Pope Francis blesses a crucifix during a meeting with youths at the Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon stadium in Morelia, Mexico, February 16, 2016.
Osservatore Romano / Reuters

Academic and policy discussions of international issues generally ignore religion or, at most, treat it as part of some other problem to be solved. But despite the conventional expectations of inexorable secularization, according to the World Values Survey, religion remains an influential aspect of public life, not only in the United States but around the world. To be relevant, therefore, U.S. foreign policy must acknowledge the place religion occupies in global politics and engage in candid conversations that include both secular and religious voices. The books here provide the basis for beginning such discussions.

Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft. Edited by Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson. Oxford University Press, 1994.
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This collection of essays highlights the positive contribution religion can make in preventing and resolving conflict. The book offers examples ranging from post-World War II Germany and France to South Africa, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, and the Philippines. It is designed to assist policymakers in understanding how religion and spirituality factor into foreign politics and societies. The methodology is generally historical-analytical; the book constitutes an excellent first choice for individuals with little background in religious studies who are interested in what practical analyses of specific cases can teach us about religion's function in statecraft and peacemaking.

Religion and Security: The New Nexus in International Relations. Edited by Robert A. Seiple and Dennis R. Hoover. Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.
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Religion and Security is a lively and insightful volume of analyses by distinguished scholars and practitioners in security, diplomacy, conflict resolution, human rights, and theology. It explores the connection between religion and security and argues that religious freedom should be a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy. The contributors offer multifaith perspectives that pay particular attention to the resources within the Abrahamic faith traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that foster sustainable peace. Divided into four parts, this book addresses themes of war and terrorism, pluralism and stability, military intervention and conflict resolution, and religious freedom and civil society. It underscores a crucial irony: nations that violate religious human rights in the name of security will ultimately leave themselves vulnerable to destabilization.

The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations: The Struggle for the Soul of the Twenty-First Century. By Scott M. Thomas. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
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Scott Thomas argues that a major paradigm shift in international relations theory is needed in order to explain the global resurgence of religion and its effects on key concepts and theories -- conflict, diplomacy, civil society, democracy, and economics. Modern liberal conceptions that reduce religion to an ideational variable, he writes, fail to grasp the essential function religion has always played as a marker of community integrity and identity -- an identity that has become increasingly important as social and religious groups struggle to reconcile faith and modernity. Instead, religion must be understood as a "cognitive script" that can override rational choice or utility-maximizing behavior. Students of religion in international relations should therefore seek to provide interpretative narratives rather than predictive science. In his own interpretative narrative, Thomas suggests that religion can play a positive role in international relations via faith-based ethics.  

The Influence of Faith: Religious Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy. Edited by Elliott Abrams. Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
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This volume brings together well-known voices to answer the question, How do religion and religious groups affect the formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy? The fact that it was published before 9/11 makes its contribution that much more remarkable. At the abstract level, Elliott Abrams writes, religious groups contribute to the conceptualization of national interests and the formulation of foreign policy objectives. More practically, they deliver humanitarian aid and other social services, thus advancing U.S. national interests by ameliorating hunger and poverty around the world. Religious organizations also engage the services of tens of thousands of Americans living at home and overseas, offering a perspective "far removed from the businessmen, academics, diplomats, spies, and soldiers who traditionally make up our foreign policy elites." Abrams pays special attention to perhaps one of the most visible intersections of religious advocacy and U.S. policy: the promotion of international religious freedom. Yet even this policy, the author suggests, highlights the advocacy limitations of religious groups in the public sphere.                 

The Sacred and the Sovereign: Religion and International Politics. Edited by John D. Carlson and Erik C. Owens. Georgetown University Press, 2003.
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This volume discusses the shifting place of state sovereignty in international affairs, giving special attention to religious dynamics and ethical implications. The editors explain that throughout history there have been varied approaches to the relationship between religious beliefs about the "sacred" and political prerogatives of the "sovereign." These approaches range from theocracies to religious or ethical movements that reject the authority claimed by secular nation states. New tensions have surfaced as the Westphalian system -- created in the aftermath of Europe's religious wars -- struggles to respond to both the damaging and beneficial influences of religion in the world today. The authors explore such issues as humanitarian military intervention, terrorism, and war crimes tribunals.

The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs. By Madeleine Albright. Harper Collins, 2006.
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Drawing on her personal beliefs and experiences as ambassador to the United Nations and as secretary of state, Madeleine Albright takes on the topic of religion in world affairs in a manner that none of her predecessors has attempted. Her approach is both comprehensive and critical and includes the role of morality in formulating U.S. policy, the rise of the Christian right, the complexities of responding to 9/11, and the importance of understanding Islam. Throughout her treatment, Albright stresses the need for policymakers to take spiritual motivations seriously and find ways to make religion a unifying rather than a divisive force in troubled regions of the globe. Failure to do so creates an opening that violent extremists are all too eager to fill. Albright couches her argument in pragmatic terms, suggesting that religion -- like economics, ideology, and culture -- is a key determinant of behavior and must therefore be fully grasped and frankly addressed if problems are to be solved. She also warns, however, that while religious principles can provide a framework for moral authority, a singular reliance on religious precepts as a guide to political action can be unrealistic and a cause for conflict.

Liberty and Power: A Dialogue on Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy in an Unjust World. Edited by E. J. Dionne, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Kayla Drogosz. Brookings Institution Press, 2004.
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Arguments by J. Bryan Hehir and Michael Walzer serve as the bedrock for this book on the relationship among faith, morality, and foreign policy. In responding to Hehir and Walzer, the four other contributors -- Charles Krauthammer, James Lindsay, Louise Richardson, and Shibley Telhami -- offer their own creative insights, which highlight and enrich the essays' main themes: the role of realism in foreign policy, the relationship between realism and religious/moralistic views, and the ways in which globalization and the emergence of powerful nonstate actors call into question traditional paradigms of international relations. Krauthammer offers the most strident counterpoint to the general consensus -- that religion can play both positive and negative roles in international relations and must be approached cautiously and pluralistically -- by employing historical examples to underline his direct rejection of the utility of religion as a moral guide to foreign policy.

Spiritual Weapons: The Cold War and the Forging of an American National Religion. By T. Jeremy Gunn. Praeger Publishers, 2009.
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Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment. By William Inboden. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
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The Cold War fundamentally redefined both the scope of U.S. foreign policy and the character of American society, including the way policymakers thought about religion. Jeremy Gunn argues that it was through the development of U.S. Cold War policy in the years following World War II that an "American national religion" was formed, the primary tenets of which were governmental theism, militarism, and capitalism. In the polarized climate of Cold War politics, U.S. policymakers sought to establish America as the embodiment of everything the U.S.S.R. was not. Gunn's historical insights prompt a reconsideration of how public faith has been and can be transformed by world events. William Inboden offers a contrasting yet in some ways complementary perspective. Inboden argues that while the opposition of many of America's most influential leaders to communist authoritarianism stemmed directly from their belief in the moral authority of God, they also recognized the political utility of casting the Cold War as a struggle between religion and atheism. Since American Protestant churches were divided, political leaders enhanced civil religion by employing a new public theology to mobilize domestic support for Cold War measures. Policymakers also used religion as an instrument to maintain the international anticommunist coalition and to undermine communist regimes abroad.

  • CHRIS SEIPLE is President of the Institute for Global Engagement and a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
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