Thomas F Farr, The Religious Freedom Institute, Inc.

A Strengths-Based Approach to Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is in deepening global crisis. Outside the West, a dearth of religious freedom is driving political instability, economic stagnation, intellectual paralysis, religious conflict, and terrorism.

But rather than focusing exclusively on where and how religious freedom is weak, what if religions took a strengths-based approach, identifying communities whose uncommon practices or behaviors have led to positive outcomes?

Grant Title
Religious Freedom Advocacy in South and Southeast Asia
Legal Organization
The Religious Freedom Institute, Inc.
Project Dates
Start Date: 01 January 2017
End Date: 31 December 2019
Grant Amount
Area of Focus
Covenantal Pluralism

Encouraging Positive Deviance

Led by Timothy Shah and Rebecca Shah, the Religious Freedom Institute’s intensive analysis and networking in South and Southeast Asia employed the framework of “positive deviance,” which is the idea that certain individuals or groups outperform their peers even though they face similar problems and enjoy similar resources.

One significant conclusion of this analytical effort was that Indonesia is an increasingly positive outlier on issues of religious freedom in South and Southeast Asia  — a region otherwise increasingly beset by exclusionary religious nationalisms and other politically weaponized ethnic and religious identities.

Their analysis further concluded that the spiritual leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama — the largest independent civil society organization in the entire Muslim World, with some 90 million members — are the most robust and innovative drivers of Indonesia’s resilient traditions of religious pluralism.

The RFI Model

Research: We develop empirical, fact-based evidence (research) that religious freedom is good for religious, individuals, families, civil societies, women, minorities, economies, and political stability.

Educate: We educate by distilling that evidence into persuasive arguments tailored to the audience.

Impact: We equip local stakeholders, especially rising generations of leaders, to understand and value religious freedom, and to impact culture and policy.

Religious Freedom For Everyone, Everywhere

What if religion is an integral feature of human nature and thus an irreducible component of human flourishing?

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) recognizes that religion is the way in which a person strives for harmony, purpose, and meaning in accordance with a transcendent order of life or reality.

Religious freedom, then, is the right freely to engage oneself in faithful pursuit of this unseen reality. The nature of authentically held belief is such that it cannot be forcibly separated from any aspect of life. RFI aims to achieve broad acceptance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right, the cornerstone of a successful society, and a source of national and international security.

Securing religious freedom for “everyone, everywhere”––for Buddhists in Bangladesh every bit as much as Muslims in Maryland––is the mission of RFI.

As a part of this project, RFI has established a South and Southeast Asia (SSEA) Action Team, the goal of which was to make religious freedom a priority for governments, civil society, religious communities, businesses, and the general public, with the ultimate aim of convincing stakeholders that religious freedom can help them achieve their own goals–– political, economic, strategic, and religious.

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