The call for a social-scientific study of religious freedom becomes more urgent with the new global challenges to this fundamental right. The task to define the meaning of religious freedom, which was considered by previous research in political science, law, social history, requires more perseverance from the sociologists today. They contribute structural and individual levels of analysis that assist in examining the role of social institutions, religious and political contexts, and individual identities and value systems in constructing the meaning of religious freedom. The study of national contexts together with the comparative research of different countries are presented in this issue as an attempt to illustrate the importance of interdisciplinary research in this field with a broad application of sociological theories and methods.
The linkage between conversion and religious freedom has been theorised with differentapproaches. However relevant they may be, these approaches often have the downside of starting with a given definition of “conversion”, “religion” and hence “religious freedom”. The analysis of conversion (whether or not it is considered to be strictly religious) would in fact suppose not to interpret the conversion as derivative from the convert, but the convert from the conversion, i.e. in what the conversion authorizes. The question is therefore that of the conditions of production and of testing the concept of conversion, consequently of the expected operationality, of the initial double fiction of an irreducibly singular transformation and of a change, through this, of an order felt as unbearable. The importance of the phenomena of conversion could well refer to the problem of pluralism, no longer only religious today, but also social, ethical and political. Conversion would thus be experienced as a protection against the ambivalence intrinsically linked to the plurality of forms of life which are now ours.
This article elaborates the sociological dimensions of religious freedom, drawing on the normative and political definitional frameworks. It discusses the challenges of normative, political, and socio-religious interpretations of religious freedom dynamics and the importance of sociologically driven perspectives for the further integration of religious freedom scholarship. We problematize the implicit sociological interest in religious freedom analysis considering the parallel but not overlapping theoretical discourses on that topic in sociology, legal and political studies. Further, we provide an overview of the recent theoretical and empirical analysis of religious freedom in social-science research emphasizing the sociology of religious freedom as a starting point for that scholarly enterprise. The functions of religious freedom for the individual, religious institutions, and society seen at the intersection of instrumental, conceptual, and axiological dimensions, are presented in the final part of this chapter together with sociological definitions of the concept.
The rights talk, or the discourse based on the claim that Christian citizens’ constitutional rights to religious freedom and freedom of speech under threat, has been a constitutive element of the Christian Right’s strategy since the inception of the movement at the end of the 1970s. Donald Trump’s entry into the relationship between religion and politics in the United States, however, has caused this discourse to evolve towards a more explicit affirmation of the ethnocentric ideology permeating the political claims of the movement itself. Through the words of one of the most representative Christian Right’s organizations in the twenty-first century, the Family Research Council, this article aims at providing a description of what is defined the “Donald Trump mythology”. Moreover, it highlights the effectiveness of the issue of religious freedom in fomenting a political culture of discrimination in the United States.
To what extent might U.S. public schoolteachers be inclined to reject legal limitations placed on their personal religious expression at work? During school hours, they are required to present themselves as religiously neutral, as they are acting as agents of the state. Using data from an original survey of more than 5,000 public schoolteachers across the U.S., I analyze support for laws prohibiting three specific forms of religious expression in the classroom: leading group prayer, displaying religious material on classroom walls, and making assertions of religious “truth”. Findings indicate that religious affiliation and religiosity outperform ideology as predictors of teachers’ acceptance of limitations on their religious expression in the classroom. Thus, both “politics” and “religion” shape U.S. teachers’ orientations toward personal religious freedom in the classroom – but “religion” matters slightly more.
Do Italian and Russian youths differ in their perceptions of religious freedom and processes of religious socialization? And if so, whether the latter has predictive power vis-a-vis religious freedom. To answer these questions, this article explores the results from the comparative research on the Social Perception of Religious Freedom (SPRF) conducted in Italy and Russia. The questionnaires were completed by Italian (N = 1035) and Russian (N = 775) University students in 2018-2019. The data show that religious freedom as a societal value sustaining pluralism is perceived similarly in both samples. However, the perceptions differ when young people assessed religious freedom as individual autonomy, an international human rights standard, and a principle of state-religion governance. The data reveal that religious socialization in the families and belief have a key role in constructing the meaning of religious freedom for youth in both countries, while religious education had a significant positive effect only for the Russian sample in the model.