Projects Max Planck Fellow Group "Governance of cultural diversity"

International law and the politics of religious difference: a historical sociological account

Matthias Koenig


Religion has become an increasingly salient marker of symbolic and social boundaries in nation states across the world. In both immigration and post-colonial settings, state representatives and social activists struggle over the public recognition of religious differences and the accommodation of religious minorities. These struggles, whether inside or outside the court room, draw widely on scripts of religious freedom and minority rights as institutionalized in constitutional and international law. In an attempt to historicize neo-institutional world polity theory, this project scrutinizes the transregional entanglements in which these scripts have emerged. The project is producing a unique relational dataset of bilateral treaties from the nineteenth century to the post-WWI minority rights regime in order to describe how norms of religious freedom and minority rights, spreading through the network of sovereign states, have been universalized and institutionalized in international law. The project analyses how this process has been shaped by unequal power configurations between empires and nation states, as well as scrutinizing the influence of social movements, including missionary organizations, ethno-religious minorities and transnational associations.