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The Role of Religious Actors in the Production of International Law

Research Project: 

While the second half of the 20th Century saw major movements of population within Asia and Europe, as well as between the two continents, this project explores and analyses the role that Catholic figures, advocacy groups, and intellectual resources have played in shaping norms and principals that have transformed the international law applied to migrants in the contemporary world. Over the past decades, historiographic research has focused on the role that state actors played in the production of international law but little on the influence of religious actors. By focusing on a selected set of Catholic entities which operate in South East Asia and Western Europe (Missionary congregations, Catholic humanitarian agencies, and the Vatican diplomatic networks), as well as within international organizations, this project will deepen our understanding of the production of international law and migrant rights, as well as document the scope and influence of Catholicism in the making of international migratory policies. Going beyond national frameworks, state-to-state relations, and Vatican-centric approaches of Catholicism, this multi-site project brings inter-related case studies from South-East Asia (SEA) and France-Switzerland-Italy-Vatican (FSIV) to problematize the role of religious actors in the production of International law and standards.

Focusing on the second half of the 20th Century as a key moment for international migrations, the emergence of a new international order, and the rapid reconfiguration of world Catholicism, this project investigates the ways in which a range of Catholic entities have supported migrant populations – political refugees, migrant workers— publicize their situations, and advocate for legal responses at local, national, and international levels. Through collaborative archival research combined with interviews of primary actors and witnesses who are still alive, the seminal research will investigate the ways in which these religious organizations have responded to decolonization movements, the spread of communism, but also post World War II globalization and increase circulations between Asia and Europe. Without assuming that Catholicism is necessarily a homogenous and coherent actor, the seminal research will look at the various political forces and religious ideologies that have shaped these religious groups, their multifaceted engagements with migrant populations, and their changing relations with state authorities and international actors. Ultimately, this historical project seeks to theorize the ways religion plays a role in the production of international law and standards affecting migrant populations – with the hope to open new collaborations and intellectual debates between Asia-based and Europe-based scholars.  

Research Team: 


PI: Prof. Paul-André Rosental

Marie-Emmanuelle Chessel, Directrice de Recherche au CNRS, CSO-Sciences Po

Mario del Pero, Professor, Sciences Po



PI: Prof. Kenneth Dean

Michel Chambon, Research Fellow

Funding: Paris - NUS Grant, 2023-2024

Fostering new collaborations in higher education and research between Europe and Southeast Asia



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