International Institute for Religious Freedom developing Vancouver branch

Janet Epp Buckingham will direct the Vancouver IIRF office.

A Trinity Western University professor has been named director of the North American branch of the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF); the new branch will be based in Vancouver.

A recent release from the IIRF tells the story:

The new office will be led by Prof. Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham and focus on the religious freedom situation in North America.

Prof. Dr. Christof Sauer, one of the founding directors of the IIRF, commented:

“We are excited that the partnership with the Religion in Canada Institute (RCI), adds a new office to IIRF for a major global region. At the time of the founding of IIRF in 2006, we started with a footprint in Europe, Africa and Asia and in 2017 a Latin America Office was added. It was high time to now add a permanent North American representation.”

Under the auspices of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the IIRF is a network of professors, researchers, academics, specialists and university institutions from all continents.

Local chapters work to analyze reliable data on the violation of religious freedom worldwide. They also seek to introduce religious freedom topics in college and university programs and curricula, especially in the areas of law, sociology, religious studies and theology.

IIRF is the publisher of the International Journal for Religious Freedom. The new Vancouver location (IIRF-V) will join branches in Brussels, Colombo, Delhi, Cape Town, Brasilia and Tübingen. [The international office is in Bonn, Germany.]

Paul Rowe co-directs TWU’s Religion in Canada Institute with Janet Epp Buckingham.

The partnership to establish the IIRF-V was formalized with a memorandum of understanding with TWU’s RCI, an interdisciplinary research center and intellectual community of scholars at Trinity Western committed to understanding the multifaceted role of religion in Canada for culture, individuals and social institutions.

It is an official university institute that was founded in 2007 and is run by co-directors TWU professors Janet Epp Buckingham and Paul Rowe.

“The study of religious freedom has entered a pivotal phase, in which scholars have begun to debate how essential and important this key freedom is for contemporary societies,” said Rowe.

“At this point in history, it is vital that people of faith learn to articulate why religious freedom is so important and what it means to the larger expansion of freedom in North America and throughout the world.”

“The affiliation with the IIRF will expand our research network and capacity on issues of religious freedom for minorities around the world,” commented Buckingham, who was also recently appointed as WEA’s Director Designate for Global Advocacy. “We are now connected to a global network of scholars on religious freedom.”

Upon Buckingham’s appointment, Dr. Sauer commented:

“We are very happy that Prof. Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham will represent the IIRF Vancouver office. She is a long-standing and trusted partner of IIRF, having first published in the International Journal for Religious Freedom in 2011.

She stood out by publishing a summary of the first International Consultation on Religious Freedom Research in 2013 initiated by IIRF. In 2019 she took over as managing editor of the IJRF. We appreciate her success in reviving the journal.”

“Paul Rowe also is no stranger to IIRF, having published in IJRF in 2014 as a renowned expert on the Middle East,” Sauer added, and said: “We are looking forward to partner with scholars in North America who are willing to engage with those in other parts of the world on an equal footing.”

Prof. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, who served as Director of the IIRF and has now assumed leadership of the WEA as Secretary General, expressed his appreciation for the partnership, which will strengthen the WEA’s overall engagement in the area of religious freedom.

“The WEA has now bundled its advocacy activities into one department. Our work to help the persecuted church, our religious freedom institutions and human rights advocacy, all our UN offices in New York, Geneva and Bonn, come together under Global Advocacy.

These institutions and activities have diverse histories in different departments and contributed in their own unique ways, and the new structural set up will strengthen them as they will benefit from more direct collaboration,” Schirrmacher said.

He added: “Over the last three decades, Janet Epp Buckingham has been involved with most of those and thus is well equipped to form a unity out of a vibrant staff and busy organization. She brings experience in advocacy for her own national Alliance, representing the WEA at the UN and was also involved in global campaigns.”

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In an email exchange, Janet confirmed that while she has been working with the IIRF for years, she hopes to be particularly focused on it in the upcoming year:

Paul Rowe and I have been working on getting a branch of the IIRF at TWU for years. It is wonderful to finally see it happen. The IIRF operates virtually. It now has branches on every continent. That means that IIRF-V will be the North America branch.

I am on sabbatical from TWU next year and plan to develop the IIRF-V into a vibrant research institute focused on international religious freedom.

Referring to the fact that the IIRF had fallen behind in publishing the International Journal for Religious Freedom (IJRF), she said:

Ah yes, the journal. All the ‘catch up’ issues of the IJRF have been completed during COVID so have just been published online. I assume that we will get hard copies published early next year. I have managed to catch up three years and have another just about ready to go for layout. I am planning to actually get caught up to 2022 in 2022!

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Janet Epp Buckingham is a professor at Trinity Western University and the Director of the Laurentian Leadership Centre, a one-semester public policy program in Ottawa, Canada. She previously served as director, law and public policy, for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Executive Director of the Christian Legal Fellowship in Canada. She was a religious freedom advocate at the UN in Geneva for the World Evangelical Alliance from 2003-2006.

Paul S. Rowe is professor of Political and International Studies at Trinity Western University. His research into the politics of religious minorities in the Middle East and South Asia have exposed him to the complicated problems that faith communities face in places where they form a minority. He is the author of Religion and Global Politics (Oxford University Press Canada, 2012) and editor of The Routledge Handbook of Minorities in the Middle East (Routledge, 2019).

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