The conference comes at a time when violence against Christians around the world has increased sharply, as a recent reportof the Pew Research Center shows. The opening session will feature addresses by Patriarch Raphael Sako of Iraq and Patriach Youssef Younan of Syria. Both are from countries in which the Islamic State has killed and exiled thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. “Christians in the Middle East are experiencing an existential threat that is both targeted and systematic,” comments Mariz Tadros of the University of Sussex and a researcher for “Under Caesar’s Sword.”
Speeches will also be delivered by Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church in Egypt, Charles Cardinal Bo of Burma, Bishop Boris Gudziak of Ukraine, Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi of Nigeria, and other leaders of global Christian churches.
The conference is the peak event of a three-year project studying Christian responses to persecution made possible by a grant of $1.1 million from the Templeton Religion Trust. The project has assembled a team of 14 scholars to study some 100 beleaguered Christian communities in over 30 countries.
A central purpose of the conference is to allow these scholars to share the results of their research for the first time. “By now, the scale of Christian persecution has been amply documented,” says Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown, “but nobody has examined systematically and globally what these communities do when they are under massive repression. Do they flee? Resist? Work with outsiders to build safe havens? Accommodate? Forgive? Or what?”
A preliminary look at the results shows that responses vary greatly. In sites where Christians face armed violence like Syria, Nigeria, Egypt, and Libya, many flee their homes. In severely repressive countries like the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, mere coping is the dominant strategy, though this can take creative forms like demonstrating their patriotism to the government, or engaging in forms of “everyday resistance.” In other locales like Russia, India, China, Pakistan, and Indonesia, Christian responses to persecution take more active forms like interreligious engagement, political advocacy, rallies and protests, or providing social services.
Much of how Christians respond to persecution is explained by the degree and kind of repression that they face—but not entirely. One project scholar, Purdue sociologist Fenggang Yang, attributes the growth of Christianity in China, where underground churches have faced strong repression, to churches committed to “evangelizing in all circumstances.”
To honor the principle of religious liberty, the conference also will commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty, promulgated on December 7, 1965.
The conference will be held in the Aula Magna of the Pontifical Urban University in Rome and begins at 4:00 p.m. on December 10. For information on registration, visit the conference web page here.
For more information, contact: Zahra Vieneuve, Project Manager for Under Caesar’s Sword, Center for Civil and Human Rights, firstname.lastname@example.org, 574.631.7233.