Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

New Research Project Studies Religion in Internationalism

February 2, 2010

The story of international law over the past century is being retold through the lens of its relationship to religion, by a new Religion and Internationalism Project launched last year by Nathaniel Berman, the Rahel Varnhagen Professor of International Affairs, Law, and Modern Culture.

The current portrait of religion as marginal to contemporary international law cannot begin to account for the disarray and panic evoked in internationalist debate by the challenges posed by religion in the 2000s – ranging from fundamentalisms with global ambitions, whether emanating from Washington or Waziristan, to more localized challenges, whether emerging in the West Bank or Kashmir.

“Departing from views which relegate religion to the margins, I maintain that religion has played an ongoing and highly fraught role in the international legal imagination, with which it has maintained relations both of rivalry and complicity,” Berman says in his research statement. His analysis of the relationship between religion and international law is based on legal history, interdisciplinary study, and policy analysis.

The Religion and Internationalism Project builds on Berman’s previous studies focused on reconstructing the development of international law in the century since World War I in terms of its relationship to nationalism, ethnic conflict, and colonialism.

The combined projects’ policy implications point away from the tendency toward internationalist responses that are structurally similar, despite the heterogeneity of the problems they have sought to solve. In their place will be proposed more particularized policy responses better suited to bringing about the pacification of individual conflicts and securing the individual and collective human rights that are most at stake.

Berman joined the Watson Institute last year from Brooklyn Law School and Northeastern Law School. He received his JD from Harvard Law School and his BA from Yale University. His most recent publications include the book Passions et Ambivalences: le Nationalism, le Colonialisme, et le Droit International (Paris: Pedone 2008).