The Geopolitics of Religious Soft Power explores the global impact of religious propagation activities sponsored by several countries in the Middle East—including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, and Morocco—which for decades have deployed religion as a form of soft power in pursuit of foreign policy objectives. In nearly every Muslim-majority country that aspires to regional or global influence, Islam is an important and sometimes the only ideological currency that mixes effectively with more narrowly defined realpolitik. With the decline of pan-Arabism and socialism, the only real competing ideological orientation other than liberal democracy is nationalism, but, by definition, nationalism is difficult to “promote” outside one’s own nation.
Undertaken in partnership with Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs and with the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the project will explore how, why, and when states use religious soft power. This initiative, led by Peter Mandaville and Shadi Hamid, will also consider the experience of countries on the receiving end of such influences. Does foreign support and funding alter religious culture and norms around pluralism and inclusivity in significant ways, or is all politics—and all religion—fundamentally local?