The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs has partnered with the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Civil and Human Rights to create a new project, “Under Caesar’s Sword,” which will examine the growing issue of Christian persecution around the world.

The joint venture of the two Catholic schools has already received a $1.1 million grant from the Templeton Religion Trust and will send 14 of the world’s leading Christian scholars from universities across the United States to study in over 30 countries and present their findings at a conference in Rome in December 2015. Some of the countries include China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Egypt and India.

Notre Dame professor Dan Philpott proposed the idea after working closely with Berkley Center professors Timothy Shah and Thomas Farr on the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown, and took the lead on writing the grant proposal.

“It is an effort to stand in solidarity with the persecuted Christians of the world,” Philpott said in a CCHR press release. “To advocate for the rights of Christians is not to claim that their human rights are more important than anyone else’s. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right to which everyone on the planet is entitled. Today, however, Christians constitute the lion’s share of those in the lion’s den.”

“Under Caesar’s Sword” aims to closely examine Christian persecution, how Christians respond to it and increase public awareness of the growing problem.

“We are providing the best possible scholarly analysis we can of what is going on. And this is an issue which is of enormous intellectual interest,” Shah said. “Christians are the world’s largest religious group.And a number of secular responsible analysts have pointed out that the group that’s facing the most harassment because of their religion is Christianity … and yet there’s very little scholarly study of this.And particularly very little study of what Christians are doing to respond to the discrimination and harassment and persecution that they’re facing.”

In addition to funding the research and sending the experts to over 100 Christian communities spanning the globe as long as a month, the grant will cover two additional measures geared toward increasing awareness.

“We have it as one of our official goals that our scholarship really have an influence on the world’s awareness of these problems,” Shah said.“Our second goal is public awareness. We want to increase the knowledge of relevant actors and parties of what’s going on … and we really want a big megaphone through which to announce our findings.”

In addition to the international conference, the project plans to fund another means for garnering the attention of the public.

“We’ll be spending a certain amount of money supporting the filming of a documentary which will be available, ultimately, online. We’ve hired a documentary film producer to travel to at least two or three countries where there is serious repression of Christian communities,” Shah said.

This project builds upon Berkley Center research fellow Rebecca Shah’s research, presented at the “Christianity and Freedom” conference in Rome in December 2013, which focused on the effect the conversion to Christianity had on the social and economic standings of Indian women.

Georgetown University Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., (CAS ’88) denounced the recent violence against Christians and explained that what students and faculty at Georgetown do is important in fighting religious persecution everywhere.

“The recent violence in Iraq against Christian minorities is only the latest in a series of attacks against Christian churches and people,” O’Brien said. “The targeting of any people because of their religion — whether Christian or not — is an affront against our common humanity as children of God. … What we do at Georgetown is part of the solution — teaching people how to talk across religious differences and learning how to join together for peace and solidarity against the forces of violence and division.”

Philpott came up with the name, “Under Caesar’s Sword,” and Shah expects it to be an accurate representation of the situation in many countries.

“The name is inspired by the reality, the very grim reality, that huge numbers of Christians face very real violence, repression and persecution at the hands of governments, i.e. Caesar, around the world,” Shah said. “Of course, the project recognizes that in many cases, it’s not official governments that are doing the persecution. In a number of cases it’s groups, non-state actors, terrorist organizations, extremist groups or grassroots uncivil members of society that are perpetrating the persecution. But in many cases, of course, it’s the government, hence the title, ‘Caesar’s Sword.’”

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