As 2014 comes to a close, we at the International Center for Law and Religion Studies look back on a busy and productive year. We are constantly conscious of how much of our success depends on collaboration with others, particularly those receiving this newsletter, and for that collaboration we express our gratitude. We are working on an annual report for 2014, which will provide a more comprehensive review of activities, but we did not want to let the Christmas and New Year’s season pass without sharing greetings and appreciation.
Most notable as we look back is the impressive series of conferences in which the Center has participated, often as a co-sponsor. In addition to our annual International Law and Religion Symposium in Provo, we participated in or co-organized more than twenty-five other conferences this year. These included conferences held on every continent except Antarctica. Particularly significant were conferences that fit into our commitment to support a series of regional law and religion conferences each year. In February I was invited to give a keynote address at a regional consultation held in Jakarta on “Promoting the Freedom of Religion or Belief in ASEAN.” This event helped foster two significant new studies on religious freedom issues in the ASEAN region.
In May, the Center co-organized a regional conference in Stellenbosch, South Africa, which witnessed the organization of the African Consortium for Law and Religion Studies. We also co-organized a conference in June in Como, Italy on “Religions and Constitutional Transitions in the Muslim Mediterranean: ‘The Pluralistic Moment.'” This conference provided the occasion for the formal launch of a new Center on Law and Religion in the Mediterranean Region at Insubria University. We continued our long-standing annual tradition of co-organizing a conference at Central European University in Hungary (this year’s on “Varieties of Secularism”), as well as our more recent support for the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion Summer Academy in June, and events to support the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief at the time of his annual report in October in New York. We also continued involvement in conferences and training programs in Latin America, India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and former Soviet space (this year with a conference in Poland). Finally, we helped co-sponsor the first G20 Interfaith Summit near this year’s G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia. The hope is to organize similar events at successive G20 events in the future.
Another new initiative launched in 2014 was our Religious Freedom Annual Review held in Provo in July. While the content has been designed to provide continuing legal education credit for lawyers, the intention is to reach a wider public in coming years. The next Annual Review is scheduled for 6-8 July 2015.
Details concerning the foregoing events can be found by clicking on links in other sections of this newsletter. Among other things, video and audio recordings of presentations from our October Law and Religion Symposium, in as many as 14 languages, are available on our website.
This year has brought expanded opportunities for our students to join in the Center’s many activities. Our Student Research Fellows program continues as in past years, allowing 10-15 students each year to split their summers between research at the Center and work around the world in Area Legal Counsel offices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In addition, we have now created a Student Management Board, whose members assist with Center work during the school year and have opportunities to travel with us and participate in conferences around the world.
On the news and publications front, there is also much to report. Our near daily Headlines transmission has won acclaim from religious freedom experts worldwide. In addition, this year has witnessed our launch of several other social media initiatives that may be of interest, and we are poised for a major upgrade to our websites early next year. We are also nearing completion on five major publication projects that will all come to fruition in 2015: the multivolume Brill Encyclopedia of Law and Religion that we are co-editing, the finalized version of papers on Religion and the Secular State that resulted from the 18th Quadrennial Congress of the International Academy of Comparative Law, two volumes from the Third Conference of International Consortium of Comparative Law (ICLARS), held in Virginia in 2013, and the second editions of our 4-volume treatise Religious Organizations and the Law and the casebook (co-authored by Brett Scharffs and me with considerable help from our students and from others at the Center), Law and Religion: National, International, and Comparative Perspectives.
In all of this we are particularly grateful for our International Advisory Council, who have been working energetically to identify new sources of support for the obviously extensive work that we are doing; many have contributed in person, once again this year, to the success of our international conferences. We are as ever grateful as well for the support from our Academic Advisory Board, and from so many others who make the global scope of our activities possible.
The significance of religion and of freedom of religion or belief to modern life becomes more obvious with each passing year, and we are grateful to be able to work in support of this great principle in collaboration and friendship with so many others. We are grateful at our Center for the spirit of Christmas, with its reminders of the importance of peace and good will toward all, and in that spirit send our warmest season’s greetings to our many friends around the world.
W. Cole Durham, Jr., Director, International Center for Law and Religion Studies