The 2017 ban by the Russian government of the Jehovah’s Witnesses on account of their being an extremist organization has prodded religious and human rights scholars into assessing their social and legal situation in several countries in order to contextualize the rationale behind the ban. Thirteen specialists participated in the seminar “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Opponents: Russia, the West, and Beyond” organized on September 3, 2020, by CESNUR, the New Religions Research and Information Center of Vilnius, Lithuania, and Vytautas Magnus University of Kaunas, Lithuania.
Figures and specific legal cases about Russia and international comparisons were detailed by Willy Fautré, James T. Richardson, and Alessandro Amicarelli (clicking on the name of each speaker will send you directly to the videos of their lectures), whereas Rosita Šorytė and Sergey Ivanenko addressed more specifically the roots of the problem by explaining the historical context and the Russian psyche. Milda Ališauskienė explored the opposition to Witnesses in Lithuania, and found that this was due to the citizens, even those not religiously active, regarding their identity as being first and foremost Catholic. Thus, the Witnesses, as Protestant and foreign, can only be perceived as threatening this identity.
Silvio Ferrari proposed a classification of different countries according to how religious liberty is protected and Jehovah’s Witnesses, in particular, are treated by state institutions. George Chryssides examined the root causes of opposition to Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout history. J. Gordon Melton discussed the opposition to the Witnesses in the United States. Massimo Introvigne and Holly Folk explored substantive issues about the disfellowshipping process, ostracism of those disfellowshipped, and the Witnesses’ handling of cases of sexual abuse, while Raffaella Di Marzio reflected on affiliation.
I (Bernadette Rigal-Cellard) offered some general conclusions.
All the speakers, and several other international scholars, signed an appeal calling for an end of the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.
Watch the full video of the conference: