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Q&A with former diplomat Thomas F. Farr

North America | Religious Freedom

THE MEDIA PROJECT SAT DOWN WITH Dr. Thomas F. Farr for a conversation on the sidelines of the Witherspoon Institute's Islam and Religious Freedom Seminar, where Farr was a featured lecturer.

Farr is the Director of the Task Force on Religious Liberty at the Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute as well as Director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.

The 62-year-old is a former U.S. diplomat who specialized in strategic military policy, political affairs, and religious freedom during his 21-year career in the Foreign Service.  Farr also served as the first director of the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom from 1999 until 2003.  He has written about America's international religious freedom policy, U.S. national security and the development of the Catholic doctrine of religious liberty.

Farr spoke to the Witherspoon conference on many aspects of religious freedom, including the debates about the definition of the term, what social science has discovered about religious freedom, and his own ideas on proselytism. 

Afterward, TMP spoke with Farr about his new role as director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center and about why religion deserves a place at the table.  What follows is an excerpt from that conversation. 

REPORTER: I understand the Religious Freedom Project is relatively new, what can you tell us about it?

FARR: The premise of the Religious Freedom Project is that there's a crisis in religious freedom around the world. It's a crisis that is worldwide. It has many manifestations: religious persecution in some areas of the world, and simply trying to remove religion from the public square in many Western countries.

The one involves life and limb. The other does not.  But they're nevertheless part of the issue of religious freedom.  So what we did was go to the John Templeton Foundation - we made a grant proposal - with that as the premise.  We said that we propose, as a way of responding to this crisis, increase the salience of religious freedom as an academic and policy issue, encourage scholars, whatever their religious persuasions are, to study it in their disciplines.

So we have a team of nine scholars from across a wide range of disciplines. Internationally, we have a historian, a national security expert, Islamic studies, Jewish studies, sociology, philosophy, theology, international relations, and these people are being funded to research and write, within their own disciplines.

We will bring these scholars to Georgetown twice a semester, both to meet and to engage in a series of conferences that we're having.

Again the purpose of this is to increase the importance of religious freedom in the academy and in the policy worlds. Not so much as a matter of advocacy for it, although I am an advocate of religious freedom, but to study it.

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