Peter Danchin
University of Maryland, School of Law

The Right to Religious Freedom: Contested Genealogies

Project description:

The right to religious liberty is a powerful and enduring feature of contemporary secular legal and political thought. Dominant narratives in the field portray this right as a universally shared and fundamentally neutral principle whose proper implementation depends on societies rising above their particular historical, political, and religious contexts. Simultaneously invoking notions of neutrality, secularity, freedom and right, the claim is to have located a vantage point above or independent of the disorder of politics, culture, religion and, indeed, of history itself. In three distinct writing projects on Egyptian and South African constitutional law and legal philosophy more broadly, this project questions these assumptions and argues instead that the right to religious freedom is not a single, stable principle existing outside of culture, spatial geographies or power relations, but is a fractious, polyvalent concept unfolding through divergent histories in different political orders.


Peter G. Danchin is a Senior Research Fellow in the Inquiry on Law and Religious Freedom at the Center of Theological Inquiry.  He is Professor of Law and Director of the International and Comparative Law Program at the University of Maryland School of Law. His scholarship focuses on competing conceptions of the right to religious freedom in international law.  Recent publications include a Special Issue of South Atlantic Quarterly co-edited with Saba Mahmood titled Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Genealogies (113:1, Duke University Press: 2014) and a Special Issue of the Maryland Journal of International Law on Politics of Religious Freedom: Case Studies.  From 2011-2014, he was a member of the research project Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Norms and Local Practices and in 2013-2014 he was an Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Fellow in law and religious studies at the University of Cape Town.