The following review will be published in a shorter version in the International Journal for Religious Freedom (see here) in summer:

Nazila Ghanea (ed.). Religion and human rights. 4 volumes. New York: Routledge, 2010, 1600 p., ISBN 978-0415477871, US$ 1075.00.

The academic publisher Routledge publishes sets, usually of four volumes, with a reprint of a wide range of older and recent articles and book chapters, always edited by a well known scholar and expert on a specific subject (the ‘Major Works Collection’), a dozen of them so far in the area of religions (‘Critical Concepts in Religious Studies’). Those sets are not meant for the wider public, but mainly for libraries and specialists, who want material scattered around the globe and in dozens of publications, as the price of the set is usually above $1000.

One could say, that the title “Religion and human rights“ is wrong. In the only human rights discussed in the volumes is the “Freedom of religion and belief“ and all essays circle aorund this human right. Under the title “Religion and human rights“ one would exspect a larger range of topics.

The editor of the volume on the topic of religious freedom has been chosen well, as Nazila Ghanea is Editor in Chief of the Journal of Religion and Human Rights and Lecturer in International Human Rights Law at Oxford’s Kellogg College. She also initiated and now serves on the Executive Board of the international network ‘Focus on Freedom of Religion or Belief’ (FoFoRB).

Of course a selection of 55 essays, articles and book chapters can always be discussed. Why is there only one historic article (by John Locke from 1640), one from 1974, and all others from 1984 or later? And is the essay by Locke really the most important one before 1974? Why are articles excluded that are just of regional interest or focus on just one religion? And why, then, is an article with the subtitle “Should the United States provide refuge to German scientologists” included, though it does not feature an outcome or principle of international interest, concluding in 1999, that scientologists in Germany “suffer mainly economic disadvantages”, but to describe their present situation “as persecutory … seems exaggerated”? Why is the 1984 article “Parental rights and the religious upbringing of children” by T. H. McLaughlin included? It is more philosophical than religious, arguing for “a non-indoctrinary form of religious upbringing which a liberal can in good conscience claim”, and it is more a private opinion piece on how to raise children than a needed discussion of the application parental rights (part of UN’s standards of religious freedom) and when they have to be overruled, and what this means for education and schooling.

But overall the selection is superb. Highlights on religious freedom, which immediately came to my mind, are included, eg Brice Dickson’s “The United Nations and freedom of religion” (1995), the editor’s “Apostasy and freedom to change religion or belief” (2004), David Keane’s “Why the Hindu caste system presents a new challenge for human rights” (2007), “Models of religion-state religions” from the book by Rex Adhar and Ian Leigh (2005) and the superb “Draft model law in freedom of religion” by Dinah Shelton and Alexandre Kiss (1996). Wherever freedom of religion and belief is studied and these volumes are at hand, students do not need to look for other articles to get started. It is an ideal tool for seminars in universities for a wide range of subjects studied, including law, comparative religions or sociology.

Appendix: Topics of the four volumes: Volume I: Why protect freedom of religion or belief? Volume II: Is freedom of religion or belief an individual or collective human right? Group, collective, and corporate rights. Models for protection of religion or belief. Minority rights. Refugee rights. Volume III: Conflict of rights and freedom of religion or belief in general: On conflict of rights with freedom of religion or belief. Freedom of expression. Women’s rights. Child rights. Volume IV: International standards, persecution and ways forward. International standards and mechanisms regarding freedom of religion or belief. Persecution and discrimination. Equality, differential treatment, special rights, positive duties, and freedom of religion or belief. Ways forward.


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