Paul Marshall (PM):
I will just make some introductory remarks. Thank you to the Rumi Forum for hosting this very worthwhile occasion. I have been on one trip with the Forum. That was a greatly enjoyable and greatly tiring experience. So, I look forward to this occasion particularly discussing the Pew Forum`s latest report, which I think you all know, Pew puts out annual reports on religious restrictions and religious hostilities around the world. And they are probably the most highly regarded source of religious freedom statistics and indeed of statistics on religion more generally. So, I refer to them in print on several occasions the “gold standard”. So I feel quite privileged to chair this meeting and will simply invite Peter to make some remarks.
Peter Henne (PH):
Thank you everyone for coming and thanks Rumi Forum for hosting us. They have been a great host in the past and a great informational source. Religious freedom has been one of the key and most important international issues and ideas, really since the end of WWII. If we look back to the “universal declaration of human rights”, Article 18 says “freedom of thought, conscience and religion; to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.“ And almost since WWII it`s been a big issue, a contestant issue around the world, there are attempts to study it, to understand it, and just recently in the news a lot of things happening that highlight different restrictions on religious belief, practice as well as hostilities involving in.
We have seen just in this week concerns about possible post-election violence in Nigeria, sectarian violence possibly breaking out, debates about Austria recently passing a law on Islam, trying to regulate some of the practices in that country, and various instances of violence about blasphemy or apostasy in Saudi Arabia and just recently this week in Bangladesh. As an attempt to understand this, the Pew Research Center since 20007 has been actively analyzing different limits on religious belief and practice around the world. So we started with this idea of religious freedom, which is a tricky, complex, hard to get your hand around type of concept. And what we did was we reversed it in a sense, focusing on trying to measure restrictions on religious freedom, rather than religious freedom itself. What this means is, think in a sense of conversion. It might be difficult to go to a country and get a sense for how free people feel to convert from one religion to another but we can identify specific government laws practices or policies that limits one`s ability to convert from one religion to the next.