A Transatlantic Dialogue on the Nexus of Religion and Foreign Policy

On Thursday May 15, the religion, policy and politics project at the Brookings Institution co-hosted an event with George Mason University and City University London titled, “Religion and Foreign Policy: A Transatlantic Dialogue.”

The event centered on the development of American and European Union strategies of engagement when coupling religion with foreign policy. Brookings Senior Fellow E.J. Dionne introduced the panel discussion with State Department Special Advisor Shaun Casey and advisor at the European Union’s External Action Service, Merete Bilde. George Mason University professor and nonresident Senior Fellow with the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World Peter Mandaville, and City University London’s Sara Silvestri also presented their findings from recent transatlantic conferences on the issue. The event was moderated by Brookings Senior Fellow William Galston.

The panel discussed a range of issues including religious engagement in diplomacy, international religious freedom, human rights, as well as various conflicting social and political realities that American and European approaches face when engaging in diplomacy.

The panelists found consensus on three major themes throughout the discussion. First, mainstream training on religious engagement at all levels of public and foreign service is necessary in order to advance nuanced policies at the government level. Casey noted that he could potentially see his office eventually disappear because religious engagement aptitude has become integrated throughout the general public sector. Bilde surmised that the secular, pragmatic, and perhaps skeptical Europeans needed more concrete recommendations in regards to what types of tools should be employed when training politicians to engage with religious actors.

The second general theme that the panel agreed upon was the misunderstood role that religion plays in the public sphere and the potential enormous consequences. Each panelist agreed on the significant value in a continued transatlantic dialogue regarding the issue at hand, in which both Europeans and Americans (though operating within different institutional arrangements and mechanisms) can learn from each other’s experiences in order to build upon their own capacities of engagement.

Lastly, the speakers alluded to the timing of the topic, as well as the current transatlantic dialogue which has continued to focus solely on the role religion plays in the public sphere. The active focus directed towards this specific issue has provided a moment of opportunity to leverage both American and European interests into making meaningful change in religious based policy approaches, according to the panelists.

Peter Mandaville will be continuing this transatlantic dialogue as a co-convener of a working group at the upcoming 2014 U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha. Look for the working group publication on the Brookings website this fall, and follow us on Twitter or tweet your own ideas with the hashtag #usislam14.