Since 2011, the Religious Freedom Project has convened leading scholars and policy experts to investigate religious freedom — its history, meaning, impact on political development, and its role in world affairs. The RFP’s interdisciplinary initiative has demonstrated the far-reaching importance of religious freedom. By exploring the ways in which religion is embedded in human experience and connected to human well-being, it has demonstrated that religious freedom is an important field of study in its own right. Our research, teaching, and outreach have deepened scholarly debate, informed policy deliberation, and educated the media and wider public about a vital issue.
In 2014 and beyond, we propose to build on this foundational work by engaging a major new question: what is the relationship between religious freedom, other fundamental freedoms, and societal flourishing? What economic and political benefits accrue to societies that afford full and free expression to the religious impulses so deeply embedded in human experience? When governments and societies encourage individuals and groups to reflect on issues of ultimate meaning and truth, and to act publicly in accord with their deepest beliefs, to what extent do they also advance economic prosperity, political freedom, and human flourishing?
Over three years a team of leading scholars and policy experts will explore how the free exercise of religion impacts economic and political freedom, prosperity and democracy, and overall societal development. A new examination of these largely unexplored connections through comparative research, as well as outreach to the policy community and wider public, will build on the achievements of the RFP and position us to shape the debate on one of our century’s critical issues. In sum, we propose to explore the extent to which religious freedom is not only a theological issue but an essential component of freedom, prosperity, and overall human flourishing.