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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Religion and Foreign Policy

There was a time when diplomats didn't think religion mattered. There was a time when former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, was known to say, "Let's not bring God and religion into it." This attitude was partly due to the widely held view of social scientists that religion was on its way out. But, while there are a few who, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, still hold fast to the belief that the world is becoming increasingly secularized, the rest of the world has come to realize that religion isn't going away any time soon (in fact, most cognitive scientists would argue that it isn't going away ever). Even Madeline Albright has changed her tune:
In order to effectively conduct foreign policy today, you have to understand the role of God and religion ... My sense is that we don't fully understand, because one, it's pretty complicated, and two, everyone in the U.S. believes in a separation of church and state, so you think, "Well, if we don't believe in the convergence of church and state, then perhaps we shouldn't worry about the role of religion." I think we do that now at our own peril. Religion is instrumental in shaping ideas and policies. It's an essential part of everyday life in a whole host of countries. And obviously it plays a role in how these countries behave, so we need to know what the religious influence is.
The interaction of religion and foreign policy is the subject of the recent Research on Religion podcast ("David Smith on Religion, International Relations, and Foreign Policy"). It features Professor David Smith, who teaches at the University of Sydney. Smith argues that the "divorce" of religion from foreign policy can be traced back to the Peace of Westphalia, which marked the end of the Thirty Year's War. He believes it took the religious question off the table in terms of interstate conflict and diplomacy and why until recently religion has never been taken seriously by students (and practitioners) of international relations and foreign policy.

The podcast is an interesting discussion on how religion does (or might) play a role in international relations. It covers topics such as human rights, the creation of the International Religious Freedom Act, the terrorist group, Boko Haram, and how U.S. evangelicals approach climate policy domestically and abroad. It can be downloaded from iTunes or you can listen to it at the Research on Religion website ("David Smith on Religion, International Relations, and Foreign Policy").

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