivors of the 1971 war suggest, this set of ideas ultimately dignifies the human person through insāniyat and can be appreciated by people regardless of their national identity—Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi. Such efforts to reclaim the “human” in human rights are powerful because they prioritize people’s efforts to rise above hate, enabling them to arrive at a new place for the formation of different human communities in South Asia.


Can Human Rights Bear Humanity’s Burdens? John D. Carlson


n penning human beings’ most fundamental freedoms and pursuits, framers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set into motion the most far-reaching and ambitiously detailed vision of justice in political history. The UDHR enumerates a panoply of individual rights intended to promote human dignity, including the right to life, security, and due process; freedom of opinion, expression, and religion; and rights to work, fair wages, food, clothing, housing, medical care, education—even leisure and the arts. Despite its aspirational character, the UDHR was never intended as some romantic manifesto; rather, it sought “a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” While progress achieved under the mantle of human rights is wellknown, its sheer limitlessness—the guarantee of every right to every person on earth—suggests why human rights have emerged as “the last utopia” (Moyn 2010). Given such ambitions, it is fair to ask whether human rights can bear the weight of its own promise. Specifically, can human rights norms and institutions do the work its advocates say should be undertaken


for the sake of humanity? Conflicts at the intersection of gender and human rights within different global contexts challenge this vision of universal justice. No premise is more important to human rights than their universality: cultural particularity must hew to a common standard. Often overlooked, however, are the cultural contexts in which rights doctrine, international law, and their enforcement mechanisms operate. Anthropologist Sally Engle Merry has studied the transnational culture of human rights bodies using a “de-territorialized” ethnographic approach. This UN-based rights culture is most conspicuous in New York or Geneva, but its actors, discourses, and processes extend worldwide to all those who possess “shared commitments” to a “universal form of justice” (Merry 2006, 47). Though, in spite of their own location within culture, rights bodies often presume that “cultural” traditions and religious customs are antithetical to women’s rights. Merry’s revealing examination of bulubulu, a Fiji custom that addresses wrongdoing through social reconciliation, shows how UN-led hearings condemned the practice—not simply for rape cases but writ large. “When will this practice be made illegal?” one expert asked (115). Admittedly, egregious uses of bulubulu have involved granting immunity to rapists in exchange for an apology—not even to

the victim—but her father or husband. Nevertheless, eradicating bulubulu altogether may threaten Fiji culture, including the ability to forestall familial vendettas. As a Fijian assistant minister of women averred, “The Fijian people won’t let this custom go. If they don’t have it, society will fall apart.” Yet, bulubulu also can be implemented in ways that defend women’s dignity and challenge unjust patriarchal structures. Bulubulu can be “good or bad depending on the gender sensitivity of the process and who is doing it” (116, 123). Just like human rights. This culture clash over bulubulu reveals another frequent problem whereby human rights cultures set individual victims apart from the surrounding community. So doing ignores how women themselves belong to and define the “traditional” cultures that transnational bodies seek to change. Dilemmas of cultural ownership are illustrated in debates over female genital cutting/mutilation (FGC/M)—a practice some indigenous women deem vital to their identity and culture. In an interesting twist, some efforts to preserve FGC/M even invoke rights discourse by appealing to “indigenous rights.” Anthropologist Dorothy Hodgson details how women leaders of Tanzania’s Maasai tribes often resist the efforts of government and human rights groups that This discussion makes clear that transnational press FGC/M concerns at the expense of women’s human rights movements are culture-bound more exigent concerns such as hunger, clean water, even as they seek to transcend culture or to shape and poverty. In some cases, criminalizing FGC/M “traditional” ones. Because the imperial enforcement induces a backlash, leading women to “cut” their girls of human rights can have at even younger ages, producing detrimental effects upon women, even greater problems. Conflicts at the alternate moral discourses also Rather than pitting a girl’s are needed to shore up women’s intersection of gender right to bodily integrity against claims upon their own cultures, elder women’s rights to shape their and human rights within communities, and children. This culture, a more organic approach different global contexts insight should not hasten a rush would consider multifaceted challenge the vision of toward moral relativism. On the efforts to uphold women’s dignity. human rights as universal contrary, rather than assuming One proposal entails retaining justice. human rights can or must bear all the Maasai custom but moving of the burdens to improve women’s the ceremonial cut to the girl’s lives, these findings demonstrate the need for alternate inner thigh. Another involves beginning with discourses of human dignity that can refine, reform, Maasai women’s own sense of their priorities before or, when necessary, replace human rights. For human addressing FGC/M practices. Such an approach rights is not the only language available for defending would improve trust and overcome the artificial women’s dignity—any more than it is the “last utopia” divide between rights and “culture”—as well as or the only scheme of justice we can conceive. To be ameliorate the pernicious health effects that can sure, it remains, for now, far from a universal one. attend FGC/M, especially when undertaken in defiance of human rights norms.


Human Rights, Religion, and Women’s Agency Miki Kittilson


any debates often simplistically presume human rights and religion impact women from a top-down point of view. Common narratives supporting this unidirectional approach frequently portray women as victims in need of being “rescued” from religious oppression. High-profile controversies such as France’s laws that prohibit the public wearing of the hijab/burqua have placed Muslim women at the center of a struggle in which a rights-based secular culture vies with a minority religious tradition over how women should dress. Such issues show how values such as women’s equality and freedom of religion stand squarely at the center of contemporary political life—yet also in tension with one another. What is particularly important to consider is how this debate is framed. From one side, “universal” human rights norms (including treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women or CEDAW) are applied and enforced with the aim of protecting women and improving their daily lives. But religious values similarly may be imposed in such a top-down process. Where, then, is women’s agency in this debate? Women are not always victims or passive “sites” of human rights abuses. Rather, women often play critical active roles in both shaping understandings of human rights in their societies as well as living,


interpreting, and contesting the multiple dimensions of their religious practices and identities. Women themselves navigate and manage these tensions between rights and religion at multiple layers in their own lives—at the local, national, and international levels. A wide variety of women’s voices around the world shape national and international norms, practices, and policies on women’s rights often from the ground-up. Indeed, grassroots activism usually is overlooked when tensions between rights and religion are considered. Women-led NGOs question current policies, bring groups together, negotiate solutions and ultimately work to press their claims with various political leaders. For example, the organization Women Living Under Muslim Laws has worked on the ground in 70 different counties and across national borders to collect and disseminate information about differences in laws and customs in Muslim countries (including their various religious, secular, and colonial sources). Using the Internet, face-to-face meetings, and special bulletins, the organization brings women together to discuss common concerns and share strategies for their resolution—in ways that recognize national and cultural distinctions and variations. Women have been especially instrumental in expanding human rights concerns beyond traditional concerns of the public sphere to include other issues such as domestic violence and access to clean water and education. Women in countries outside the West have not only been influenced by the international women’s rights movement, but also increasingly active in participating in this movement. Yet, recent case study evidence suggests that some new women’s rights groups reject a strictly secular approach and instead seek a unique path tied to their faith. In a recent article, legal scholar Madhavi Sunder argues that “a right to culture is not enough if women have no right to participate in making that culture.” Clearly, women do participate in constructing and maintaining their cultural values in a variety of ways on the ground. Some women press for change, while others advocate for traditional (even patriarchal) values. But whether progressive or traditional in their views, the growing role of women around the world should not be unidirectional. The important bottom-up work that women do cannot substitute for greater access to top-level decision-making structures. One key to managing inherent tensions between human rights and religious tradition is the full and meaningful inclusion of women in these larger debates and policy-making processes.

International Development and Human Dignity Daniel Rothenberg


When the project started, the women were t every turn, international development projects resistant to various health interventions despite are marred by hubris, mistrust, and barriers their evident needs and the availability of multiple of understanding. These obstacles to engagement low-cost solutions to women’s infections and the often emanate from a flawed vision among nonhigh incidence of infant and child mortality. Many governmental organizations (NGOs) that conceive feared that pap smears and other tests were means of the value of development and human rights sterilization or that their blood and organs would be projects from one direction, flowing from socially extracted and sold by visiting health workers. Over empowered international actors to poorer, politically time, members of the NGO came to realize that they marginalized peoples. The success of development could only work successfully in these communities projects, however, often rests upon the tools, ideas, if they dealt with locals as genuine partners rather and techniques of community engagement; that is, than as people whose lives represented development development can only be successful where a sense of “problems” to be solved. Gradually they recognized trust can be nurtured and two-way communication the importance of approaching these indigenous embraced. women through their common humanity as people Our conversations in the Luce Faculty Seminar drawn in to collaborative work because it was about human rights and gender reminded me of engaging and interesting. They discovered, almost an experience I had some years ago in Ocongate, by accident, that the way to these a remote area of the Peruvian women’s hearts came through highlands. As a consultant If we are to understand linking international development to the Norwegian Agency for the complex interplay programming with playing soccer, Development Cooperation, I was between gender and the a practice in which—unlike contracted to review a women’s global rights movement most of the actions of top-down health project operated by an it is clear that we must development initiatives—the NGO that was trying to address openly engage questions project beneficiaries were high rates of infections in women of multi-directional themselves key participants in as well as elevated infant and communication. For an activity that was meaningful, childhood mortality rates. Part of international human rights empowering, and joyful. the assessment entailed discussing regimes to engage those The Luce Faculty Seminar the health training programs who most need protection, allowed stories like this to be and outcomes with the project’s empowerment, and the shared by an interdisciplinary beneficiaries, poor indigenous benefits of development group, providing concrete women living in a series of villages programming, we must illustrations of the issues raised in a mountainous region not far work together to create by various readings that explored from Cuzco. When we met with the strategies that bridge how international concepts local women, they appeared distant the many barriers and impact and are impacted by the and disengaged and seemed only obstacles that define our local. If we are to understand the marginally interested in reviewing enormously inequitable complex interplay between gender the project’s technical goals of world. and the global rights movement, improved women’s health. When I it is clear that we must openly engage questions of asked what they thought of the program, one woman multi-directional communication. For international responded softly, “We like to play fútbol.” The group human rights regimes to engage those who most was quiet for a moment. Then, the women began to need protection, empowerment, and the benefits of smile and talk with great animation as they described a women’s soccer league that the NGO had organized. development programming, we must work together to create strategies that bridge the many barriers and “Fútbol is the only thing we do for fun. At home we obstacles that define our enormously inequitable cook, clean, care for children, tend the fields. The only world. This is an ideal space for the interaction of thing we get to do for our own enjoyment is to play scholars and practitioners because these issues require fútbol.” Soon it became clear that what had begun both direct engagement with local populations as as a recruiting tool to bring women into the project well as careful, sensitive and critical reflection. In unintentionally developed into the most empowering aspect of the NGO’s work. The soccer matches became rural Peru, soccer proved to be a means of improving women’s health by linking international development major public events with championship games with the most foundational element of international drawing crowds of over a thousand from multiple human rights—the respect for human dignity. neighboring communities.


Rebecca Tsosie

Bringing It Home: Indigenous Nations and Domestic Law


mericans thinking about religion and women’s rights naturally turn their attention to distant lands or developing nations overseas. Rarely do we remember the Indigenous nations on lands now under the political authority of the United States. Significantly, women’s global struggles for rights, status, and dignity—particularly in countries once under colonial rule—share common features with those faced by Indigenous nations. American Indian nations predate the formation of the United States, and their collective rights were first articulated under treaties guided by international law. For example, in the famous 1832 Supreme Court case Worcester v. Georgia, Chief Justice John Marshall defined the Indian nations as “distinct, independent political communities, retaining their original natural rights, as the undisputed possessors of the soil from time immemorial.” This separate status exempted the Indian nations from state law, thereby preserving their national identity. However, the incorporation of Indian nations into the United States


as “domestic, dependent nations,” empowered the United States with unrestricted political authority over American Indians, which entailed blatant human rights violations. The nineteenth century “civilization policy” relied heavily upon federally-sponsored efforts to Christianize Indians, educate them in boarding schools, and assimilate tribal members to appropriate gender roles. “Kill the Indian, save the man” was the cruelly ironic catchphrase used. But what about the woman? Federal Indian policy had devastating consequences for Native women and families. Western “civilization” policies—far from being progressive or liberating—diminished Native women’s traditional status in their tribal communities. The federal government divested many Indian women of their traditional right to control property and even their right to rear their children within the extended kinship structure of Native societies. In 1924, Congress granted U.S. citizenship to all American Indians and in 1934 expressly repudiated the federal civilization policy. Nevertheless, the legacy of nineteenth century paternalism continues to haunt Native women in ways comparable to how colonial legacies impacted indigenous women and peoples in other nations. Federally-recognized Indian nations became regarded as separate sovereigns with jurisdiction over their members and territory. Tribal governments have putative rights to selfdetermination, yet their sovereignty has been questioned when customs are assumed to violate the rights of women. For example, the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez upheld the authority of Indian nations to govern tribal membership, whether through matrilineal or patrilineal lines; yet many feminists and opponents of tribal sovereignty claimed the Court’s decision allowed tribal governments to exercise their authority in biased or unprincipled ways. It is a continuing challenge for tribal governments to defend cultural norms that appear to diverge from the purportedly neutral precepts of democratic citizenship.

Few Americans know that the major human rights issue in Indian Country today involves the disproportionate rate of violence against Native women (Tsosie 2010). Justice Department reports have documented that American Indians experience violence more than twice as often as any other ethnic group, and Native women are particularly vulnerable. A 2007 Amnesty International report alleged that Native American women are three times as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted as women of any other race; it further reported that the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are nonIndian. Given these statistics, it seems inconceivable that the federal government would limit the ability of tribal governments to deter crime on the reservation, and yet, that is the upshot of the 1978 Supreme Court ruling Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe, which denied tribal governments’ authority to criminally prosecute non-Indians. Further complicating the problem, the federal government lacks the resources to fully prosecute crime in Indian Country, and state governments lack jurisdiction over crimes committed on reservations. The result is that many non-Indian perpetrators will never be prosecuted. Amnesty International’s report, appropriately entitled “Maze of Injustice,” describes rape against Native women as a significant human rights violation. More Americans might see the situation similarly if it took place overseas. The recent high-profile gang-rape of a young woman in India has focused attention on India’s commitment to women’s safety and women’s rights. But here at home, rape against Native women is a “domestic” issue framed in jurisdictional terms. Only after a long and contentious debate did Congress finally extend the federal Violence Against Women Act (which expired in 2011) to enable tribal governments to prevent and prosecute rape against Native women. Today, tribal governments are fighting to exercise their sovereignty in order to protect the human rights of their members. Native women are increasingly in the forefront of such efforts. They serve in national and tribal leadership structures, often asserting the values of respect, reciprocity, and gender balance that traditionally structured many indigenous cultural systems. Native women help us see the intersection between indigenous values and the “universal” values of international human rights law. As contemporary Native writer Elizabeth Woody proposes, “If you are familiar with the Iroquois Confederacy and the Tree of Peace and the Great Laws of Peace, they signify that what we have to offer humanity and the world are societies based on peace, common wealth, common

“I have to honestly say that we began using human rights discourse in the United States not because we were prophets or had any kind of particular foresight, but because we had attended international women’s conferences and United Nations conferences and saw that international activists from the former Yugoslavia and others were using the human rights framework much more effectively than the limited constitutional framework that we were using within the United States. So we wondered why we weren’t bringing human rights home, why we weren’t proclaiming women’s autonomy as a human right, to make more effective arguments within our own fairly limited legal system. So in a way we’ve transformed, I believe, the discourse within the women’s movement with the human rights framework.“ — L oretta Ross SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective good, and consensual and participatory kinds of government” (Caldwell 1999, 16-17). The return to an “international” discourse of indigenous rights as human rights may enhance the ability of domestic U.S. policy to protect the health and security of Native women and families. It also inspires and connects with a broader global vision of human rights and democratic self-governance.

“A U.S. Department of Justice study on violence against women concluded that 34.1 per cent of American Indian and Alaska Native women – or more than one in three – will be raped during their lifetime…” —Amnesty International, Maze of Injustice


Visiting Scholars, Practitioners, and Conference Participants Is secularism the only way for women to achieve equality? Is religion inherently antithetical to women’s advancement? Is the concept of human rights so associated with “the West” that it can never be a viable means for achieving women’s rights in non-Western countries? These and other questions were explored by visiting scholars, practitioners, and conference participants in a variety of public events, including The Luce Conference on Religion and International Affairs: Through the Prism of Rights and Gender, held on March 15-16, 2012.

Marzia Basel Luce International Fellow; Founding Director, Afghanistan Progressive Law Organization

Rachel A. Cichowski Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Washington

Isobel Coleman Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

Eliza Griswold Foreign Correspondent and Schwartz Fellow, New America Foundation

“One paradoxical consequence of the secularization of Middle Eastern societies is that, just as religious authority becomes marginal to the conduct of civic and political affairs, it simultaneously comes to acquire a privileged place in the regulation of family and sexual relations. To put it another way, one of the results of the simultaneous privatization of religion and sexuality in the Muslim world is that the two have come to be ineluctably conjoined such that questions of religious identity for the Muslim majority and the non Muslim minorities alike often entail contestations about gender, marriage, and the family.” —Saba Mahmood 18

“We know how important women’s inclusion in society is from an economic perspective today; we have tons of data on this. When you educate a girl, the benefits are not only to the girl herself, but to her family and her community.” —Isobel Coleman

Ron E. Hassner Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd Associate Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University

Hauwa Ibrahim Radcliffe Fellow, Harvard University; Senior Partner, Aries Law Firm

Azza Karam Senior Advisor, Social-Culture Development, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

“This location of human rights within a grand narrative of dogmatic secularism has done a lot to provoke the rejection of human rights regimes by religious groups and women’s groups who reject the perspective of dogmatic secularism as the only way for organizing interpersonal, social, and political relationships. The secularist monopoly of human rights has meant that human rights has been narrated by state and interstate organizations as a kind of antidote to religion. As a consequence, that has meant this idea that religious actors and religious ideas could not really enrich human rights thought or practice, and certainly could not enhance and lead to the expansion of gender rights. I would submit that religious actors have actually been complicit, both willingly and unwittingly, in perpetuating this dogmatic secularist narrative, because it serves a certain purpose. Specifically, it allows religious actors to opt out of human rights discussions and human rights organizations, and to fight against them as Western centric, Orientalist, and/or colonialist power arrangements, all of which are seen as hostile to traditional hierarchically arranged structures of authority that are based on paternalistic values and practices. In fact, they utilize the dogmatic secularist argument in order to continue to perpetuate certain kinds of paternalistic authority structures that, from my perspective, limit religious pluralism and violate religious freedom, and certainly where women and gender rights are concerned, usually have a very negative outcome.” —Elizabeth Prodromou 19

Saba Mahmood Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California at Berkley

Visiting Scholars, Practitioners, and Conference Participants

“Whereas secular women activists see the UN Conventions and civil laws as the means to an enhanced women’s status, Islamist women—some of whom are equally keen on advancing women’s rights and status—regard the Qur’an and a more enlightened practice of ‘the real Islam’ as the only, and far more powerful, vehicle for achieving the same goal.”

Katherine Marshall Senior Fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown University

Martha Nussbaum Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Chicago

Daniel Philpott Associate Professor of Political Science and Peace Studies, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame


Elizabeth Prodromou  ssistant Professor of A International Relations, Boston University; Former Vice Chair, US Commission on International Religious Freedom

Loretta Ross F ounder, National Center for Human Rights Education; National Coordinator, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective

“Religious feminisms, by definition, seek to bring together what appear as contradictory: to advance women’s rights and gender equality from within a religious framework that ostensibly prioritizes one sex over another almost by divine order. Yet it is precisely these abilities—to traverse the conceptual and practical bridges between apparently contradictory discourses, to break down dichotomies and build a middle ground based on social justice—which are so very needed.” —Azza Karam

Beth A. Simmons Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs, Harvard University

Zilka Spahic´-Šiljak L uce International Fellow; Deputy Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies, University of Sarajevo

Winnifred F. Sullivan Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University

Mariz Tadros Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies (UK)

“The development field has certainly seen a seismic shift over recent decades. The language of human rights and social justice is now interwoven with economic and social evidence that bolsters the claim that investing in women and girls is the right and the intelligent thing to do. Yet despite similar programming and a shared emphasis, when non-religious development specialists are challenged to take religion into account, religion’s impact on women’s roles is either explicitly or implicitly a concern. And for their part, many religious actors see common development models as undermining traditional cultures and especially the family, which is seen as the pivotal institution for successful societies. When examined closely these issues have both positive and negative dimensions. There are instances where long-standing traditions that blend culture and theology contribute to unequal treatment of women, as well as shining examples of strong leadership and a prophetic voice for translating ideals for equality into practice. This highlights the special sensitivities around gender, and how modernization processes so often demand changes in traditions at the level of personal and family behavior. Yet, at the most fundamental level, what is at stake is the core principle of respect for human dignity and belief in human potential, principles that are sacred to most religious traditions and that are also pivotal goals of human rights and development.” — Katherine Marshall 21

Jeremy Waldron University Professor, New York University School of Law

Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminars


ne critical way this project brought together humanistic and social-scientific perspectives on religion and international affairs was through the development of two graduate level courses. Taking different approaches to religion, gender, and human rights, one course explored these themes through a consideration of “Theoretical Discourses and Lived Experiences”; the other course was centered around “American Power on a Global Stage.” Each course was co-taught by two to three participants in the faculty seminar, that included at least one professor from the humanities and one from the social sciences. Together, they represented a range of disciplines including women’s studies, political science, religious studies, and international affairs. Graduate students from these same fields enrolled in the two seminars to extend the cross-disciplinary experience and goals of the wider project. The effect was to initiate significant transformations in graduate education for a new generation of scholars, teachers, and practitioners. Traditional university curriculums are structured by rather rigid disciplinary divisions such that humanistic and social scientific approaches to scholarship rarely are pursued together let alone taught together. This grant, however, allowed faculty to overcome these obstacles. As political science professor Miki Kittilson reported, “Without the Luce funding, there would have been no prospect of teaching this course as we did.” As a result, faculty and graduate students alike were engaged, challenged, and invigorated by the various themes and tensions that emerged through the tandem pursuit of humanistic and social scientific approaches to religion, gender, and human rights. In the words of religious studies professor Tracy Fessenden (Kittilson’s co-teacher), “This was one of the most rewarding classes I’ve ever taught.” The seminars took up a range of conceptual and practical concerns related to religion, gender, and human rights. Some prominent concerns included the tension between secular and global ideas of rights, on one hand, and local, religious, or cultural values on the other; the continuities and distinctions between women’s rights and human rights; the relevance and


limitations of scholarly critique for reforming human rights in theory and in practice; the role of religious and secular institutions in guaranteeing women’s rights and promoting human flourishing; and the possibilities and challenges of aspiring toward a shared, universal regime of human rights. The cross-disciplinary and hybrid approach to these issues produced deeper insights and more rigorous debate than would have been the case had the class been taught through a single academic department. As one might expect, political science students sought out empirical evidence for the claims of readings and scholars from the humanities. Students from religious studies and other fields deeply attentive to culture pushed back by challenging many of the secularist assumptions on which the social sciences often rely. The expectation was never for seminar participants to transcend fully their disciplinary locations but rather to appreciate the limitations of them. Indeed, this was the finding that faculty and students in these seminars unanimously reported. A recurring challenge reported in both seminars was simply learning how to talk across disciplinary chasms—a common experience in interdisciplinary settings. The complexity of conceptual issues involving religion, gender, and rights—especially given the concrete impact on human life, dignity, and culture—elicits strong reactions and sensitivities. As religious studies professor Shahla Talebi described her experience in the graduate seminar, “this kind of engagement takes people out of their comfort zones and forces them to acknowledge and examine the lenses through which they see and study the world.” The seminars themselves often provided a forum for breaking through impasses and achieving constructive forms of dialogue. This is a crucial discovery, for it serves as a microcosm of the broader global struggles to negotiate consensus about human rights issues, which is so vital to the success of human rights. Understanding how one’s own disciplinary or cultural location can close down space for conversation is a necessary first step for reopening dialogue and finding common ground. For a list of some of the readings assigned in the graduate seminars, see the Suggested Readings in this booklet (p. 24).

Research Awards


n important component of the Luce project entailed awarding seed grants to six scholars from the faculty seminar to stimulate and pursue their individual research interests in relation to issues involving religion, gender, and human rights. The fruits of these seed grants will continue to grow and reproduce for many years to come, nurtured in large part by the interdisciplinary perspectives that were distinctive and central to the overall project. While there was considerable diversity in the range of projects pursued by these scholars in religious studies, political science, and history, there also were some recurring themes and concerns. Three different projects undertaken by political scientists focused on how different groups and institutions shape how women’s rights and human rights are conceived, protected, challenged, or extended. Whether studying how faith-based non-governmental organizations participate in UN-sponsored programs, how religious leaders have impacted immigrant rights movements, or how women’s participation in insurgency groups impact strategies and behavior toward the treatment of women in armed political resistance campaigns— all these projects clearly demonstrate that the recurring coalescence of religion, gender, and human rights has profound implications for international affairs. The benefits to political scientists pursuing their research under the auspices of this grant cannot be understated, as their work became informed by a deeper awareness of humanistic presuppositions about religious identity, secular politics, and women’s rights. Scholars’ projects were enhanced by the project seminars, conferences, and meetings with visiting scholars and international fellows. Seed grant recipient Miki Kittilson’s research benefitted directly from one visiting scholar’s presentation at the faculty seminar from whom she learned about an invaluable new database of religious NGOs. “Without that meeting,” Professor Kittilson reported, “I would have never known about this terrific resource.” One of the political scientist’s projects also shared much in common with the several projects from scholars in religious studies and history. Notably, a recurring concern in these individual research programs—one articulated in faculty seminar meetings and conversations—centered on the insufficiency of human rights discourses in pursuing social justice in many parts of the world. As a result of the faculty seminar, several scholars reapproached their own scholarly projects (or initiated new ones) with a concern to identify alternative moral vocabularies of justice and human dignity. By virtue of their engagements with social scientists in

Justice and Dignity beyond Human Rights? Implications for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality

—John D. Carlson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Women Religious Leaders and the New Sanctuary Movement

—Roxanne Doty, Associate Professor of Political Science

Beyond Secular? Women’s NGOs, Religion and International Norms

— Miki Kittilson, Associate Professor of Political Science

How Gender Shapes Insurgency: An Examination of the Roles and Influence of Women in Insurgencies, 1975–2005

— Reed Wood, Assistant Professor of Political Science

Human Rights: Is there an Islamic Perspective?

—Yasmin Saikia, HardtNickachos Chair in Peace Studies and Professor of History

—Shahla Talebi, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

the seminar, scholars of the humanities became more attentive to political themes involving responsible government, political sovereignty, freedom, and national identity. Drawing from both religious and secular moral traditions, these scholars articulated how ideas such as divine sovereignty, hospitality, the image of God, human dignity, justice, and the moral ordering of civic relations serve to complement, rival, or even outshine traditionally secularist forms of human rights discourse. Nevertheless, through their collaborative engagement in the project and their individual scholarship, these scholars also came to appreciate the necessary place of human rights discourses, however insufficient they might be. The upshot is clear: much more conceptual and empirical work needs to be done to show the value of the engagement between rights-based and non-rightsbased vernaculars of justice and human dignity. “The conversations within the seminar produced a set of outstanding research proposals,” said project co-director Linell Cady. “The ability to fund them through the grant is helping to generate resources that are critical for stimulating new thinking about this incredibly complex topic.”


Suggested Readings and Sources Cited

Kristof, Nicholas, and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Knopf, 2009.

Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Against Universals: The Dialects of (Women’s) Human Rights and Human Capabilities.” In Rethinking the Human, ed. J. Michelle Molina and Donald K. Swearer. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010: 69-94.

Mahmood, Saba. The Politics of Piety. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” American Anthropologist 104, no. 3 (September 2002): 783-90.

Merry, Sally Engle. Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

An-Na’im, Abdullahi. Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010. Badran, Margot. Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009.

Modirzadeh, Naz K. “Taking Islamic Law Seriously: INGOs and the Battle for Muslim Hearts and Minds.” Harvard Human Rights Journal 19 (May 2006): 191-233.

Baxi, Upendra. The Future of Human Rights. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Moyn, Samuel. The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Bowen, John R. Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State and Public Space. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Narayan, Uma. “Cross-Cultural Connections, Border-Crossings, and ‘Death by Culture’: Thinking About Dowry-Murders in India and Domestic Violence Murders in the U.S.” In Dis-locating Cultures: Identities, Traditions and Third World Feminism, ed. Uma Narayan. New York: Routeledge, 1997: 81-118.

Cady, Linell E. and Tracy Fessenden, eds. Gendering the Divide: Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference. New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming.

Nussbaum, Martha. Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Cady, Linell E. and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, eds. Comparative Secularisms in a Global Age. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Philpott, Daniel. “The Religious Roots of Modern International Relations.” World Politics 52 (2000): 206-245.

Caldwell, E.K. Dreaming the Dawn: Conversations with Native Artists and Activists. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Sunder Rajan, Rajeswari. “Women Between Community and State: Some Implications of the Uniform Civil Code Debates.” In Secularisms, ed. Janet Jakobsen and Ann Pellegrini. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008: 76-106.

Cavanaugh, William T. The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Coleman, Isobel. Paradise Beneath Her Feet. New York: Random House, 2010.

Resnick, Judith. “Dependent Sovereigns: Indian Tribes, States and Federal Courts.” University of Chicago Law Review 656, no. 2 (1989): 671-759

Danchin, Peter. “Of Prophets and Proselytes: Freedom of Religion and the Conflict of Rights in International Law.” Harvard International Law Journal 49, no. 2 (Summer 2008): 249-320.

Scott, Joan Wallach. The Politics of the Veil. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Glendon, Mary Ann. A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York: Random House, 2001.

Sachedina, Abdulaziz. Islam and the Challenge of Human Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Shachar, Ayelet, Uma Narayan, and Valentine Moghadam. “Global Gender Inequality and the Empowerment of Women: A Discussion of Half the Sky.” Perspectives on Politics 8, no. 1 (March 2010): 279-286.

Hodgson, Dorothy, ed. Gender and Culture at the Limit of Rights. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. Hurd, Elizabeth Shakman. “Secularism and International Relations Theory.” In Religion and International Relations Theory, ed. Jack Snyder. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011: 60-90.

Sunder, Madhavi. “Piercing the Veil.” Yale Law Journal 112 (2003): 1399-1472. Tsosie, Rebecca. “Indigenous Women and International Human Rights Law: The Challenges of Colonialism, Cultural Survival and SelfDetermination.” UCLA Journal of International Law & Foreign Affairs 15 (Spring 2010): 187-237.

Ignatieff, Michael. Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. Jaggar, Alison. “’Saving Amina’: Global Justice for Women and Intercultural Dialogue.” Ethics and International Affairs 19, no. 3 (2005): 55-75.

United Nations General Assembly. Convention on Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), text: http://

Karam, Azza. “Current Debates on Women’s Legal Rights in Theory and Practice.” In Women, Islamisms and the State: Contemporary Feminisms in Egypt. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998: 140-175.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Justice: Rights and Wrongs. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.


“No religious tradition consists simply of authority and sheeplike subservience. All contain argument, diversity of beliefs and practices, and a plurality of voices—including the voices of women, which have not always been clearly heard.” —Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development

Edited by Linell Cady, John Carlson, and Matt Correa To view an online version of this report, please visit the project’s website at: Photo credits. Inside front cover: All photos from or, credits listed as available. Women in Iran at rally, Hamed Saber/http://; Maasai women at USAID literacy event, Megan Johnson/USAID; Woman with megaphone, Arash Ashoorinia/; Swimsuits on runway, Anton Oparin/; Women at computers, IICD/The Hague, The Netherlands. Page 2: Women hold a vigil, AFP/Getty Images; Madonna, Dave Hogan/ Page 14: Woman voting in Afghanistan, Paula Bronstein/ Copyright © 2013 Arizona State University Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict

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Religion and International Affairs: Through the Prism of Human Rights and Gender  

Religion and International Affairs: Through the Prism of Human Rights and Gender