European Journal of International Relations 21:3 (2015)
This article draws from Habermasian post-secular theory to broaden the scope of Constructivist research on norm dynamics beyond its current Western-centric focus. In an increasingly post-secular world society, we conceptualize the mechanism of institutional translation to explain processes of norm diffusion whereby culturally situated ‘thick’ norms acquire a ‘thinner’ ethical status via a dialogical process of normative contestation across diverse ethical perspectives. Institutional translation differs from, but also complements, mechanisms of norm diffusion, such as persuasion and localization, by illustrating how norms conceived and promoted by non-Western religious-based actors can acquire global legitimacy within the institutions of the international liberal order. The article investigates the explanatory value of this framework through an empirical analysis of two contrasting cases of norm promotion by the Organization of Islamic Conference at the United Nations. The first case considers the global diffusion of the norm of dialogue of civilizations as an example of successful institutional translation. The second case illustrates the failed diffusion of the norm against the defamation of religion as an instance of unsuccessful institutional translation.