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Research Seminars



Aurore Schwab
The University of Hong Kong The international norms on religions from a History of Religions perspective (1945-2002)


22 Nov 2018

4:30 p.m.
4.36 Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus



Since 1945, several organizations of the United Nations have produced binding and not binding documents (reports, resolutions, declarations, covenants, etc.) about religious issues. Actors such as state representatives, NGOs and special rapporteurs have attempted to separate what they consider as religious practices and discourses from other practices (e.g. traditional or cultural). The genealogy and the archaeology of the international norms on "honour killings" and on "defamation of religions" illustrate the challenges of doing so. While some local/national actors (including in Pakistan) consider "honour killings" as religious and tribal practices, these practices are considered by UN actors as "traditional practices" or "violence against women" (i.e. not of a religious nature). The creation of these alternative categories can be understood as a strategy to avoid a contradiction between the human right on freedom of religion and the one on the right to life. Concerning the UN notion of "defamation of religions", which is very close to the religious notion of blasphemy, it aims to limit freedom of expression on religions. If it was to become a recognized rule of international law, the "defamation of religions" would add to the main human rights holders, which are individuals, some new international juridical entities named "religions" which are currently not recognized as such in international law. Both the UN notion of "defamation of religions" and that of "honour killings" raise questions about the categories created by UN actors and the political and juridical motivation that underpin them.


An History of Religions' approach combining methods from History and Anthropology aim not only to retrace the events leading to the emergence, dissemination and transformation of the international norms on "religions", but also to explore the logics subjacent to the UN discourses. In this regard, the creation of both the international norms on "honour killings" and the one of "defamation of religions" illustrate how so called liberal and rational discourses integrates religious logics, mainly monotheistic and scriptural, to politically redefine the notion of "religion".


Dr. Aurore Schwab is an Honorary Assistant Professor at the Department of History, Hong Kong University. Supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, she conducts a research on the international norm of "defamation of religions". Moreover, she is the co-director of a professional training on Understand, negotiate and manage cultural and religious diversity at the University of Geneva in Switzerland where she obtained her PhD in History of Religions (2016) as well as the Fritz Stoltz Award (2018).


All are welcome. No registration is required.