Atlas of Religious or Belief Minority (RBM) rights
Law is foundational. It provides order and direction to human activities, defining what is permissible and what is prohibited. It is the first step in building a framework of legitimacy. However, what really happens within this framework goes beyond norms. Legal provisions can be applied or not, respected, violated, or simply ignored. To grasp the real-life implications of law, sociological analysis must integrate legal analysis. This is the second step.
Today we present the first episode of the Atlas, focusing on the legal framework and measuring to what extent a variety of legal systems promote RBM rights. The second episode will follow shortly.
What is the Atlas of religious or belief minority (RBM) rights?
The Atlas is a tool to map the rights enjoyed by RBMs and to measure their respect, promotion and implementation. Mapping is about knowing what rights RBMs have in each country, measuring is essential for developing evidence-based policy making. The Atlas provides a reliable and accurate picture of how much EU states promote the identity, participation and equal treatment of RBMs. Currently, it covers 12 EU countries, 13 RBMs and 4 policy areas.
The Atlas is designed to offer an easy-to-read comparative description of the status of RBMs in the EU countries. It proposes to identify and compare the different levels of minority rights protection granted by each state, the legal status enjoyed by each minority group both across the EU countries and in each of them, and the specific areas of rights that are at stake (again, both transversally across the EU countries and within each of them). Particular attention is devoted to the rights implementation so that the gap between formal entitlement and real enjoyment of rights can be filled.
What is the purpose of the Atlas?
The Atlas aims to contribute to the governance of religious and belief diversity in Europe, reducing unjustified inequalities between religious or belief organizations, ensuring equal enjoyment of freedom of religion and belief and fostering the development of inclusive citizenship.
Promoting equal treatment of RBMs and fighting discrimination is a more and more pressing need in the EU countries where religious diversity is rapidly growing. To face this challenge, innovative theoretical approaches, interdisciplinary research methodologies, technological tools and implementation strategies are needed.
- provide reliable data and information about the status of RBMs;
- elaborate adequate methods for measuring data and processing information concerning their rights;
- develop a sound scientific framework for the understanding of the impact of social and political change upon new and old minorities;
- make this new knowledge available to the general public, raising the awareness of the need to include RBMs in our societies;
- develop instruments that are immediately available to people confronted with discrimination based on faith or belief in their everyday life.
The end result of the project is an enhanced capacity to identify where discrimination of RBMs takes place, to measure its intensity and to assess the effectiveness of the anti-discrimination actions that are put in place.
In this way, the project will contribute to build a cohesive society grounded in the inclusion (as opposed to the marginalization or assimilation) of individuals and communities upholding different religious conceptions and ways of life.
How are the Atlas goals attained?
The Atlas is a cross-disciplinary project based on the dialogue between science and technology on the one hand and humanities and social studies on the other. The project brings together members of the former (statisticians and communication technology experts) and the latter group (scholars of religious studies, historians, legal experts, and sociologists). Together they have pursued a goal that could not have been achieved without the interaction of the members of each disciplinary area and the contribution of RBM representatives.
Religious studies scholars have provided a workable notion of RBMs; legal experts and sociologists have identified their rights and how they can be implemented; statisticians have developed a system for measuring them; and communication technologists have built a tool (the Atlas website) to make the research findings available to all the interested parties, to raise the awareness of the significance of RBMs among people who professionally deal with minority issues (teachers, judges, local administrators, etc.), and to provide guidance to public opinion leaders and policymakers.
Which countries, religious organizations and policy areas are covered by the Atlas?
The Atlas aims to provide data and information related to all EU countries. So far, the following countries have been covered: Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden. The Atlas takes into consideration the following religious organizations: Buddhist communities, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Hindu communities, Islamic communities, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish communities, Orthodox Churches, Protestant Churches (Mainline), Protestant Churches (Evangelical), Roman Catholic Church, Scientology, Sikh communities, and Belief organizations. More information on the criteria adopted for their selection is provided in the Methodology Section.
Finally, the Atlas collects data on the following policy areas: legal status of RBMs, RBM rights in public schools, spiritual assistance in prisons, health facilities and armed forces, religious/belief symbols, denominational schools, marriage and family law, worship and meeting places, and mass media (the last four policy areas will be included at a later stage).
The Atlas People
The Atlas grew out of an idea of Silvio Ferrari and is the outcome of the cooperation of a group of legal experts, sociologists, historians and representatives of RBMs from different EU countries.
At the core of the Atlas is the work of a team of researchers (see Who we are), led by Rossella Bottoni, Cristiana Cianitto, Alessia Passarelli, and Ilaria Valenzi, who processed the data and information provided by the national correspondents, consisting of both legal experts and representatives of RBMs from the EU countries (see National Legal Experts).
Three research centers are partners in the Atlas project: Confronti (Rome), FBK – Fondazione Bruno Kessler (Trento) and FSCIRE – Fondazione per le scienze religiose Giovanni XXIII (Bologna).
The project has been supported by the following sponsors: Università degli Studi di Milano, Università degli Studi di Trento, Otto per mille Chiesa Valdese, Otto per mille dell’Unione Italiana delle Chiese Cristiane Avventiste (see Partners & Sponsors).