Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB): Recognising our differences can be our strength

At a time when violent extremism, religious discrimination and oppression are making daily headlines, research led by Dr Fabio Petito (School of Global Studies, University of Sussex) seeks to guide Europe and North America’s next steps in Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) advocacy.

Upon completion of a collaborative trans-Atlantic research project funded by ‘Bridging Voices’ (British Council), the findings of the research have been encapsulated in a policy briefing to raise awareness of the research and facilitate policy engagement.

In the briefing, Dr Petito urges the need to recognise diversity as a potential asset. For example, despite a range of different church-state arrangements across Europe, there is widespread agreement on the core elements of FoRB – a powerful demonstration that a wide variety of historical and cultural factors can lead to robust religious freedom.

Dr Petito goes on to remark that every state’s individuality – its history, demographics, church-state arrangement or diplomatic leverage – should also be identified as a unique strength. By acknowledging these differences, each state can better engage with others over religious freedom concerns, or create and expand collaborations with non-Western countries.

Communication and collaboration are essential.

A key recommendation is that overlaps of work within similar but distinct areas of the field – for example, concerning ‘religious freedom’ and ‘religious engagement’– should be coordinated to reinforce the success and impact of each other.

Policy engagement

The briefing enabled Dr Petito to reach out to both new and existing contacts – targeted for their interest and influence in the field of FoRB advocacy – with a concise, accessible document to communicate the key messages of his research.

Through connections with Baroness Berridge (co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief) a Policy Dialogue was organised at the House of Lords, co-hosted by the APPG and the University of Sussex (September 2016). At the event the policy brief was discussed, with many citing the importance of its findings and recommendations. Chaired by Lord Oates, the meeting included delegates from the US State Department for International Religious Freedom office, members of the FCO, the UN, faith groups, NGOs, European Commission Special Envoy for promotion of FoRB, MPs and Lords with special interest in FoRB, alongside other key players in the field.

Following the dialogue, the UK government hosted a conference – ‘Preventing Violent Extremism by building inclusive and plural societies: How Freedom of Religion or Belief can help’ – at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London (October 2016), at which Dr Petito also presented his findings. Aimed at those working on human rights it provided best practice examples of how to contribute to creating open, equitable, inclusive and plural societies that are more resilient to violent extremism.Recognising our differences can be our strength - policy briefing PDF

Evaluation of the event’s success identified a practical need for an online repository, hosting a complete set of materials from the conference and other related events, which Dr Petito has been asked to coordinate. The forthcoming website will be a collaboration between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the University of Sussex.

Dr Petito has been invited to join the academic advisory board of the APPG of FoRB, as a result of his collaboration.

Download the policy briefing: FoRB – Recognising our differences can be our strength [PDF 958KB]

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