Oct. 5, 2000
Vol. 20 No. 2

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    ‘The Sacred and the Sovereign’

    By Arthur Fournier
    News Office

    As recent humanitarian catastrophes in the Balkans and sub-Saharan Africa demonstrate, the international mandate to protect rights and preserve human dignity increasingly involves complex legal and military intervention.

    Critics of this trend argue that by transgressing the borders of independent nations in order to police their civil affairs, a dangerous and de-stabilizing precedent, which stands in violation of centuries-old norms concerning countries’ rights to self-governance, is being set.

    “The Sacred and the Sovereign: Human Rights, the Use of Force and Religious Pluralism at Century’s Dawn,” a one-day symposium at the Divinity School on Friday, Oct. 20, will bring the role of religious beliefs and institutions to bear on the issue. The conference will seek to address how modern religion informs, complicates and potentially reconciles the tension between the inviolability of fundamental human rights–rights often held as sacred–and the sovereignty we traditionally accord to independent nations.

    Conference organizers and students in the Divinity School John Carlson and Erik Owens point out that in addition to its immense contemporary significance to policymakers, the issue in question has historical roots that are deeply entangled within the religious and political traditions of the West. In a statement available on the conference Web site, Carlson remarks that independent nation-states in Europe first developed, in part, as a reaction to the religious warfare that rocked the continent during the 16th and 17th centuries. “Seventeenth-century conceptions of political sovereignty were designed and, did in some measure, function to limit and prevent wars–at least violence–inspired by religion,” he explained.

    Owens said he believes that recent economic growth and the advancement of communication technologies lend a new urgency to the theme. “The reality of globalization demands a rethinking of the relation between reli-gion and sovereignty,” he explained. “Religion does often provide the context for conflict and violence, but it is no less true that religion also provides the context and motivation for peace and reconciliation.”

    Carlson and Owens have assembled a group of academic participants to address the topic. University faculty members Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor in the Divinity School, and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, the William Benton Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science, will deliver papers along with key scholars in history, political science, theology and government from around the nation. A distinguished list of visiting panelists includes the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, professor and chair of the executive committee at Harvard Divinity School; Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, editor of Commonweal magazine; R. Scott Appleby, professor of history and director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame; Robin Lovin, dean and professor of ethics at the Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University; and Paul Griffiths, chair of Catholic studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    The two student organizers also successfully attracted the interest of senior-ranking U.S. military and State Department officials, Gen. James McCarthy and Robert Gallucci.

    Gallucci, dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, is the State Department Special Envoy who combats the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He has served as Deputy Executive Chairman of the United Nations Special Commission, overseeing the disarmament of Iraq. As U.S. ambassador-at-large during the mid-1990s, Gallucci was responsible for negotiating the nuclear nonproliferation agreement with North Korea in 1994 and leading the civilian rebuilding effort in Bosnia in 1996.

    Gen. James McCarthy, USAF, Ret., professor of National Security at the U.S. Air Force Academy, is former Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. European Command, where he had day-to-day responsibility for all U.S. forces on the continent. McCarthy is a member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board and recently chaired the Task Force for Kosovo-Lessons Learned. He also served as vice-chairman of the Defense Science Board on Intelligence Support for Bosnia Operations.

    “Gallucci and McCarthy possess decades of on-the-ground experience as strategic decision makers and negotiators for peace at the highest level. We are incredibly fortunate to have them,” said Carlson.

    The day will begin at 9 a.m. in Swift Hall, 1025 E. 58th St., with opening remarks by Richard Rosengarten, Dean of the Divinity School, and a preface and conference overview by Elshtain. Panel presentations for the “The Sacred and the Sovereign,” will take place over the course of two sessions–one in the morning and another in the afternoon–both of which will include opportunities for participants’ responses and a moderated public conversation.

    Elshtain will chair the first session, “Introducing the Problem: The Case of Humanitarian Intervention,” which will take up an analysis of NATO’s actions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on behalf of Kosovo and the question of future interventions. Hehir, McCarthy and Steinfels will deliver papers during this session.

    Following a noon lunch break, Griffiths will introduce panelists taking part in the afternoon session, “Expanding the Discourse: Rethinking Religion and Sovereignty.” Rudolph, Gallucci and Appleby, a historian of religion who completed his Ph.D. at the University, will each deliver papers.

    Two additional presentations will round out the conference. At 4 p.m., Lovin will offer thoughts on “The Future of Sovereignty: A Christian Realist Perspective.” Griffiths will deliver a response and closing remarks of the day, “Religious Allegiance and Political Sovereignty: An Irreconcilable Tension?” After Griffiths’ remarks, the conference will adjourn for a reception in Swift Hall Common Room.

    Carlson and Owens have produced a Web site for the conference that provides detailed information about their intentions for the event, biographical information on conference speakers, announcements of related events, a background reader with the full texts of selected essays and articles, and a bibliography that lists publications relevant to the discussion.

    The site, which is at http://sacred-sovereign.uchicago.edu, also offers visitors the opportunity to register electronically for the conference. Registration is free.

    For more information about “The Sacred and the Sovereign,” contact Owens at ec-owens@uchicago.edu or (773) 288-2151, or Carlson at jd-carlson@uchicago.edu or (773) 561-3025. People with disabilities who believe they may need assistance should call the Divinity School at (773) 702-7170 prior to the event.