On Oct. 13, 2011, NED President Carl Gershman presented the Democracy Service Medal to long-time Board member Jean Bethke Elshtain. Dr. Francis Fukuyama, another long-time Board member and Medal recipient, and Martin Paloush, former Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the US and the United Nations, also presented tributes. The Medal, established to recognize significant contributions to the progress of democracy around the world, was a fitting homage to Elshtain’s energetic involvement in nine years of membership on the NED Board of Directors.
Elshtain served as the NED Board specialist for South Asia, which actively involved her in the process of reviewing grant proposals, and then presenting and explaining these at each Board meeting. As Gershman noted,
“…her favorite project was the quaintly named Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, a Karachi-based grassroots social movement with 60,000 (dues paying) members that works to protect the rights of Pakistan’s large inland and coastal fisherfolk community from abuse by government, landowners, and other powerful interests. It had all the qualities that Jean likes: real people, tied to their local communities, working together to solve real problems, such as getting the Pakistani authorities to release jailed Indian fisherfolk, or to get a paramilitary border force to vacate fishing grounds it had illegally occupied.”
Elshtain, who is on the faculty at the University of Chicago Divinity School, has also written and lectured extensively on the topic of religion and democracy. In her 1995 book, Democracy on Trial, she reflected on how community in a democracy comes into being “when men and women, acting in common as citizens, get together to find a way to express their collective hopes and possibilities.” This has been a consistent theme in her extensive body of work, including in her 2008 Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on the topic of Religion and Democracy: Allies or Antagonists?
The presentation closed a two-day conference at the University of Chicago Divinity School that focused on Elshtain’s book, Democracy on Trial: Religion, Civil Society, and Democratic Theory. The conference was the second of a four-part cross-disciplinary series on “Jean Bethke Elshtain: The Engaged Mind,” based on themes inspired by Elshtain’s work. The final two conferences (in 2012 and 2013) will concentrate on theology, religion, and politics; and gender, international relations, and just war.