Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenges of Spiritual Engagement

In This Review

Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement (Praeger Security International)
By Douglas M. Johnston Jr.
Praeger, 2011
283 pp. $49.95

In places as different as Bosnia, Côte d’Ivoire, Europe, Indonesia, and Nigeria, competition among religious groups and identities intensifies and sharpens ethnic and territorial rivalries. Some of the foreign policy actors whose actions disturb the United States the most (al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran) are motivated in part by religion. In many sub-Saharan countries where governments are weak and poorly placed, religious entities are often the only organizations with a national reach. For these reasons and more, U.S. policymakers must come to grips with religion in new and more fruitful ways. Johnston recommends ways that the U.S. foreign policy apparatus can minimize the harm religion can do and, where possible, integrate a deeper religious understanding into both the development and the execution of its strategy. He calls for a group of “religion attachés,” similar to the labor attachés who have served in many U.S. embassies since the early days of the Cold War, and for teaching Foreign Service officers more about religion throughout their careers. The second recommendation seems more urgent; if political officers, heads of mission, and senior State Department personnel do not fully appreciate the importance of religion, then his proposed religion attachés are unlikely to be used well.

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