Parley between the United States’ top diplomats and China’s leadership. The question of if and how to get Ukraine and Russia to the negotiating table. Ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Violence in Manipur, India. The United Nations taking up the issue of Quran burnings in Europe. The visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to Tajikistan.
Diplomacy is always in the news.
And each of the storylines above has religion angles to explore.
In this ReligionLink source guide, we provide a range of background, resources, stories and sources to help you cover the consequential intersections between religion and diplomacy.
Background and resources
Dag Hammarskjöld, secretary-general of the United Nations from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in September 1961, was both a deeply spiritual person and a widely respected diplomat.
His biographer Roger Lipsey wrote about how Hammarskjöld’s religious convictions directly impacted his diplomatic outlook.
“Somewhat forgotten today but admired nearly worldwide in his time,” Lipsey wrote, Hammarskjöld was a significant figure in shaping the U.N.’s sense of mission and breadth of vision, creating important peacemaking methods such as shuttle diplomacy and the UN peacekeeping forces.
Since then, the U.N. and the wider international relations community have continued to wrestle with the relationship between religion and diplomacy.
As early as the 1990s, authors such as Barry Rubin pointed out how the U.S. and other policymakers too often ignored the impact and influence of religion in international affairs.
Organizations like Religions for Peace — a multireligious platform with representation from diverse religious institutions and communities — and the U.N.’s own Interagency Task Force on Religion and Sustainable Development have sought to bring religious actors to the policymaking table.
Significant moments in the history of the freedom of religion or belief include the enactment of 1998’s International Religious Freedom Act and the two entities it created: the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Later came the creation of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, a network of countries with stated commitments to advancing freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). Also of note are the Ministerials to Advance Religious Freedom. Held in locations such as the United Kingdom (2022) and the Czech Republic (2023), the ministerials bring together leaders from around the world to discuss religious freedom and discrimination worldwide.
Leaders in the realm of faith and diplomacy have pointed out the ongoing tensions involved in such efforts.
Shaun Casey, previously the U.S. special representative for religion and global affairs and director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs, wrote for Religion & Politics back in January 2023:
Religions are powerful forces in global diplomacy, and … the future of the work we did in the Office of Religion and Global Affairs is unknown. I believe that without such an institutional capacity, the U.S. government will not be able to help the world answer major global issues such as forced mass migration, burgeoning climate change, the effort to inoculate the planet against COVID, and the securing of full human rights for women and girls, to name a few issues where religious communities are simultaneously part of the problem and part of the solution.
Meanwhile, the former secretary-general of Religions for Peace, Azza Karam, critiqued the process by which religious leaders come together to serve the common good, questioning the effectiveness of “projects, programmes, initiatives, meetings, and more meetings” hosted by a certain cadre of global religious experts and elites.
Whatever the future may hold, and whatever role religion is to play in international diplomacy, reporters would do well to cover how faith shapes statesmanship and foreign policy. Journalists would also be wise to report on who is seeking to hold sway over diplomats themselves and how various religious communities wield their influence at the national and international levels.
To help religion newswriters get up to speed on the big issues, major moments and prime actors in the field, here is a list of relevant resources:
- Visit Religion & Diplomacy, from the Transatlantic Policy Network on Religion and Diplomacy.
- Explore Religion and Foreign Policy Webinars, from the Council on Foreign Relations.
- Read Chasing the Devil at Foggy Bottom: The Future of Religion in American Diplomacy, by Shaun Casey (2023).
- Read “Religion and Diplomacy: The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ as Historical Libel,”
- Read “The U.S. Strategy for International Religious Engagement: 10 Years On,” by Peter Mandaville and Julia Schiwal (2023).
- Read “Saffronizing diplomacy: the Indian Foreign Service under Hindu nationalist rule,” by Kira Huju (2022).
- Read On the Significance of Religion for Global Diplomacy, by Philip McDonagh, Kishan Manocha, John Neary and Lucia Vázquez Mendoza (2021).
- Read “Four Thoughts on Advancing Religious Engagement in Diplomacy and Development,” from the United States Institute of Peace (2020).
- Read “The 20th Anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act: A Retrospective,” from 21Wilberforce (2019).
- Read “Diplomacy and Religion: Seeking Common Interests and Engagement in a Dynamically Changing and Turbulent World,” from the Brookings Institution (2016).
- Read Religion and Public Diplomacy, by Philip Seib (2013).
- Read “Diplomacy and Religion,” by Scott Thomas (2010).
- Read “Faith-based Diplomacy: Bridging the Religious Divide,” from the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University (2009).
- Read “Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion/Belief – Connecting to the Common Good,” from FoRB Women’s Alliance on July 31, 2023 (Commentary).
- Read “US Official Calls Religious Intolerance in India ‘Frightening’” from VOA News on July 18, 2023.
- Read “United Nations Security Council Receives its First Religious Freedom Mandate,” from Providence on July 18, 2023.
- Read “Biden appoints Jewish philanthropist as US int’l religious freedom commissioner,” from The Jerusalem Post on July 17, 2023.
- Read “Vatican and Vietnam to take major step forward in relations,” from Reuters on July 16, 2023.
- Read “London conference shines spotlight on religious liberty worldwide,” from Deseret News on July 13, 2023.
- Read “UN human rights body takes up concerns about Quran burnings in Europe,” from AP News on July 11, 2023.
- Read “Bill Calls for Diplomats to Pledge Loyalty to Israel as a Jewish State,” from Haaretz on July 2, 2023.
- Read “Catholics and Orthodox join forces for peace amid Russian and Ukrainian skeptics,” from Religion News Service on June 30, 2023.
- Read “The Common Good, or Transactional Religion?” from the Inter Press Service on June 28, 2023 (Commentary).
- Read “Azza Karam resigns as secretary general of Religions for Peace,” from Religion News Service on June 21, 2023.
- Read “Doomed or sign of hope? Pope Francis’ mission for peace in Ukraine is underway,” from Religion News Service on June 9, 2023.
- Listen “Politics, Religion, and Diplomacy in Pakistan and India,” from Big World Podcast on June 1, 2023.
- Read “Speaking for Evangelicals at the UN, Gaetan Roy Seeks to Serve,” from Christianity Today on March 13, 2023.
- Read “The Future of Religion in American Diplomacy,” from Religion & Politics on Jan. 24, 2023 (Commentary).
- Read “State Department blacklists are only one tool to foster international religious freedom,” from Religion News Service on Dec. 6, 2022 (Commentary).
- Read “The place of religion in global diplomacy,” from The National on Nov. 11, 2022 (Commentary).
- Read “The death of Mahsa Amini in Iran demands consequential diplomacy by US,” from Religion News Service on Sept. 23, 2022 (Commentary).
- Read “Is Pope Francis’ diplomacy of dialogue failing?” from Religion News Service on Sept. 20, 2022.
- Read “How Religious Diplomacy and Pan-Islamic Organizations Can Help Stabilize Afghanistan,” from the German Marshall Fund U.S. on Aug. 18, 2022.
- Read “New book ‘God’s Diplomats’ unveils the secret history of Vatican diplomacy,” from Religion News Service on Aug. 30, 2021.
- Read “Biden Names First Muslim Religious Freedom Ambassador,” from Christianity Today and Religion News Service on July 30, 2021.
- Read “‘Water on a Stone’: UN Expert on the Hard Work of Religious Freedom,” from Christianity Today on Nov. 16, 2020.
- Read “Religious diplomacy,” from Modern Diplomacy on Nov. 5, 2020 (Commentary).
- Read “Religion at the UN: from Gender Justice to Protecting the Environment, How Faith Communities Are Creating Sustainable Change,” from the International Dialogue Centre on Sept. 3, 2020.
- Read “Outgoing Religions for Peace leader reflects on decades of interfaith cooperation,” from Religion News Service on Aug. 23, 2019.
- Read “Woman chosen to lead Religions for Peace as others urge greater female visibility,” from Religion News Service on Aug. 22, 2019.
- Read “Religion in Global Diplomacy,” from Diplomat Magazine on Aug. 5, 2018 (Editorial).
- Read “What makes the Holy See’s diplomacy unique,” from Catholic News Agency on July 25, 2018.
- Read “The case for engaging religion in U.S. diplomacy,” from Brookings on March 17, 2017 (Commentary).
- Read “A Hindu way of diplomacy?” from Observer Research Foundation on April 26, 2016 (Analysis).
- Read “John Kerry: ‘We ignore the global impact of religion at our peril’” from America on Sept. 2, 2015 (Commentary).
- Read “When foreign policy was closer to heaven, and hell,” from The Economist on Dec. 3, 2014.
Experts and sources
Mohammed Abu-Nimer is a professor at the American University’s School of International Service in Washington, D.C., where he directs the Peacebuilding and Development Institute. He has researched, intervened and conducted conflict resolution workshops around the world, including in the Palestinian territories, Israel, Egypt, Northern Ireland, the Philippines (Mindanao) and Sri Lanka. Abu-Nimer is also a senior adviser to KAICIID, the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue.
Dmitry Adamsky is professor at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy and is a head of the B.A. honors track in strategy and decision-making at Reichman University in Israel. His research interests include international security; cultural approach to international relations; and American, Russian and Israeli national security policies.
Judd Birdsall is the project director of the Transatlantic Policy Network on Religion and Diplomacy and a senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. He is also the editor of Religion & Diplomacy and a senior editor and a frequent contributor at The Review of Faith & International Affairs.
Shaun Casey served as U.S. special representative for religion and global affairs from 2013 to 2017. He has taught at Harvard Divinity School and the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where he also directed the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. Casey’s research interests include ethics and international affairs, the public implications of religious belief and the intersection of religion and politics.
Elizabeth K. Cassidy is director of research and policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. She oversees USCIRF’s research and publications and the development and promotion of USCIRF’s policy recommendations. Her substantive expertise includes the International Religious Freedom Act, international organization issues, international and comparative law issues, and refugee and asylum policy
Catholic Relief Services, based in Baltimore, has a peacebuilding unit that has been working worldwide since the mid-1990s through development, education, advocacy, diplomacy and a variety of other means. Nikki Gamer is the senior public affairs manager.
Wolfgang Danspeckgruber is the founding director of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University. His research and teaching interests include the interactions of religion, values and diplomacy.
Bani Dugal is the principal representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the U.N. As part of the community of international nongovernmental organizations at the U.N. since 1994, she is currently serving on the steering committee of the NGO Working Group on the Security Council.
Cole Durham is Emeritus Professor of Law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, where he held the Susa Young Gates University Professorship. He is founding Director of the Law School’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies. From its official organization on January 1, 2000, until May 1, 2016, Professor Durham was Director of the Center, which was organized to provide an intuitional base for long-term initiatives in the field of law and religion throughout the world.
Aykan Erdemir is Director of Global Research & Diplomatic Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League and former MP in the Turkish parliament. He is on the Advisory Council for FoRB Women’s Alliance and one of the founders of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB), a global network of parliamentarians committed to advancing the right to freedom of religion or belief for everyone, everywhere.
FoRB Women’s Alliance is an international community of religious freedom and human rights advocates seeking to advance, facilitate and support solutions for freedom of religion or belief for women.
Chuck Garriott is the founder and executive director of Ministry to State. In addition to overseeing MTS, he leads weekly Bible studies on Capitol Hill and disciples a number of government workers in the Washington, D.C., area.
Nazila Ghanea is the United Nations’ special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. She is professor of international human rights law and director of the Master of Science in international human rights law at the University of Oxford.
Marc H. Gopin is James H. Laue Professor of World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution and director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. He is frequently quoted on conflict resolution, and his publications include Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East.
Susan Hayward is associate director of the Religious Literacy and the Professions Initiative at Harvard University, teaching quarterly workshops to all incoming foreign service officers at the U.S. State Department on religious literacy for diplomacy and development. Formerly, she was the program officer of the Religion and Peacemaking program at the United States Institute of Peace, an independent and nonpartisan institution funded by Congress. She also worked as a religious peacemaking consultant in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and at the Carter Center in Atlanta.
Eimad C. Houry is co-director of the religion and public diplomacy program and professor of political science at Mercer University in Georgia.
Kira Huju is a London School of Economics Fellow in International Relations. Her work revolves around global order, liberal internationalism and its discontents, and the nature of cosmopolitanism in a hierarchical world. Her regional expertise lies in India and the European Union.
The International Center for Religion & Diplomacy works with religious leaders, governments and institutions to integrate the constructive role of faith leaders and institutions in the transformation of violent conflict.
The International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance is a network of like-minded countries fully committed to advancing freedom of religion or belief around the world. Currently 37 countries have joined the alliance, which is led by a four-member steering committee.
Hind Kabawat is director of interfaith peacebuilding at George Mason University’s Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. Kabawat has directed the center’s Syria work since 2004 and has trained hundreds of Syrians in multifaith collaboration and civil society development.
Palwasha L. Kakar is the interim director for religion and inclusive societies at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). Kakar joined USIP after four years with The Asia Foundation where she was the Afghanistan director for Women’s Empowerment and Development. Prior to joining the Foundation, Kakar led the Gender Mainstreaming and Civil Society Unit in the United Nation Development Program’s Afghanistan Subnational Governance Program managing a small grants program for Afghanistan’s civil society initiatives. Kakar also served as program manager for The Gender Studies Institute at Kabul University. She has experience working with the World Bank Group on gender, social justice and environmental issues surrounding their various projects in the region.
Peter Mandaville is a professor of international affairs and a senior fellow at the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University in Virginia. He writes on political Islam and the origins of mainstream Islamism. As a senior visiting expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace with the religion and inclusive societies team he has written on the ongoing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine.
Katherine Marshall is executive director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue and senior fellow and visiting professor at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, leading the Program on Religion and Global Development. She is an expert on international development issues and advises the World Bank, where she once worked.
Ewelina U. Ochab is an experienced human rights advocate and legal researcher. She is a Co-Founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response, a programme lawyer at the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and a member of the panel of experts for the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance.
The Office of International Religious Freedom promotes universal respect for freedom of religion or belief for all as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. It monitors religiously motivated abuses, harassment and discrimination worldwide, recommending, developing and implementing policies and programs to address these concerns. Contact Daniel Nadel, director and principal deputy to the IRF ambassador; or Mariah Mercer, deputy to the IRF ambassador.
Marie Juul Petersen is a senior researcher at the Danish Institute of Human Rights with expertise in human rights and religion; the right to freedom of religion or belief; development and religion; faith-based organizations; vernacularization of human rights; refugees and religion.
Elizabeth Prodromou is Senior Scholar in the International Studies Program at Boston College. She is also non-resident Senior Fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. She served on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) from 2004-2012, and is a Co-President of Religions for Peace.
Hussein Rashid is a visiting professor of Islam at the religion department at Hofstra University and a prolific blogger and commentator on Islam in America. He has written about Islamophobia, for example in this June 3, 2009, column for the website Religion Dispatches.
Religions for Peace International is an international coalition of representatives from the world’s religions dedicated to promoting peace founded in 1970. Email contact through webpage.
Religions for Peace – USA includes more than 60 religious communities and promotes multireligious cooperation toward peace.
Gaetan Roy is the official representative from the World Evangelical Alliance to the United Nations. He is also chairman of network-m and a board member of the Association of Evangelical Missions, and he represents evangelicals both in the German and European parliaments. He has extensive experience in international humanitarian aid and advocacy.
David Saperstein is an American rabbi, lawyer, and Jewish community leader who served as United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom from 2015 – 2017. He previously served as the director and chief legal counsel at the Union for Reform Judaism‘s Religious Action Center for more than 40 years and as a Commissioner at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He Is one of the founders of the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network. The network seeks to build mutual trust and respect among faith leaders through civic engagement, authentic relationships, and honest dialogue leading to resilient, compassionate, and flourishing communities.
Philip Seib is professor emeritus of journalism and public diplomacy at the University of Southern California and principal investigator of the Faith Diplomacy Initiative.
Erin Singshinsuk serves as executive director of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. She is responsible for directing the day-to-day operations of the commission and managing its staff.
Monica Toft is a professor of international politics and director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, serving as faculty adviser of the Fletcher Initiative on Religion, Law, and Diplomacy.
Asma Uddin is the author of When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom. She previously served as counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, where she focused on both international and American religious liberty advocacy. Uddin has extensive knowledge of religious freedom law and a track record of defending religious minorities, and she often speaks on on issues of gender and faith.
Bryan Whitfield is co-director of the religion and public diplomacy program at Mercer University in Georgia, where he is also professor of religion and chair of the religion department.
The World Council of Churches is an international fellowship of Christian churches, built upon the foundation of encounter, dialogue and collaboration. Marianne Ejdersten is the WCC communications director.
Shaarik Zafar has worked at the intersection of some of the most critical foreign and domestic policy challenges facing the United States. He is the former special representative to Muslim communities at the U.S. Department of State and former special counsel for post-9/11 national origin discrimination at the U.S. Department of Justice. Zafar currently works in the Washington, D.C., office of Meta, where he drives policy development and stakeholder engagement on issues at the intersection of technology, civil and human rights, and national security. Contact via LinkedIn.
Related ReligionLink content
- War in Ukraine: Covering the conflict’s religious contours
- Covering the plight of Uighur Muslims in China
- 30 experts on international religious freedom
- Covering Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize
- Religion and peacebuilding
- Afghan turmoil: War and peace … and faith
- Loyalty challenged in American Jewish peace movement
- Crisis in the Holy Land: Israel and the Gaza blockade
- Religion and the military: Source of comfort, point of controversy