The Religion and Democratic Contestation project sought to improve our understanding of religious responses to emergent rights-based social justice mobilizations in Latin American democracies. Building on a now completed project focused on the relationship of religion to violence in Latin America under circumstances both of dictatorship and democracy, this initiative sought to describe and compare how religious actors, organizations, and hierarchies are currently participating in transnational, national and local advocacy associated with two widespread sources of conflicts characteristic of the region's democracies: conflicts over extractive resources, environmental and climate justice on the one hand, and contestation relating to gender and sexuality on the other. In so doing, this initiative assessed the extent of continuity and change in religious approaches to rights and justice in Latin America, from the past to the present.
The environment and gender were chosen as topics to organize the current project, given the evident public debate and social contestation these two questions generate in Latin America today, and our assessment that public perceptions of these issues are changing. This project gave particular attention to interactions between religion and governments, religious and civil society actors, and between local and transnational advocacy networks, including the role of religious actors in the creation and application of the law. A primary project goal was to identify and explain the range of variation of religious orientations to rights, justice and to the law. A second goal was to identify the sources of specific conceptions of rights and justice for religious advocacy, as articulated by theological concepts and positions as well as local and national engagements, but also by religious participation in transnational advocacy networks dedicated to these issues.
This project was directed by Robert Albro, a Research Associate Professor at CLALS, together with the Center's Director, Eric Hershberg, and co-Principal Investigators Evan Berry, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion and co-director of the Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs Master's Program at American University, and Macarena Saez, Faculty Director, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the Washington College of Law.
We convened three meetings with scholars from the U.S., Europe, and Latin America to facilitate the project's work. An initial planning meeting was held in Washington, DC in February 2014. This meeting included a public forum on the relationship of religious advocacy to both justice and rights in contemporary Latin America. In November 2014, also in Washington, DC, CLALS convened a group of leading researchers, who presented original case-driven research as part of a day-long meeting concerned with the ways religion has shaped public agendas around gender and the environment in Latin America. This meeting was followed by a public forum on religion, sex, and nature in diverse social justice movements across the region. The project also sponsored a panel at the annual meeting of the Latin American Studies Association in May 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which highlighted one part of this ongoing work: the challenge posed by Indigenous peoples and their cosmologies to global environmental debate. In July 2015, we held a third meeting on religion and climate change in comparative regional perspective.
We also convened a series of workshops and public fora to facilitate dialogue with, and inform the work of, practitioners and policy decision-makers engaged with project topics. Together with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, we hosted a public workshop in September 2015 on religion, journalism, and climate change, which assessed the impact of the papal encyclical on the environment. The workshop also marked the premiere of the documentary When the Forest Weeps, by School of Communication Journalist in Residence Bill Gentile. In collaboration with the Washington College of Law's Impact Litigation Project, we hosted a workshop in October 2015 on the influence of religious family law on the rights of LGBTQ+ parents and children. Two final public panels were held January 20-21, 2016 to disseminate project findings among practitioners and policy decision-makers through the presentation of case studies. The first of these took place at the Washington Office on Latin America in Washington, DC and the second at the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice in New York City.