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Yesterday, the papal encyclical “Laudato Sii” was finally released. Environmentally engaged members of the Roman Catholic Church have awaited this day with cautious excitement since January 2014, when it was first announced that Pope Francis prepares such a document on “the ecology of mankind”. Over the last months, the event has also received remarkable attention in the wider public all over the globe.

The release of the encyclical exemplifies how religious actors can influence regulatory processes. Short-term, it may affect current political events with judgments about concrete political choices, influencing their (il)legitimacy. For instance, the papal encyclical calls the final document of the Conference of the United Nations on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, “ineffective”. Further,

the strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. […] it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors (Laudato Sii).

The release may also create a new momentum of debate and hope in the year of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP11) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol in Paris during which parties aim for a new, legally binding agreement.

Long-term, it is a significant theological document meant to give direction to contemporary Catholicism and 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. Even if we cannot know how it will be interpreted in thirty years from now, its effect is likely to last longer than the next international climate agreement. But despite or especially because of its character, it enfolds its dynamic only with its reception by an audience willing and eager to engage with it. At least three factors have helped to turn the publication of the encyclical into a widely received event which is likely to deserve all the hope that is attached to it.

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“The Baby trade is likely to continue to grow, partly it is no longer simply a response to wars and humanitarian crises. For better or worse, it now behaves much like a commodities market, with demand informing supply; and neither demand nor supply is likely to subside.” – Ethan Kapstein 2003

Since Madonna and Angelina Jolie famously adopted children from Africa, the international adoption system is under fire.  The suspicion is that the system may be driven by market forces and profit seeking, and that regulations and international conventions just camouflage (illegal) market practices and facilitate the trafficking of children.  Clearly, international adoptions are serious normative and political issues for the “sending” countries because children are normally understood as “sacred” and are loaded “with sentimental or religious meaning” (Zelizer 1985: 11). They should be protected, educated and loved.

The international dispersion of these ideas is reflected in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which has been signed by 193 countries until now, who

proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance …  [children] should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding …  in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.

Extra commercium

The idea of child protection clearly reserves them “a separate noncommercial place, extra-commercium” (Zelizer, ibid.). However, although it is prohibited, child trafficking is still a worldwide phenomenon. Usually it takes place between “Third World” countries and the industrialized western world, and it appears in different forms. Especially the practice of “child laundering” has gained high attention. Read the rest of this entry »

A colleague forwarded an excellent article by Peter Buffett (son of the “Oracle of Omaha” but also someone with his own list of impressive achievements) in the New York Times. Peter Buffett critiques what he calls the “Charitable-Industrial Complex”: a global feel-good industry in the business of alleviating guilt.

New York Times: The Charitable-Industrial Complex

Ironic illustration from the op-ed

©2013 The New York Times Company

The failures of present day large, organised philanthropy, Buffett argues, extend beyond just naively transplanting unsuitable ideas (“philanthropic colonialism”) to new places. Particularly the business-infused variant of philanthropy feeds a desire for cheap “conscience laundering”, making the rich and powerful complacent about their own part in creating social problems. Analogously to medieval indulgences, the Charitable-Industrial Complex promises easy absolution from wrongs committed in the pursuit of profits:

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

The Buffetts aren’t exactly known for mincing their words. Warren (the investor and father) is known for his television statement “there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won.” (See also: the Daily Show’s take.) “Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction” – also Warren B.

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The open-access, peer-reviewed Journal of the Sociology and Theory of Religion asks for contributions for the first issue in 2014. The call aims at papers dealing with religion, environment, diversity and/or justice based on comparative, empirical research.

The papers can be submitted until October 1, 2013, to the special editor Michael Agliardo, SJ, Ph.D. The journal is published in English, Spanish and Chinese.

(Jiska)

On the night of the December 14, 2012, a 25 year old woman was sedated with date rape drugs in Cologne, Germany, and subsequently raped. When the police and medical authorities took her for medical checkup and evidence collection, two hospitals refused to treat her and prescribe emergency contraception.  Both hospitals were run by the Catholic Church. The doctors told the woman that emergency contraception was not in line with the worldview of their employer. Media reported that the doctors feared to lose their jobs.

The incidence was only picked up a couple of months later by the press; however it provoked harsh public criticism against the Catholic Church. The negative publicity fell on fruitful ground. Earlier in the same year there had been an intense media discourse about alleged inappropriate behavior of Catholic welfare providers. A female manager of a Catholic day care facility had been fired after the woman had divorced and moved in with a new partner.  The church argued that “not keeping faith ’til death” was incompatible with the Catholic worldview and hence the woman had to go. The press dug out similar cases where Catholic welfare providers had decided not to employ or to fire people due to their homosexuality or because they had divorced.

The German public was puzzled: how could it be that in a society  in which regular churchgoers barely make up more than 10 percent of the West and 3 percent of the East German electorate, the Church maintains such a strong normative grip on society?

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The pope is a transnational actor ex officio. He fills the highest position in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church which makes him: head of a state, head of an NGO-like organization, head of a huge religious organization, and spiritual leader of a transnational community.

However, the current discourses on the election of a new pope reveal that the affair has more layers than the universal doctrine of the church suggests. Discussions on ‘papapile’ cardinals included strong national allocations. Furthermore, focusing on internal challenges of the organization belittled the external relevance of the decision and the pope’s role as an advocate. With this blog, I want to shed light on those different dimensions of papacy and the Roman Catholic Church against the backdrop of the recent election of Franciscus I.

What the pope is and what he is not

Of course, the pope is the absolute head of a state. Since the Lateran Treaty in 1929, the Vatican is a sovereign state accepted in the international community. The pope is part of political struggles. However, he is no usual head of state. As a non-member permanent observer state since 1964, the Vatican representative has no right to vote at the United Nations (although all other rights of full membership were granted in 2004).

Analytically, the Roman Catholic Church is maybe best described as a unique hybrid on the world stage with state and non-governmental characteristics.

The Church today regards Vatican City as part of the infrastructure for carrying out its true mission. In the language of international relations, the Church understands itself as an NGO, and it additionally employs the benefits of sovereign status in the service of its advocacy interest. (Ferrari 2006: 40)

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The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
February 2017
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