The right to religious liberty is a powerful and enduring feature of contemporary secular liberal legal and political thought. Dominant narratives 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. The essays in this special issue challenge this narrative by interrogating both the contingent historical and political contexts in which the right to religious freedom first emerged and its continued exercise in Europe, the United States, the Middle East, and South Asia. Several essays call into question the purported secularity and neutrality of the right to religious liberty by offering a critical reading of its deployment in early modern Europe, in liberal political thought, in the Cold War context, and in the current American evangelical mobilization on its behalf. Other essays examine controversial legal judgments about religious liberty to make visible the shared and distinct legal histories of India, Egypt, and the European Court of Human Rights.
Saba Mahmood is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Peter G. Danchin is Associate Professor of Law and Director of the International and Comparative Law Program at the University of Maryland School of Law.