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

Matthias Koenig

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Religious freedom has been among the most contested norms in international human rights law. Recent scholarship has traced its genealogy to various critical junctures, including the Paris Peace Conference and the minority protection and mandate systems under the League of Nations. By contrast, this project focuses on slow-moving social processes in which international legal scripts on religion took shape over the long 19th century. Theoretically, the project attempts to integrate neo-institutionalist world polity and global field theory with insights from global (legal) history. Empirically, it has generated a novel relational dataset of more than 800 bilateral peace, amity, and commerce treaties between approximately 60 formally sovereign countries. Formal network analysis of this data is enriched by archival work on socio-legal dynamics of treaty-making. This approach facilitates tracing how legal norms disseminate through the network of sovereign states and become discursively standardized. Designed to govern religious difference in the contexts of trade, ethnic nationalism and imperial competition, these norms contained different understandings of religious freedom that were promoted by distinctive actors – from Western governments to Christian missionaries and transnational minority activists. Elucidating these conflicting understandings and actor constellations is critical for reconstructing the global politics of religious difference in the early 20th century.


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