As someone who takes history seriously I tend to resist prediction; as one trained in the non-confessional academic study of religion I am loath to make normative statements. These academic inclinations make me naturally reluctant to offer policy prescriptions. But my research project on religious freedom during the Allied Occupation of Japan convinced me that policy decisions often occur in haste, with minimal background information, and with an emphasis on short-term problem-solving that can overlook long-term perspectives. When policy makers are pressed for time, catchphrases often stand in for rigorous analysis.
I think that policy can be done better, and I think that the relatively “slow” academic perspective can provide context and caution that counterbalances the excitement of a given moral panic or the exigencies of an unexpected political crisis. As a humanist I am particularly interested in the power of words, and indeed my research on religious freedom has shown that stakeholders often tactically define operative terms to suit their narrow ends. My contributions to policy discussions therefore interrogate the major terms that consistently arise in debates about religion and public life in the United States and Japan. You can find links to a couple of examples below.
- Treating Religious Freedom as a Human Right is a Problem, Not a Solution
- Religious Freedom and the US-Japan Alliance
(Erratum: the law mentioned near the end of my piece is the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), not the International Religious Freedom Restoration Act. IRFA is separate from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was passed in the same year.)