This topic was my idea, in my continuing effort to get us to examine the roots of our politics and policies. Unfortunately, exactly how Americans’ religion affects our relations with other countries is a little hard to pin down. In one sense, faith is very important to foreign policy: Since we’re the most religious country in the industrialized world, naturally religion – and religious institutions — affect our foreign relations. How could they not? It would be like trying to separate the stock from the rest of the stew.
On the other hand, it’s easy to exaggerate religion’s influence. For one thing, national interests (like national security, resource access, and business interests) usually trump anything else in foreign policy. Also, those policies are generally made by elites, who have little interest in following public religious sentiments.
However, undeniably Americans’ religion beliefs matter in foreign policy in at least a few ways:
- Religion has reinforced the American missionary impulse, to spread (impose?) our values abroad. This impulse has waxed and waned, but it’s always there, ready to be activated by events, such as the Cold War or 9/11.
- Religious interest groups have had a major impact on certain areas of foreign relations. These include, again, the Cold War, but also these days Israel and the Middle East generally and humanitarian policies in Africa.
The group is pretty well versed in stuff like this, so on Thursday I’ll be brief. I’ll just note a few of the ways American religious belief and interest groups impact our foreign policy in today’s world. I’ll leave the history to you guys. As several of the articles linked to below explain, the growth of evangelicals groups has begun to have a pretty big impact in some areas of foreign affairs.
Whether this is good or bad, or could become good or bad, is the topic, I suppose. I know people will be loaded for bear on this one, eager to condemn the impact that religion has had on foreign policy. I think, though, that the record has been more mixed, and I’m optimistic that fundamentalism’s influence, at least in this area of policy, can be tamed.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- In what ways have religious values infused U.S. foreign policy, especially since the end of the Cold War?
- What kind of influence do religious interest groups have in this area, now that so much of organized religion is actively involved in American politics?
- Are there any particular areas of foreign policy that are being improved or ruined by religious influence?
- What does the future hold for us, in a world that is growing more divided between the religious and the secular? Do we need to increase our religious voices in foreign policy, as some of the articles below want to, or go the other way?
- Evangelicals in U.S. Foreign Policy, from Foreign Affairs magazine. A bit long, but very good.
- Bush, 9/11, and the reinfusion of national security with religious purpose.
- Our foreign policy SHOULD emphasize religion more.
- No, it shouldn’t.
- Yes, it should, because the foreign conflicts we deal with are so much so religious in nature. (from a prominent American Muslim)
Tell a friend to take a week off and join us! Copies of the new schedule will be available again, too, and please let me know if you want to do an opening presentation or run the meeting on any of the new topics.