Monday, July 13, 2009

Fellwoship proposal to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom

I just turned in a fellowship proposal to the US Government. In it, I suggest an integral methodology that considers at least three significant stages of development. A more complete model includes extremist and moderate typologies at each level of development.

My book should be ready to go by the end of the month -- if your excited about these ideas please send me an email for an advanced copy.

Here's a taste of my proposal to the US. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)...

Area of Intended Study

This proposal introduces a new and more sophisticated model of religious analysis that will (1) aid in the reduction of religious extremism, (2) help prevent religious repression, and (3) improve foreign policy implementation of USCIRF.

The latest research in adult psychological development allows one to map a successive path of psychological maturity in each religious tradition. Applying a developmental model when analyzing potentially harmful religious actors and Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), gives US officials, diplomats, and policy leaders the capacity to promote a more robust and efficacious American policy that advances international religious freedom.

Religious interpretation follows a predictable path of growth and development that directly correlates to the psychological complexity of the religious adherent. At one end of the spectrum, strict and often literal interpretations of religion set the conditions for religious violence and terrorism. At the opposite end of the spectrum, self-reflective and pluralistic interpretations of religion form the foundation for social progress, prosperity, and religious freedom.

Using a model of stage development will allow USCIRF to demonstrate, through empirical evidence and research, that religious views that promote religious tolerance will emerge in all traditions as a natural process of developmental unfolding. Consequently, once backed by research, USCIRF can strategically protect more tolerant views of traditions even in those areas where extremist and intolerant views are dominant. This proposal offers USCIRF the opportunity to use both theory and research to support the spread of international religious freedom.

Usually only offering two terms, extremist and moderate, the model currently used to analyze religious actors is too simplistic and is not linked to solid research or theory that can legitimize its use. This one-dimensional model has not allowed the type of dramatic and long lasting influence that would be possible if a more sophisticated model using psychological development were employed. Understanding psychological development is not only an imperative for the advancement of international religious freedom but is the moral obligation of our policy leaders and diplomats who wish to ensure the security of our nation.

If our efforts to reduce religious extremism and terrorism are to succeed, USCIRF will be deeply served by learning and implementing a model of religious analysis that takes into account the way faith development influences religious interpretation. A developmental model of religious analysis recognizes at least three stages or lenses through which religion can be interpreted based on the latest finding in Adult Developmental psychology. These stages of increasing development range from Pre-modern, Modern, and Post-modern. Using a more accurate model that includes the relevant research from Adult Psychological Development in general and Faith Development in particular, will offer decision makers a strategic advantage allowing them to more accurately (1) predict behaviors, (2) assess the consequences of decisions, and (2) determine the most appropriate courses of action to reduce religious extremism.

Beginning in the 1980s at Harvard and continuing a 30-year legacy internationally, empirical research clearly indicates that individuals move through predictable levels of psychological development with regard to faith. 1 Lower levels of Faith intelligence (e.g. pre-modern) have the potential to serve as the breeding ground for intolerance and extremism. Higher levels of faith development (e.g. modern and post-modern) produce, tolerance, pluralism, and contributing factors of religious freedom. 2 It is therefore in the interest of USCIRF to understand these stages of faith development to ensure that modern and post-modern interpretations of religion have a voice.

Validating each of the three stages of interpretation provides sufficient conditions for religious adherents to naturally increase in development. In other words, because the path is sequential over time, adherents will gradually move away from extremist orientations that are unwilling to engage in dialogue, to more open and inclusive views that can successfully integrate and endorse a modern economy and a stable democratic system.

The great religious traditions of the world are inherently neutral and must be preserved and protected through religious freedom. As neutral entities, religions are molded and manipulated according to the psychological stage of faith development of the individual adherent. If the USCIRF is to implement successful policies of international religious freedom, they must begin by addressing the various perspectives that religious adherents bring each tradition. Below, please find a brief list of the basic characteristics of each developmental stage most relevant to the mission of USCIRF:

Pre-modern stage of religious interpretation: literal, absolute, rigid, dogmatic, patriarchal, male dominant, cannot integrate with a democratic system

Modern stage of religious interpretation: self-reflective, self-critical, inquisitive, tolerant, open to dialogue, gender equality, can integrate successfully with democratic system

Post-modern stage of religious interpretation: pluralistic, diversity seeking, supplements own understanding with the views of others, gender equality, can integrate successfully with democratic system

Due to the fact that evidence suggests that all adult human beings share the potential to move through these given levels of adult development, all of the aforementioned stages of faith development exist within each of our world’s religious traditions. 3 This means that there is a pre-modern version of Christianity, a modern version of Christianity and post-modern version of Christianity. Similarly, there is a pre-modern version of Islam, a modern version of Islam, and a post-modern version of Islam.

Currently, violent religious actors and CPCs tend to promote only pre-modern versions of religion to the exclusion of modern and post-modern interpretations. Not only do Pre-modern religious proponents often claim that they adhere to the only true religion, but many also claim that their particular sect and interpretation is the only correct perspective within their respective tradition. Such narrow views create conflict both between different religions and within single traditions.

Relevance to Religious Freedom

This proposal meets several goals of USCIRF. Policy that incorporates a proper understanding of the stages of development within each religious tradition will help to:

♣ Protect freedom of conscience and provide evidence to support at least
three valid stages of religious interpretation

♣ Reduce religious extremism and the consequent violent actions that can
result (i.e. terrorism)

♣ Promote the rights of women by ensuring that interpretations of
religion that tend to embrace gender equality are protected (modern
and post-modern)

♣ Increase efficacy of US assistance through its new ability to evaluate
and rewire policy agendas and education models to include
interpretations of religion from every level. Among other things, this
remodeling can serve as a tool in foreign diplomacy that ensures that
countries of particular concern are not indoctrinating children with
only a pre-modern, intolerant version of religion

♣ Contribute to a more comprehensive curriculum for the Foreign Service

♣ Ease foreign suspicion of US policy. A clear foreign policy that
acknowledges and upholds the value of all stages of interpretation in
all religious traditions will reduce fears that the USCIRF is “designed
to undermine traditional cultures” and “privilege American

♣ Protect tolerant expressions of religion from suppression. With
research to back up more liberal interpretations of religion, USCIRF can
prevent modern and post-modern views from being suppressed by
radical fundamentalists at pre-modern levels. Until all three level of
religious orientation are protected through strict regulations of
international religious freedom, more liberal interpretations
(modern and post-modern) will continue to be stamped out by pre-modern
extremists, both subtly (through educational indoctrination of
pre-modern values as in the case Saudi Arabia) and violently (through
public executions and use of force).

A concrete example helps to ground these ideas and demonstrate the direct relevance of my proposed area of study to the field of religious freedom.

Because pre-modern versions of religion are exclusivist in nature, they (1) are not open to direct criticism, (2) fail to engage in self-reflection, and (3) do not allow conversions away from their specific faith. We need to look no further than the case of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan, who, accused of apostasy, stood on trial and was threatened with death for converting from Islam to Christianity. In this case, a pre-modern interpretation of Islam prevented true religious freedom from unfolding.

How did this limit on religious freedom occur in a country that the US helped to reconstruct? Using a developmental approach we see that the US was half right and half wrong in its approach. The US was right to understand that secularism (separation of religion and state) is not the most appropriate model for democracy in other countries. Hence, the decision to help Afghanistan develop an Islamic republic was a positive move. However, the move to establish a democracy based on Islamic law was made before the religion and religious adherents had reached the appropriate level of development. That is to say, the faith development of the masses had not yet achieved a critical majority at a modern level of consciousness that is open to self-reflection and criticism (both critical for successful democracy). As a result, although decisions in Afghanistan were made through a democratic process, the choices represented the will of the religious majority who still subscribed to pre-modern values of intolerance, a lack of religious freedom, and restrictions on the rights of women.

If the US possessed a better understanding of the stages of faith proposed here, they could have made bolder moves to secure and protect modern and post-modern interpretations of religion that welcomed public debate and criticism. The conditions in Afghanistan and others like it offer the direct opportunity to promote the legitimacy of all levels of interpretation; thereby, out of necessity, creating a public space for religious debate and dialogue. The US in general and the USCIRF in particular must understand that if a democratic system is to preserve its capacity to maintain honest religious dialogue and freedom of conscience, the limited and exclusivists views of pre-modern expressions of religion must be balanced by a majority of modern and post-modern views; If this advice is ignored, and democracies are created where the majority of religious adherents subscribe to pre-modern beliefs, there will be a tyranny of the intolerant religious majority over the more tolerant religious minority.

Former Director of the Office of International Religious Freedom, Thomas Farr, states: “Religious freedom is the right to pursue the religious quest, to embrace or reject the interior and public obligations that ensue, and to enter or exit religious communities that reflect, or do not reflect, one’s understanding of truth of religious truth.” 5 When faith development is properly understood, it serves as a vehicle to directly support the mission of USCIRF. USCIRF must directly promote and ensure the security of modern and post-modern interpretations of each religious tradition.