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Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Studies
Global Engagement & Scholarship at Northwestern University


Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Norms and Local Practices Research Project

Project Capstone Workshop
click here for full schedule
October 17-18 | Guild Lounge, Scott Hall, 601 University Place, Evanston Campus

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, Quadro 2

Politics of Religious Freedom studies how religious freedom is being transformed through legal and political contestations in the United States, the Middle East, South Asia, and the European Union.

Departing from the assumption that there is a single and stable conception of religious liberty—enshrined in international law, the United Nations protocols and national constitutions—this project undertakes a comparative study of the multiple historical trajectories, concepts, and practices now organized under the rubric of religious freedom.

Funded by a three-year (2011-2014) grant from the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, the project is jointly based at the University of California, Berkeley, and Northwestern University's Buffett Institute for Global Studies.

Project Website »


The project brings together academics, key human rights and civil society organizations, along with jurists and policy makers who have helped to reshape the debate on religious freedom in the United States, the European Union, India, Egypt, and South Africa. Project Leaders:

  • Elizabeth Shakman Hurd
    (Northwestern, co-PI)
  • Saba Mahmood
    (UC-Berkeley, co-PI)
  • Winnifred Sullivan
    (Indiana University)
  • Peter Danchin
    (University of Maryland Law)

Public Discussion Series

The project team has organized a public discussion series on the Social Science Research Council blog The Immanent Frame in which scholars from different fields consider the multiple histories and genealogies of religious freedom.


January 6, 2015
"Rethinking Religious Freedom" (Buffett Institute newsletter, winter 2015)

November 10, 2014
"International Religious Freedom Agenda Will Only Embolden ISIS" in Religion Dispatches.

September 16, 2014
Elizabeth Shakman Hurd speaks to Kristian Petersen of Marginalia Review of Books about the "Politics of Religious Freedom" (hear the interview).


Politics of Religious Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

Translations of, and commentaries on, key legal cases involving religious freedom from India, Egypt, and South Africa, the U.K., Malaysia, the U.S., and Brazil to be published in the Maryland Journal of International Law and made freely available on the project website.

"Symposium: Re-thinking Religious Freedom," Journal of Law and Religion, co-edited by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, vol. 29, no. 3 (Sept./Oct. 2014). [read the Editors' Introduction]

"Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Genealogies," Special Issue, South Atlantic Quarterly, co-edited by Saba Mahmood and Peter G. Danchin, vol. 13, no. 1 (Winter 2014). [read the Editors' Introduction]

Pedagogical Component

Developing undergraduate and graduate syllabi on the comparative history of religious freedom globally

Supporting four graduate students, including Northwestern students Mona Oraby of Political Science and Nazli Ozkan of Anthropology, to conduct summer dissertation fieldwork on topics related to the project themes.

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