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Finding Faith in Foreign PolicyReligion and American Diplomacy in a Postsecular World$

Gregorio Bettiza

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190949464

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190949464.001.0001

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Theorizing US Foreign Policy in a Postsecular World Society

Theorizing US Foreign Policy in a Postsecular World Society

(p.21) Chapter 2 Theorizing US Foreign Policy in a Postsecular World Society
Finding Faith in Foreign Policy

Gregorio Bettiza

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter presents the book’s theoretical framework, which is grounded in a sociological approach to international relations (IR) theory. It suggests that to explain the causes and shape of the operationalization of religion in US foreign policy attention needs to be paid to the combined effects of macro-level forces represented by the emergence of a postsecular world society, and the mobilization at the micro-level of a diverse range of desecularizing actors who seek to contest the secularity of American foreign policy through the deployment of multiple desecularizing discourses. The chapter then conceptualizes four different processes of foreign policy desecularization—institutional, epistemic, ideological, and state-normative—which take place as religion increasingly becomes an organized subject and object of US foreign policy. Finally, it advances three hypotheses about the global effects of America’s religious foreign policies: they shape religious landscapes around the world in ways that reflect American values and interests; they contribute to religionizing world politics; and they promote similar policies internationally.

Keywords:   American foreign policy, religion, postsecularism, desecularization, sociology of religion, IR theory

The assumption that we live in a secularized world is false. The world today, with some exceptions . . . is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever. This means that a whole body of literature by historians and social scientists loosely labeled “secularization theory” is essentially mistaken.

—Peter Berger, 19991

Whether governments around the world like it or not, this resurgence of religion has meant that they would now have to reckon with religion in a way that they did not forty, fifty, or sixty years ago.

Monica Duffy Toft, Daniel Philpott, and Timothy Samuel Shah, 20112

This approach to religion, as something that can be operationalised, has gathered extraordinary academic and international public policy traction. It is influential in ways that have yet to be fully accounted for in the discipline and beyond.

—Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, 20123

THIS CHAPTER LAYS OUT the theoretical framework which guides this book’s explanation of the causes, evolving structures, and global effects of the post-Cold War turn toward operationalizing religion in US foreign policy. Such turn is exemplified by the rise from the late 1990s onward of four explicitly religious foreign policies, what I define as religious foreign policy regimes. They are the International Religious Freedom regime (since 1998), the Faith-Based Foreign Aid regime (since 2001 and predating 9/11), the Muslim and Islamic Interventions regime (since 2001 and following 9/11), and the Religious Engagement regime (since 2013).

(p.22) While these regimes are distinct and at times even in competition with one another, they also share a number of features. Most notably they share a similar focus on religion, and with that they often share a set of overlapping and interconnected policy agendas and institutional architectures. Taken together these four religious foreign policy regimes constitute the main pillars of a broader whole, namely an evolving US foreign policy regime complex on religion. The regime complex is underpinned by an overarching purpose, which is to manage and marshal the power of faith globally in the pursuit of America’s interests and values abroad.

I apply the concepts of regime and regime complex, generally used in literatures on domestic and international regimes, to the field of foreign policy.4 I do so in order to capture something more multifaceted than simply a change in policy. The notion of regime is used here as a way to make sense of a “constellation of ideas, institutional arrangements, and interests” as well as the resulting combination of policies, rules, and actions that “make up the governing arrangements for addressing particular problems.”5 Thus, a regime perspective focuses the analysis on a particular problem or issue and then works backward to unpack and explain the ideas, interests, actors, institutional configurations, policy assemblages, and norms—which together constitute the contours of a regime—that are put in place to address and manage that particular problem or issue.

The literature on international regimes has shown how individual regimes can combine in either tightly or loosely knit ways to form larger configurations of either “nested regimes” or “regime complexes” designed to address a broader set of issues.6 Nested regimes refer to a semihierarchical set of regimes with a recognizable structure and an identifiable chain of responsibilities and command. Regime complexes comprise a loosely coupled and overlapping set of specific regimes, “linked more or less closely to one another, sometimes conflicting, usually mutually reinforcing” with no “overall architecture or hierarchy that structures the whole set.”7 In our case, as we shall see further in chapter 6, attempts have been made during the Obama administration to bring together the four religious foreign policy regimes into a more coherent nested regime under the umbrella of the religious engagement agenda. Conversely, with the Trump presidency, efforts are seemingly under way to eliminate or fold the Religious Engagement regime under the International Religious Freedom one. As of late-2018 things appear still in flux and thus we remain with a plurality of regimes structured around the contours of a complex.

(p.23) The sustained turn toward making religion an organized subject and object of US foreign policy, represented by the rise of the regime complex, is quite a remarkable and in many respects novel development. Religion, to be sure, has never been completely absent from American foreign policy calculations, rhetoric, and practices.8 Presidents and policymakers alike have regularly called upon the power of faith and religious actors to advance American interests and values abroad throughout the centuries. Yet as the introduction and the four case study chapters show in greater detail, historically there were practically no institutional structures (special appointees, commissions, offices) in the foreign policy bureaucracy explicitly focused on religion, and the general cultural, intellectual, and normative milieu from which US foreign policymakers tended to operate was rather inhospitable to systematically taking religious actors and factors seriously in world politics. The breadth and depth with which religion has been systematically included and operationalized, since the end of the Cold War, in American foreign policy thinking, institutions, and practices—I would hence argue—is qualitatively and quantitatively unprecedented in the country’s modern history.

This development is rather puzzling for a number of reasons. First, the emergence of religion as an issue in American foreign policy is surprising, since it challenges often-unquestioned assumptions of an ever more secularizing and disenchanted world. This view was originally articulated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by many of the founding fathers of the modern social sciences such as Max Weber and Karl Marx, and more fully codified by secularization theorists in the second half of the twentieth century.9 If we live in a world marked by the death of God, to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, why are we seeing a growing focus on and institutionalized attention toward religion in American foreign policy in the past three decades, straddling the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century?

A second puzzle arises when seeking to make sense not just of why religion has been operationalized in US foreign policy in the past decades, but also why it has been operationalized along different regimes and at different moments since the end of the Cold War. The shape, form, and timing in which religion has been brought into American foreign policymaking and implementation across different yet related regimes, and within the space of three very different presidencies—the Clinton, Bush, and Obama ones, which are the main focus of this book—needs a compelling explanation that remains elusive to this day.

Third, much has been made of the eminently secular character of the modern institution of the State, in general, and of the American state, in particular, with its important tradition of church–state separation.10 This profound institutional separation in the United States exists in parallel to, if not even (p.24) actively facilitating the, maintenance of a highly religious society and public sphere.11 While the boundary between faith and politics in the United States is often extremely blurred and entanglements in this sphere are generally valued,12 attempts to separate sharply state institutions and practices from religious ones are instead a social and constitutional norm. The operationalization of explicitly religious foreign policies challenges such an understanding of the state and seems to suggest that the institutional and normative boundaries between the religious and the secular are currently being redefined. If so, how and with what consequences?

A fourth and final puzzle revolves around the possible international effects of the growing entanglement and enmeshment between faith and the foreign policy of arguably the most powerful state in the international system today. Importantly, as the United States has increasingly come to intervene through its regimes in global religious landscapes and dynamics, are these being reshaped and transformed by the superpower? If so, how and in what ways?

This chapter develops a specific conceptual framework that will guide the rest of the book and, importantly, allows us to provide answers to these four puzzles. This framework will be based on a middle-range theoretical approach, grounded in a critical realist philosophy, which combines in an analytically eclectic manner insights from the sociology of religion with sociologically informed IR theories, namely Constructivism, International Historical Sociology, and the English School.13 Overall such philosophical and theoretical stance leads this book to embrace a number of distinctive perspectives on the relationship between theory and empirical reality; the nature of and relationship between the international system, the state, and its foreign policy; the nature of causality and change in the social world; and the concepts of religion and the secular. These implications are developed more clearly throughout the rest of the chapter.

Explaining the Complex Causes

In order to address the first two puzzles—why religion has been operationalized in US foreign policy at all in a supposedly secularizing world, and why different regimes have been institutionalized at different times—it is vital to adopt a (p.25) view of causality as complex, as it is understood by critical realist-informed middle-range theory. Middle-range theory positions itself between abstract grand theories and largely descriptive accounts of specific historical contexts or events. Compared to more neopositivist approaches, middle-range theorizing is neither concerned with uncovering law-like regularities nor with isolating a single, independent factor or variable that explains all outcomes. Yet unlike some interpretivist and poststructural accounts of science, middle-range theorizing does not entirely abandon the goal of providing causal explanations, while nonetheless viewing causality often as “complex.”14

According to this perspective the aim is not to displace, but rather to draw on and combine the insights of different theoretical traditions in order to build conceptual frameworks that, as Milja Kurki suggests, can take into account the “complex interaction of a variety of different kinds of causal factors,” whether structures, actors, material objects, ideas, events, and processes that lead to particular outcomes.15 Middle-range theorizing focuses the attention on identifying the multiple causal conditions and mechanisms which combine into sequences and processes, explaining particular states of affairs or change, within a specific spatio-temporal context or across cases. In our case, I suggest that we need to take into consideration (a) macro-structural processes which provide the context for (b) the emergence of specific agents and discourses at the micro-level, and explore how these relate to (c) a set of further contributing factors, in order to explain the post-Cold War operationalization of religion along a multiplicity of regimes in US foreign policy.

First, to explain why religion has increasingly become a subject and object of American foreign policy, we need to place the United States in (a) a specific macro-level global and historical context experiencing the emergence of a postsecular world society over the past decades. Then, in order to explain variation in regime types, we need to identify (b) those actors who at the micro-level are producing and reacting to these wider social and historical changes, and who make the case through the articulation of specific discourses that American foreign policy needs to adapt and respond to ongoing macro-level developments. Finally, in order to explain the when and how the regimes have emerged and evolved over time, we need to pay further attention to (c) specific critical junctures and a complex range of exogenous trends. I now turn to exploring in greater detail these multiple causal factors and how they combine to bring about the observed outcomes.

(p.26) Macro-Level Changes: The Emergence of a Postsecular World Society

To explain why religion has become an increasingly organized subject and object of US foreign policy in the aftermath of the Cold War, despite long held assumptions of an ever more secularizing world, I argue that the American state needs to be placed within a wider macro historical and global context undergoing a particular set of transformations. I define such context as one that has been witnessing the emergence, especially from the 1970s onward, of a postsecular world society which is affecting simultaneously America’s domestic and external environment. I attach particular meanings both to the concept of the “postsecular” and to that of “world society,” which I will now unpack.

The “postsecular” is a concept most notoriously popularized in recent years by the German philosopher and social theorist Jürgen Habermas.16 This concept, like most concepts in the social sciences, escapes a clear-cut definition. “The very notion of postsecularism has proven to be no less ambiguous or elusive than secularism itself,” Joseph Camilleri notes. “Its proponents are far from agreed on its meaning, its explanatory potential, or its normative implications.”17 I take here an analytical approach to the postsecular. That is, I am interested in exploring, to use Camilleri’s terminology, the “explanatory potential” of the postsecular in international relations in general and to American foreign policy changes in particular. This approach is substantially different from most of the current literature in IR, which has largely tackled the “normative implications” of the postsecular, in line with Habermas’ political philosophical concerns.18

Building on Habermas and others, I argue that the notion of the postsecular points to two parallel, and often mutually reinforcing, processes that have taken place in the past decades. One is more sociological-political and the other centers instead around a change in ideas and knowledge. These processes are: (i) the growing political salience of religion globally, and (ii) a reflexive turn in secular thought leading to the emergence of a postsecular consciousness.19 The first process refers to the growing influence and clout that religious actors, identities, beliefs, practices, and symbols have gained in local and international politics—including in the United States—in multiple and (p.27) context-specific ways since the 1970s. These trends are also often referred to as constituting a global “resurgence” or “return” of religion.20

The modern rise of the state and of multiple secular ideologies—such as nationalism, socialism, communism, fascism, and liberalism—during the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, profoundly marginalized and undermined the authority of religion, in the international sphere first and the domestic one thereafter.21 Politics throughout the twentieth century was characterized by wars pitting states against each other on the basis of conflicting political and economic projects, which were also eminently secular. During World War II, for instance, warring camps were divided along the lines of Fascist, Communist, and Democratic states. The Cold War saw regions and countries worldwide parceled according to secular idioms such as First, Second, and Third Worlds; the Capitalist West and the Communist East; the free and un-free world; or imperialists and anti-imperialists.

Similarly, the struggle for colonial independence in the Global South was often framed in secular nationalist terms. In the postcolonial world secularist modernizing projects were the norm, as in Nehru’s India. The Zionist movement that led to the founding of Israel in 1948 was largely secular nationalist in character. Across Muslim-majority countries, too, secular forces were on the march throughout the twentieth century, whether in the form of Kemalism in Turkey or Arab nationalism across the Middle East. Stalin’s quip in the 1930s—“The Pope? How many divisions has he got?”—symbolically captured the idea of the fading relevance and power of religions. Unsurprisingly, contemporary secularization theories would be most explicitly codified at the height of the Cold War itself.22

Yet toward the end of the twentieth century, cracks started to appear in modern secular political and ideological edifices. Although subsumed, religions had not completely died out. In fact, they would start to reassert themselves with a “vengeance”—as Gilles Kepel put it—from the 1970s onward.23 This resurgence of religion has taken many shapes and forms. It has (p.28) become notable, for instance, in the contemporary growth of fundamentalist movements spanning most religious traditions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Buddhism; in the politicization of religious beliefs in the form of political Islam, the American Christian Right, Jewish nationalism, engaged Buddhism, or Hindu nationalism; or in the emergence of novel forms of identity politics based on religious and civilizational invocations of Confucian, Islamic, Christian, Orthodox, or Judeo-Christian values.24

Such dynamics have increasingly and relentlessly intersected with world political events, whether in the case of the Islamic revolution of 1979 in Iran or the fall of the “Godless” Soviet Union in 1989 undermined in part by a Catholic Pope in Europe (John Paul II), a Catholic Union in Poland (Solidarność), and Muslim religious fighters in Afghanistan (the Mujahidin). The post-Cold War era has witnessed the rise of conflicts pitting warring parties against each other seemly along religious-sectarian lines, most notably captured by the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, committed at the dawn of the twenty-first century by a group claiming to act in the name of Islam, brought religion to the center of contemporary international relations. Even in ostensibly secular Western Europe, religion has forcefully entered public debates, including how to best integrate and accommodate its growing Muslim population, whether references should be made to Europe’s “Christian roots” in the context of the drafting of the EU’s constitution, or whether the European project should be enlarged to include Muslim-majority countries such as Turkey.

The second postsecular process involves instead a parallel change in mentalities. This ideational development is exemplified by a self-reflexive turn in secular thought, leading to the emergence of what Habermas labels a “postsecular consciousness.”25 A postsecular consciousness is most evident in the mounting intellectual and political critiques of secular knowledge paradigms variably faulted for misunderstanding, misrepresenting, or marginalizing religion in social life and world politics. Such critique takes prevalently three forms.

Postsecular consciousness appears as a theoretical and historical revision of the secularization thesis and its paradigmatic influence over the social sciences. In the past decades, scholars have poked holes in the theory’s teleological prediction that modernity, and parallel observable trends toward the functional differentiation of religion from other spheres of social and political life, implied the demise of belief or religion’s irremediable privatization and loss of public relevance.26 Others have challenged secularization theory’s (p.29) universalist and homogenizing assumption, arguing that there are “multiple” ways of being modern that do not exclude religion,27 as well as a variety of historically and politically contingent secular arrangements and secularizing paths.28 We can call this the “sociological postsecular perspective.”

Postsecular consciousness takes also the form of novel normative reflections and projects. These projects find in religious traditions possibilities for overcoming the pathologies of liberal, capitalist, secular modernity. Thus, they seek to contest the restrictions that certain secularist, especially laicist, arrangements impose on the participation of religious individuals and organizations in the public sphere and politics, while highlighting the important contributions that religious insights and voices can make to the common good. We find here thinkers who—either from more secular or religious sensibilities—seek to formulate updated normative frameworks open to mutually advantageous accommodations and learning processes between the secular and the religious.29 We may call this the “normative postsecular perspective.”

Finally, postsecular consciousness expresses itself also within certain critical-theoretical, whether poststructural or postcolonial, strands of thought. This line of reasoning is concerned with revealing and deconstructing what it considers to be the ideological, oppressive, and exclusionary—rather than supposedly neutral, impartial, and inclusive—nature of the secular, and its doctrinal companion, secularism. The secular is thought of as a site of domination and control, a site that seeks to identify and categorize something like “religion” as its opposite, in order to marginalize it from politics and sustain particular forms of power, often those of the modern state.30 We may call this the “critical postsecular perspective.”

Although the sociological, normative, or critical postsecular perspectives originate—to borrow from Luca Mavelli and Fabio Petito—“from different sensibilities and concerns,” they nonetheless all “articulate sketches of postsecular visions that encourage us to think beyond current secular frameworks.”31 This change in consciousness has opened the scholarly and intellectual doors toward a budding interest in the production of knowledge about religion as well as greater appreciation and legitimation of religion as a way of thinking about and being in the world.

Going back to our two dimensions constitutive of a postsecular world society—(i) religions’ growing political salience and (ii) rise in postsecular consciousness—there has been a tendency in the IR literature to view these (p.30) processes as distinct and mutually exclusive, rather than as deeply entangled. On the one hand, we find accounts that suggest that greater secular reflexivity is a result or needs to come about as we experience the growing political salience of religion in the world.32 On the other hand are those who instead see this change in consciousness and the abandonment of previously held secularist lenses as generating a greater appreciation for (the continued relevance of) religion and thus with it a misplaced narrative of religious “resurgence.”33 Gorski et al. pithily summarize this tension with the following question: “Which world has changed—the ‘real’ one or the scholarly one?”34

Similarly to Gorski et al., who also adopt critical realist philosophical foundations, I argue that both worlds are changing at the same time.35 These changes are partly occurring independently from one another while also partly mutually reinforcing each other as changes in practices inform ideas, and changes in ideas inform practices. Put differently, as Tarak Barkawi and George Lawson argue about the co-constitutive relationship between history and theory: “theory is made in history, and it helps to make history.”36

As we shall see, this means that both processes constitutive of a postsecular world society carry independent explanatory power in accounting for the operationalization of religion in US foreign policy. In other words, both the growing political vibrancy of religion and postsecular consciousness are the conditions of possibility for the emergence of America’s foreign policy regime complex on religion. This point is, for instance, implicitly acknowledged by Michael Desch as follows:

The combination of a grudging intellectual realization that social science needs to deal with religion, in combination with dramatic examples of religion reasserting (p.31) itself into international politics, is starting to put religion back on the intellectual and policy agendas.37

Having defined how I employ the concept of the postsecular in this book, I now turn to defining what I understand by “world society.” I base this concept in English School thinking about the international system. English School scholars divide the international system along two different types of societies, the “international society” of states and interstate relations, and the “world society” of non-state actors and transnational cultural, economic, and social forces. The concept of “international society” captures the distinctiveness of the state in modern times or more generally of any sort of independent political community throughout history. “World society” instead captures the complexity of nonstate transnational and interhuman relations that exist simultaneously as aspects of international reality.38 Neither society supersedes the other; rather, they exist alongside each other with a degree of autonomy but also in constant interaction with one another.39 From this perspective, events and developments at the world society level can exercise both domestic and international pressures on a state’s foreign policy and thus bring about change. Likewise, foreign policies can themselves influence wider global transnational social forces and processes.40

Conceptually grounding the two postsecular processes—the growing political salience of religion and the emergence of postsecular consciousness—at the level of world society allows us to account for the multiple simultaneous domestic and international pressures that are contributing to the emergence of the four distinct, yet interconnected, religious foreign policy regimes. This conceptual move brings together different levels of analysis in one framework and overcomes more standard ways of explaining foreign policy change that generally rely on only one level or “image”—whether focusing on individuals (first image), the nature of the state and domestic politics (second image), or international factors (third image).41 In fact, the operationalization of religion (p.32) in US foreign policy challenges standard ways of explaining change to a state’s foreign policy that generally focus on only one level of analysis.

The shortcomings of approaches that make a clear-cut distinction between different levels of analysis are several in our case. If we were to focus only on first-image causes, for example, we could explain some but not all of the regimes. Let us take here the role played by President George W. Bush, whose Christian faith and born-again experience was a central feature of his public persona and thus may be viewed as a driving force in the operationalization of religion in American foreign policy.42 As we shall see in the case study chapters, President Bush undoubtedly played a pivotal role in bringing about the Faith-Based Foreign Aid regime through executive orders. Yet the Bush explanation can hardly account for the extensive domestic religious lobbying in support of the Faith-Based Foreign Aid regime itself. These domestic forces would likewise influence Barack Obama’s decision to extend and expand the regime, despite that among the liberal and progressive milieus supporting the Democratic president many saw the Bush-era faith-based agenda as controversial and hoped it would be rolled back. President Bush, and American presidents more generally, also had little to do with the emergence of the International Religious Freedom regime, for instance, which was institutionalized before the Bush presidency and not through executive action, but by Congress.

Focusing solely on second-image causes related to domestic factors and politics would equally leave us with only a partial picture. Much of the attention here could revolve around the influence of domestic religious groups in general and the Christian or Religious Right in particular.43 Domestic religious movements and advocacy groups did certainly play an important role in the adoption of the International Religious Freedom and Faith-Based Foreign Aid regimes. Yet focusing only on these forces would discount the key role played by presidents in authorizing the creation and shaping the implementation of such regimes. Moreover, focusing solely on domestic religious lobbying and advocacy cannot take into account neither the rise of the Muslim and Islamic Interventions regime, nor of the Religious Engagement one. These regimes, as we shall see, came into being mostly thanks to pressures exercised by more circumscribed international affairs and policy experts in Washington, DC reacting to events and developments originating outside of the United States, rather than being championed by broader domestic religious constituencies.

Explanations relying exclusively on third-image international factors would likewise be incomplete. Accounts here, for instance, could point to international trends and events with a notable religious dimension, such as the rise (p.33) of political Islam and the attacks of 9/11, as drivers of the religious turn in US foreign policy. As we shall see, these developments are indeed closely linked to the emergence of the Muslim and Islamic Interventions regime and, to some extent, help explain the institutionalization of the religious engagement agenda. The 9/11 explanation, however, cannot account for the development of the International Religious Freedom and Faith-Based Foreign Aid regimes, which in fact emerged before the 2001 terrorist attacks.

In sum, explanations that rely on only one specific image or factor—whether individual leaders, domestic politics, or international forces—remain incomplete and partial on their own. What is needed is a framework that helps to connect these different images. This is what the concept of world society enables us to do, as it captures macro developments taking place transnationally both within and outside the United States. In short, it allows us to analyze the multiple simultaneous domestic and international forces that have come about in the past three decades putting pressure on American foreign policy to adapt and respond both to the growing political salience of religion and to the rise of postsecular consciousness.

Micro-Level Dynamics: Desecularizing Actors and Discourses

In order to address the second puzzle—explaining why there is a variety of religious foreign policy regimes and how these came about at different times since the end of the Cold War—we need to connect macro-level historical and global developments to micro-level analysis. More specifically, we need to look at the creative actions of agents that are producing and responding to the emergence of a postsecular world society and who are responsible for directly causing changes in American foreign policy. Put differently, the emergence of a postsecular world society is a contextual necessary condition that enables the operationalization of religion in American foreign policy at this particular historical juncture, but it does not cause it on its own.44 To explain how religion has become an increasingly structured subject and object of US foreign policy, we need to pay attention to a wide variety of actors at the micro-level whose identities and interests are co-constitutive of, but whose behaviors are not determined by, macro postsecular processes.45

I call these actors desecularizing actors. These actors are the causal link between postsecular developments within world society—religious resurgence and postsecular consciousness—and the rise of multiple religious foreign policy regimes since the late 1990s. Peter Berger first introduced the term “desecularization,” by which he mostly meant the persistence and revival of religion in the modern world.46 Vyacheslav Karpov has further qualified this (p.34) concept to indicate a process of contestation of, and reversal from, a previously secularized and secular state of affairs.47 Similarly, Sadia Saeed notes that processes of desecularization emerge “when social actors seek to efface the perceived distance between “religious” and “secular” domains.”48 As I will argue in greater detail in this chapter’s next section, the renegotiation of previously settled boundaries between the secular and the religious, faith and politics, church and state in American foreign policy is precisely what desecularizing actors work toward in order to successfully institutionalize a specific religious foreign policy regime.49 Overall, the framework I develop here, seeks to reconcile more traditional sociological accounts that explain processes of secularization/desecularization by stressing the role of large-scale macro developments, with newer perspectives that approach secular-religious changes as the result of contingent political conflicts rooted in the ideologies, interests, and actions of particular agents at the micro-level.50

I identify three broad categories of desecularizing actors: activists, experts, and policymakers.51 Desecularizing activists are generally faith-based leaders and organizations embedded in and constitutive of the wider process of religious resurgence in American society. These actors, which can be thought of also as religious “norm entrepreneurs” operating at the civil society and grass-roots level,52 mobilize domestically in the United States to lobby and advocate “from below” for their preferred religious foreign policy regimes.

Desecularizing activists come in different shapes and forms. One particularly vocal and politically important constituency is composed by politicized Evangelicals and by individuals and organizations tied to the Christian Right movement.53 Increasingly their ranks are flanked by representatives of a reorganized Christian Left movement.54 More broadly, desecularizing activists are represented by the exponential growth, since the 1970s, of religious advocacy and lobbying organizations in Washington, DC concerned with international (p.35) issues.55 Such activism generally cuts across religious communities and denominations—from Christian, to Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Mormon, or Baha’i—as well as across conservative and liberal theological orientations. The most pressing issue for desecularizing activists is often the physical and spiritual well-being of their specific religious community worldwide, as well as that of other religions and possibly humanity more broadly at times. These actors view American foreign policy as having long unjustly ignored their voices and faith-based concerns.

Desecularizing experts are cultural elites such as intellectuals, scholars, pundits, and policy analysts. These often, although not exclusively, exhibit some kind of personal religious commitment, but most importantly they are the carriers and producers of postsecular ideas and consciousness (whether analytical, normative, or critical). Being generally tied to universities, think tanks, and policy research institutes, these actors constitute an amorphous “epistemic community” whose claim to expertise is based on particular forms of knowledge—practical, theological, or social scientific—about religion.56 Desecularizing experts thus tend to have a triple orientation as committed religious individuals, as scholarly analysts of religion, and as policy-engaged actors on matters of religion. Although these experts are outside government, they often have extensive contacts and interactions with policymakers. As such, in their efforts to champion any one particular religious foreign policy regime, they can be seen as doing so through high-level “lateral” forms of engagement—they advocate “from the side,” so to speak, rather than from below, as is the case with activists.

Desecularizing experts are commonly connected to a proliferating number of new centers, initiatives, research projects, or task forces housed in academic institutions, well-known think tanks, or novel faith-based “think-and-do tanks,”57 which explore issues at the nexus of religion and international affairs and actively seek to disseminate this knowledge to foreign policy practitioners. Religiously based universities have established themselves as important leaders in this sector. These include Georgetown University, with its Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs created in 2006 and the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding founded in 1993; the University of Notre Dame, with an important research program on Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding housed in the Kroc Institute since 2000; Baylor University and its Institute for Studies of Religion launched in 2004; and the International (p.36) Center for Law and Religion Studies founded in 2000 at Brigham Young University.

Initiatives and centers focused on issues of religion in world affairs have been created in recent decades also across a wide range of more secular universities with important connections to policy milieus in Washington, DC. Harvard University’s Belfer Center hosted between 2007 and 2012 the Initiative on Religion in International Affairs and since 2018 its Divinity School and Kennedy School have joined efforts in a new Religion, Conflict, and Peace Initiative; Yale University’s MacMillan Center has, since the mid-2000s, a number of ongoing projects focused on religion in international affairs; Johns Hopkins’ School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) labeled its 2009–2010 academic year the “Year of Religion,” and launched a Global Politics and Religion Initiative between 2012 and 2014; and George Mason University hosts the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution since 2003 and the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies since 2009.

Major think tanks and policy research institutes have joined this booming intellectual enterprise. These include the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which in 2006 established a Religion and Foreign Policy Initiative; the Brookings Institution, which has demonstrated a growing interest on the nexus between religion and foreign policy since 2001,58 and established in 2003 the Project on US Relations with the Islamic World; the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), which launched in 2001 a Religion and Peacemaking Program which has evolved taking multiple forms over the years; the Hudson Institute’s Center on Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World since 2006 and a Center for Religious Freedom since 2007; and the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, launched in 2001 (recently renamed Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life). Adding to this are the countless reports on religion in general and Islam in particular drafted since the early 2000s by think tanks such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS),59 the Rand Corporation,60 or the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.61

A further novel development is the emergence of faith-based think-and-do tanks with an explicit interest in religion in world politics. Some of the most visible ones include the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) founded in 1999, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) founded in 1999, the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) founded in 2000, and the Religious Freedom Institute founded in 2016. Other, more established and long-standing think tanks with a religious bent, such as the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), founded in 1976, have also started paying greater attention to religious dynamics and trends outside of the United States from (p.37) the 1990s onward.62 Many of the voices and activities emerging from this heterogeneous epistemic community are generally concerned with what they see as America’s inability to understand, approach, and mobilize religion globally in the pursuit of its national interest, however this may be defined.

Desecularizing policymakers are political or bureaucratic actors sitting in Congress, the White House, or across the foreign policy bureaucracy. Compared to activists and experts, desecularizing policymakers are less central in articulating and setting the intellectual agenda on religion in foreign policy. Desecularizing policymakers sitting in the halls of power have a key role nonetheless. When influenced by activists and experts they push “from within” and authorize “from above” the operationalization of religion across the different regimes. As we shall see, members of Congress and President Bush were instrumental in institutionalizing, respectively, the International Religious Freedom and the Faith-Based Foreign Aid regimes. Neoconservatives in the Bush administration were central in defining the early stages of the Muslim and Islamic Interventions regime. Particular members of the Obama administration made the religious engagement agenda, first articulated by experts outside government, their own and actively championed it across the foreign policy bureaucracy.

Desecularizing actors bring about their preferred religious foreign policy regimes through a number of causal pathways and mechanisms. First and foremost, they do so by articulating and deploying what I label desecularizing discourses. Understanding the role of discourses in general and desecularizing discourses in particular is pivotal to the analysis for three main reasons. I argue that desecularizing discourses fulfill three key functions: (a) they articulate novel policy paradigms and contest established foreign policy arrangements; (b) they provide shared meanings and create a conceptual space around which different formations of desecularizing actors can come together; and (c) they act as a causal mechanism that brings about change. I now further unpack and explain these different functions.

First, desecularizing discourses act as (a) conveyors and carriers of the ideas or, to use Peter Hall’s expression, the “policy paradigms” that underpin each of the four religious foreign policy regimes. Policy paradigms do not just specify “the goals of policy and the kind of instruments that can be used to attain them,” but they also contribute to defining “the very nature of the problems they are meant to be addressing.”63 In other words, policy paradigms embody specific ways of seeing, talking, and defining problems, which in turn shape the kinds of solutions offered, and the types of policies proposed. “A paradigm is like a lens that filters information and focuses attention,” Carter Wison explains. “It embodies particular assumptions about the policy problem—its (p.38) cause, its seriousness, its pervasiveness, those responsible for creating it, or ameliorating it, and the appropriate governmental response.”64

At their most basic, desecularizing discourses argue that the secularity of American foreign policymaking and implementation is highly problematic, especially in the context of a postsecular world society. It is this contestation of the secular character of US foreign policy, along with their call for the institutionalization of a particular religious regime, that earns such discourses and the actors who articulate and deploy them, the label “desecularizing.” In other words, just by seeking to influence foreign policy on the basis of one’s religious persuasion and values—say, for instance, in support of a particular country such as Israel, a particular issue such as combating human trafficking, or a military intervention such as that in Iraq in 2003—does not necessarily qualify an actor as desecularizing. Rather, actors only become desecularizing if they dispute the settled boundaries between the secular and the religious in order to open up greater space for including religion as a distinct subject and object of American foreign policy thinking and practices.

In their broadest and more abstract form, desecularizing discourses come in two varieties: principled and strategic. Principled desecularizing discourses generally articulate “beliefs about right and wrong” and about what is “just and unjust”—to borrow from Nina Tannenwald’s definition of “principled ideas”—and thus prescribe the appropriate norms of principled conduct.65 Principled desecularizing discourses are most often, although not exclusively, articulated by desecularizing activists and take the following general form: “American foreign policy is too secular and has long unjustly neglected and excluded the concerns of faith-based actors and communities. Such exclusion has become even more problematic and discriminatory at a time when religions are seeking a greater role in the public sphere and are major contributors to the common good. As such, in order to rectify this unjustified and unfair neglect, American foreign policy should operationalize religious foreign policy regime X.”

Strategic desecularizing discourses are articulated most explicitly, although not exclusively, by desecularizing experts. These discourses are strategic because—to borrow from Nina Tannenwald’s definition of “causal ideas”—they lay out “beliefs about cause-effect, or means-end, relationships” and “derive authority from the fact that they are espoused by epistemic communities or by other relevant elites.”66 This type of discourse is commonly articulated along the following general lines: “Over the past decades, faith has come to matter more in international politics and hence to America’s national interest. American foreign policy needs to overcome its secular biases, which prevent it from understanding and addressing the important role of religion around the world. American interests would be better served if it considered religious (p.39) perspectives and solutions to global problems, which can be achieved by operationalizing religious foreign policy regime Y.”

The second function of desecularizing discourses is (b) providing shared meanings and creating a conceptual space around which different formations of desecularizing actors debate and discuss, agree and disagree, form broad and at times opposing coalitions, in the overall common pursuit of operationalizing religion in American foreign policy.67 Sharing discourses, like sharing a language, does not mean that all actors will agree on everything all the time, but it does mean that they will be able to communicate and understand each other. As we shall see in the case studies, there are often important policy disagreements and conflicting priorities among desecularizing actors. These include diverging understandings of how a specific regime should be institutionalized and implemented, and competition between actors championing different regimes altogether.

Indeed, advocacy for the operationalization of religion is riven with conflicts and friction among desecularizing actors themselves. These tensions are rooted in the diversity of their identities (secular or religious), ideological orientations (whether political or theological, conservative, or progressive), interests (whether partisan/sectarian, nationalist, or internationalist), and views of national security and foreign affairs. Yet despite these important differences, desecularizing actors all share a similar conceptual space—which desecularizing discourses reflect and represent—based on a concern with the greater role that religion ought to play for principled or strategic reasons as a subject and object of US foreign policy.

In other words, desecularizing actors—whether activists, experts, or policymakers—share an overarching concern with operationalizing religion in US foreign policy, but nonetheless have often very different understandings of how this should be done. A conceptually fruitful way to capture these similarities and differences, is to think of desecularizing actors as coming together in different formations, as constellations, networks, coalitions, and constituencies. A constellation is constituted by a broad, heterogeneous, loosely knit, and uncoordinated set of desecularizing actors. These generally share an interest in operationalizing one particular regime, say International Religious Freedom; however, they mobilize around very different and at times opposite understandings of how such regime should be implemented and what its purpose should be. Within constellations we can find more homogeneous, but still somewhat loosely knit, networks of desecularizing actors. In networks, actors share a similar theological or ideological orientation, as well as a particular view of how a specific religious regime should be operationalized, but on the whole their efforts to mainstream religion in foreign policy are largely uncoordinated. Coalitions and constituencies are more tightly knit and coherent groupings of desecularizing actors, within a wider network or constellation, (p.40) that mobilize and lobby together around a shared view of a religious foreign policy regime. Coalitions bring different types of actors—activists, experts, and policymakers—together, while constituencies are prevalently represented by one typology of desecularizing actor – say, experts. Stressing different formations is key, also, to grasp how regimes are often the result of a compromise between competing perspectives within a constellation of desecularizing actors, and on how they evolve over time depending on which networks, coalitions, and constituencies of desecularizing actors hold sway over the policymaking process under different administrations.

Desecularizing discourses, lastly, act (c) as a causal mechanism to bring about policy change.68 Such change occurs as desecularizing discourses are articulated and deployed to persuade policymakers to adopt a particular religious foreign policy regime. Persuasion is “a social process of communication that involves changing beliefs, attitudes, or behavior in the absence of overt coercion,” as Jeffrey Checkel explains. “It entails convincing someone through argument and principled debate.”69 Persuasion may either be more superficial if changes are made for political expedience and lead to a more temporary and instrumental adoption of new ideas, or it may go deeper and lead to more sustained change through processes of socialization and the internalization of new ideas and possibly new identities.

Contributing Factors: Critical Junctures and Exogenous Trends

Desecularizing actors and discourses play a key role in what is often a more complex causal story leading to regime emergence and evolution. The ability of actors to institutionalize their regime of choice and shape the same regime along their preferred outcomes depends not solely on what they say and do, but also on the presence of two further contributing factors—or what could also be referred to as INUS conditions.70 These factors are critical junctures and exogenous (i.e., non-postsecular) trends.

Critical junctures are significant, relatively short-lived, intense moments of social, political, or economic change or crises, which may open up space for reconsidering old or proposing new institutional and policy arrangements.71 Critical junctures do not directly and on their own cause change. They can provide unsettled times when policymakers may be particularly receptive to new ideas and which desecularizing actors can exploit to persuade them into (p.41) adopting a particular religious foreign policy regime. Two types of events are important to our causal story.

One set of events are domestic political changes, most notably presidential elections and the installment of new administrations. As new presidents and administrations bring with them different and novel ideas and personnel, an opening is generated for desecularizing actors to influence foreign policy. Another type of event is constituted by international shocks and crises that desecularizing actors present as revealing, on the one hand, the growing political salience of religion in international relations and, on the other hand, the secular limits of American foreign policy in adequately predicting, understanding, or responding to them.72 Events which thus appear critical to desecularizing actors include, for instance, the end of the Cold War and the demise of Communism, the post-Cold War rise in civil conflicts often pitting warring parties along sectarian divides, the attacks of 9/11 organized by Al Qaeda, the US failures to pacify Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, the continued growth in Islamist terrorism represented most starkly by the emergence of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) following the 2011 Arab Spring, and mounting violence directed toward religious groups and minorities around the world. All these instances would lend themselves to be framed by desecularizing actors as moments of radical change and crisis intimately connected to the growing role and significance of religion in world politics.

Exogenous trends are not single events or moments of acute crisis, but longer-term ideational, economic, social, or political developments that occur over years and decades. These trends are conceptualized as “exogenous” because they are unrelated to postsecular processes taking place in parallel and with no apparent connection to the resurgence of religion or the rise of postsecular consciousness. Similarly to critical junctures, exogenous trends create favorable conditions that desecularizing actors can indirectly benefit from or directly exploit to advance their principled or strategic concerns for the operationalization of religion. For instance, as chapter 3 shows, the successful institutionalization of the International Religious Freedom regime cannot be explained without appreciating the post-Cold War expansion in human rights advocacy that was simultaneously taking place at the time.

Upon regime operationalization, we can expect a level of path dependency to set in, ensuring that regimes persist over time.73 While path dependency suggests that regime change will not be the default condition, it does not mean that incremental or abrupt institutional and policy developments cannot occur, whether through decay, the broadening of institutional arrangements and functions, or conversion to an entirely new role. Hence I expect that regime (p.42) change and evolution will occur in some cases, which will depend on the complex set of causes that explain regime rise in the first place, including: shifts in the forces and agents that sustain and generate a postsecular world society; the rise of new or the decline of old desecularizing actors and their agendas; the presence of critical junctures (new administrations and international crisis); and the evolution of long-term exogenous trends.

To summarize my arguments so far, in order to understand and explain the rise of America’s religious foreign policy regimes and the overall complex, I have proposed to situate the American state within a wider macro global and historical context defined by the emergence of a postsecular world society. This context gives rise to and is being reproduced by a multiplicity of desecularizing actors which pressure American foreign policy institutions and policymakers to respond and adapt to a domestic and international environment marked by the growing political salience of religion and ever more powerful postsecular intellectual currents. The success of these actors in operationalizing their preferred foreign policy regime is dependent upon their articulation and deployment of principled and strategic desecularizing discourses, and on the presence of two further contributing causal conditions, namely critical junctures and exogenous trends.

Shifting Secular-Religious Boundaries and Foreign Policy Desecularization

As pointed out in the previous section, desecularizing actors consider the secularity of American foreign policy as intrinsically problematic, and on this premise, they contest, challenge and seek to renegotiate existing arrangements. The aim of their challenge is to shift and loosen state–religious boundaries in order to open up space for religious actors and perspectives to be systematically brought into the foreign policy decision-making and implementation process. Borrowing from Sadia Saeed’s conceptualization of desecularization, I expect the religion–state entanglements emerging in foreign policy from these processes of contestation to occur “while leaving the basic structural differentiation that characterizes modern societies intact.”74 Understanding desecularization as a “historically contingent and instituted” process, as Saeed does,75 allows to appreciate how religious norms, practices, and actors can become increasingly entwined with some features of US foreign policy while nonetheless the latter continues to retain its autonomous logic on the whole.

Put differently, as religion becomes entangled with particular aspects of foreign policy, this sphere of social and political activity largely maintains its primary function as a vehicle through which a country defends and advances its interests internationally, and manages its relations with other states and (p.43) foreign publics. Desecularization through Saeed’s lens, hence, “does not entail an erosion of the secular disciplinary and symbolic powers of the nation-state, which may in fact be further strengthened through it.”76 We should thus not expect the operationalization of religion in US foreign policy to undermine the American state as such, but rather to provide novel resources for asserting its influence—whether positive, according to supporters of the regimes, or negative, according to critics—in world politics.

But what exactly do desecularizing actors mean when they suggest that American foreign policy is too secular, and what kind of state–religious renegotiations do they seek to bring about? Desecularizing activists, experts, and policymakers’ contestation of American foreign policy secularity develops—I contend—along four main lines. They contest it—and here I draw inspiration from José Casanova’s multiple definitions of secularization and secularism—for being too secular institutionally, epistemically, ideologically, and state-normatively.77 Hence, through the deployment of desecularizing discourses these actors wish to generate processes of institutional, epistemic, ideological, and state-normative desecularization. These processes are essential for the successful operationalization of the various religious foreign policy regimes. As we shall see in a moment, institutional desecularization requires “material” changes to be made to American foreign policy bureaucracies and practices, while epistemic, ideological, and state-normative desecularization require instead “ideational” changes in knowledge, mentalities, culture, and norms. Although it is important to keep these processes conceptually distinct, they are often intertwined and mutually reinforcing (e.g., changes in practices can lead to changes in norms and vice versa).

The problem of institutional secularization, in the eyes of desecularizing actors, is the excessive separation and distance that exists between America’s foreign policy bureaucracy on the one hand, and religious actors and perspectives on the other. This becomes apparent in the sheer absence, according to desecularizing actors, of dedicated government offices and positions capable of understanding and addressing the role of religion in world politics, a deficiency further underlined by the lack of relevant policies which purposely focus on and target religious forces and dynamics internationally.

Successful contestation of this state of affairs leads to a process of institutional desecularization characterized by the progressive structured entanglement between foreign policy institutions and religious actors and perspectives. The aim is to reduce the distance between state and religion by putting in (p.44) place new arrangements whereby religious leaders, experts, organizations, and communities can be formally and informally included in ever more structured ways in the formulation and delivery of American foreign policy. Institutional desecularization involves, first, building the bureaucratic architecture of any one particular religious foreign policy regime. This is done by creating new religion-oriented roles, positions, or offices mostly—although not exclusively—within the White House, State Department, or USAID, and populating these mostly—although not exclusively—with religious leaders, activists, and experts brought in through the “revolving door” practice.78 Second, institutional desecularization occurs with the emergence of new foreign policy practices (whether policies, initiatives, programs, etc.) designed explicitly either to mobilize religious actors and perspectives in the pursuit of certain goals, or to target certain states, communities, organizations, or individuals identified primarily by their religious identity and beliefs.

A particular regime may generate either lower or higher levels of institutional desecularization depending on the extent of the state–religion entanglements it produces and sustains. There is no neat figure or concept that can measure or capture in a clear-cut way how much institutional desecularization has occurred. This may vary, for instance, according to the size of the regime’s institutional architecture and the numbers of religious voices that populate it, the proximity of a regime’s institutional architecture to the key centers of foreign policy decision-making and thus its ability to influence US conduct abroad, and the extent to which American foreign policy implementation partners with and harnesses the energy of religious actors worldwide (especially by funding them).

The problem of epistemic secularism, according to desecularizing actors’ perception, is that the American foreign policy establishment is trapped in a mindset that views religion as marginal or irrelevant in the world. This mentality is seen as rooted in an un-reflexive acceptance of secularization theory and paradigms that present religion as declining or as an epiphenomenal force to more concrete economic and security interests. What follows, then, is not only the belief that religion is unimportant, but also that it has little or no relevance to American foreign policy.

Successful contestation of this mentality leads to different degrees of epistemic desecularization that generate a view that is either “attentive” of religion or even one that “reifies” religion as the most important factor in social life and international relations. A religiously attentive perspective is one that recognizes the importance of religion in world affairs, compared to treating it as irrelevant, but also stresses the complex ways in which faith interacts (p.45) with a wide variety of economic, social, political, and historical factors to produce certain outcomes or manifestations. In perspectives that reify religion, complexity is often sidelined and religion is generally presented as the dominant and single most important factor in determining identities, meanings, conducts, events, and outcomes.

The problem of ideological secularism, from a desecularizing actor’s perspective, is that it sustains in the minds of American foreign policymakers a view of religion as an overwhelmingly negative and problematic force in the world. Seen through an ideologically secularist lens, religion thus mostly appears as a regressive, premodern, irrational, and intolerant force, which should be kept out of international politics (and foreign policy) in order for there to be progress and peace in the world. Compared to an epistemic secularist perspective, which does not take an a priori normative stance for or against religion but simply treats it as an irrelevant factor, an ideological secularist perspective, instead, can view religion as an important force but mostly for the worst, while considering the secular to be inherently progressive, modern, and rational.

It needs to be noted that not all forms of secularism that embed within them a theory and value judgment about what religion is and does are purely hostile to religion.79 Hence, following also Casanova, ideological secularism (which this book is concerned with) should be distinguished from political secularism (which is not a focus of this book). As the Georgetown University-based scholar observes, the latter “does not need to share the same negative assumptions about religion” as the former does.80 Political secularism, for Casanova, is “actually compatible with a positive view of religion as a moral good or as an ethical communitarian reservoir of human solidarity and republican virtue,” but what it would like to do is “to contain religion within its own differentiated ‘religious’ sphere and . . . maintain a secular public democratic sphere free from religion.”81

Successful contestation leads to different degrees of ideological desecularization that manifest themselves in two overarching views of religion. One is a view of religion as complex and often “ambivalent” force, which can be both good and bad.82 In this understanding, religion’s impact in the world is seen as producing both desirable and undesirable, positive and negative outcomes depending upon context and circumstances. Another view, associated with a process of greater ideological desecularization, can lead to the “positive essentialization” of religion. Here religion—especially that which is labeled as true, authentic, and real religion—is represented as inherently good (e.g., peaceful, charitable, compassionate, and socially, economically, and politically useful). Positively essentialized religion is then juxtaposed against either (p.46) the supposedly corrupted, highjacked, or inauthentic religion mobilized in the service of violence by terrorists for instance, or to the limits of secular modes of living, thinking, and acting.

The problem of state-normative secularism, from a desecularizing actor’s point of view, is that norms—formal rules or informal shared understandings—regulating state–religion relations are all too often interpreted as mandating little or no interaction with religion in the context of foreign policy. In the case of the United States, norms regulating state–religious relations are captured by the first two “religious” clauses of the Constitution’s First Amendment the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clause. These read: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” My use of the concept of state-normative secularism refers mostly to “strict separationist” interpretations of the Establishment Clause, which seeks to keep the state and faith-based actors and concerns as separate as possible, even if this may mean favoring nonreligion over religion.83

Successful contestation of a strict separationist interpretation of the Establishment Clause leads to processes of state-normative desecularization that vary in degree. At the far end of the spectrum, a strict separationist take on state–religion relations can be replaced by some kind of religious “establishment,” whereby one or multiple religions are formally declared to be the state’s official religion/s and explicitly embedded in or supported by the state. In between these two arrangements—strict separation and establishment—exists a vast gray area often occupied by what are identified as “accommodationist” perspectives on the Establishment Clause. An accommodationist position generally means treating religious voices and actors equally to secular ones, while not favoring religion over the secular, or one religion over another. However, in practice, accommodation is hardly if ever completely neutral. Accommodation often leads to some kind of state preference—however implicit—of certain religions and ways of being religious over others or even of religion over nonreligion.

To sum up my arguments so far: when desecularizing actors discursively contest the secularity of American foreign policy in order to operationalize their preferred religious foreign policy regime—whether International Religious Freedom, Faith-Based Foreign Aid, Muslim and Islamic Interventions, or Religious Engagement—they contest multiple and different aspects of this secularity. The emergence of each regime thus requires, but also further generates, four parallel processes of foreign policy desecularization: institutional, epistemic, ideological, and state-normative. The degree of desecularization (p.47) across these four areas is likely to vary according to regime, with differences mostly rooted in the world views and preferences of the desecularizing actors championing and influencing a particular religious foreign policy regime over time.

Global Effects

The progressive and structured opening up of American foreign policymaking and implementation to faith over the past two decades means that the world’s superpower has come to enmesh itself with and intervene in global religious dynamics and landscapes in ever more systematic ways. Intended to manage and marshal religion for a plurality of ends, the regime complex thus can have the power to transform—whether intentionally or not—religious and secular realities in the world. This issue has elicited a spirited debate on whether such foreign interventions in global religious affairs are a positive or a negative development.84

The historical sociological lens underpinning this study leads it primarily to focus on understanding the secular and religious changes that American foreign policy is generating in the international system, rather than celebrating or critiquing them. As Andrew Linklater aptly puts it: “the plain desire to understand social and political change is often the primary motivation for pursuing historical-sociological inquiry.”85 Thus this study’s main concern is with identifying and unpacking the key ways in which the desecularization of American foreign policy is contributing to making the world a religiously different place, rather than a better or worse one. In particular, I suggest that the four regimes and the overall regime complex are intervening and potentially changing global religious and secular landscapes in three key ways:

  1. (i) shaping global religious realities along American norms and interests;

  2. (ii) contributing to processes of religionization of world politics; and

  3. (iii) diffusing and promoting similar religious regimes in international policy.

The first two effects follow the theoretical consideration that not only (postsecular) developments at the world society level can lead to shifts in states’ foreign policies (via specific agents), but also that these shifts in turn can themselves produce particular (religious) changes and outcomes within world society. The third effect, instead, focuses on how changes in US foreign policy may be affecting through dynamics of norm and policy diffusion also what other states in international society may be doing.

(p.48) Shaping Global Religious Realities Along American Norms and Interests

America’s religious foreign policy regimes adopt a wide range of policy tools and diplomatic practices to achieve their desired outcomes. These include normative persuasion, bargaining, sanctioning, and naming and shaming to alter identities and behaviors; transferring (or withholding) economic resources, social recognition, legitimacy, and knowledge to selected faith-based partners through specific programs and initiatives; coopting religious individuals and organizations into the foreign policymaking and implementation process; and “governing at a distance,”86 through the production of reports and ranking mechanisms with the intent to incentivize particular identities, norms, interests, and practices and disincentive others. In the case of some regimes, for example the International Religious Freedom and the Muslim and Islamic Interventions regimes, states and societies are targeted through a mix of the policy tools and diplomatic practices identified here in order to explicitly and directly produce certain desired religious outcomes. In the case of other regimes, such as the Faith-Based Foreign Aid and Religious Engagement ones, policy instruments are used instead mostly to produce nonreligious objectives such as reducing poverty or resolving conflicts.

As the United States intervenes through multiple means and in more or lesser purposeful ways in the midst of global religious realities at the world society level, I expect these to be potentially transformed along American understandings and practices of faith. Such an assumption is based on the theoretical premise underpinning this book according to which what is understood as constituting “religion” and, especially, what is considered to be “appropriate religion” is historically contingent and context-specific.87 In particular, I contend that the types of religious understandings and practices that the regimes will—explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly—seek out, support, and encourage will inevitably reflect certain logics. These are logics that influence the making and implementation of American foreign policy in general and of the religious regimes more specifically. I identify four particularly salient logics likely to be in play.

One logic will be driven by the desire to manage and promote religious dynamics and actors that can contribute to advance America’s national interest. What is in America’s national interest may of course be defined in multiple ways. To simplify, we can distinguish between more narrow and immediate security concerns or longer-term international order building objectives. Security interests may involve, for instance, fighting and winning the war on terror against groups claiming to act in the name of a particular religion. Longer-term order building objectives may involve promoting democracy, international human rights norms, development and market economies, and ultimately (p.49) what scholars like John Ikenberry have defined as the liberal international order.88 Thus one can expect that religiosities that can contribute to enhance US security or advance a liberal international order will be empowered through American foreign policy regimes; those that cannot will be ignored or opposed.

A second logic will be driven by the desire to govern and mobilize religious dynamics and actors in ways that reflect the political-ideological proclivities of different administrations, especially along conservative/progressive and Republican/Democratic cleavages. I assume that political-ideological differences among administrations will manifest themselves in distinct foreign policy priorities and objectives, and in different approaches toward religion and religious actors.89 This implies that Republican and Democratic administrations would tend to seek alliances with and support those religious actors, interpretations, and agendas that match their foreign policy interests and party ideological commitments.

A third logic potentially at play will reflect the United States’ own distinctive religious demographics, history, and normative arrangements. The United States is a country marked by a dominant Christian, especially Protestant, identity and population, which is both open to but also at times in tension with a decidedly pluralist religious culture and society.90 This background and identity can mold the ways in which Americans define religion, mostly centered on individually held beliefs and a denominational view of faith communities as voluntary associations that can be easily entered or abandoned, which generalizes a particular Protestant understanding of religion and religious pluralism.91 Moreover, the way that Americans view the role of faith in the public sphere generally derives from a vantage point powerfully shaped by a set of important constitutional norms that define the relationship between the American state and religion. These norms, as already mentioned earlier, are encoded in the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the Constitution’s First Amendment, which mandate the institutional separation of church and state and prevent the federal government from restricting citizens’ exercise of religion. The conjecture here is that the complex factors that define the religious experience and identity of Americans at the domestic level are likely to be projected onto and exported in the world through the regimes.

The fourth and final logic around which global religious landscapes could be reshaped by American foreign policy interventions may reflect the narrower interests and normative concerns of the faith-based activists, experts, and (p.50) policymakers that support a particular religious foreign policy regime. “What is important to understand about religious actors is that religious politics, even when it converges with that of the state,” Daniel Philpott notes, “emanates from beliefs, practices, and communities that themselves are prior to politics.”92 Translated to our case, this means that religious actors will seek to bend US foreign policy as much as they can to serve the interests and values of their (often transnational) religious communities in particular or of religion more broadly, rather than exclusively those of the American state as such.93

In short, I hypothesize that as the United States increasingly intervenes in global religious landscapes and communities, these may be reshaped to reflect American national interests, party politics and ideology, religious identity and norms, as well as the priorities of specific domestically based desecularizing actors. These four logics are not mutually exclusive. They may be present individually or more often in combination, to a lesser or greater extent, across the four religious foreign policy regimes.

Religionizing World Politics

As American foreign policy changes and adapts to a world of resurging religions and perceptions thereof, its foreign policy is likely to multiply and further such processes of resurgence. I expect that the four regimes individually, and the overall complex more broadly, contribute to making religion matter more in the ways that world politics is discussed and practiced. This is what I mean by “religionization,” which I conceptualize as potentially occurring through two types of mechanisms: objective elevation and subjective categorization.

All regimes are intended to generate dynamics of religious elevation as they seek to open up space for and empower faith-based actors and traditions in world politics, especially those deemed in line with American foreign policy and societal interests, norms, and identities (as discussed earlier). Such dynamics can take place, for example, as religious actors and perspectives are increasingly called upon to participate in the making of the world’s most powerful state’s foreign policy, or mobilized on the ground globally to combat terrorism, climate change, poverty, and so on. All these developments increase, rather than decrease, the role of religion in international relations.

Religionization also occurs through more subjective mechanisms of categorization.94 Religious categorization takes place as American foreign policy institutions, rhetoric and practices assign and uphold, by producing from the top-down or reproducing from the ground up, religious identities in and explanations of world politics. Elizabeth Shakman Hurd points to similar (p.51) dynamics, when she argues that international religious freedom policies lead to the “confessionalization” of world politics. In her words:

Under a regime of religious freedom, individuals and groups are described, and often legally defined, in religious or sectarian terms rather than on the basis of other social bonds and affiliations—for example, as groups based on social class, historical ties, neighborhood bonds, kinship networks, or professional associations. . . . Religious identity and difference are taken as the natural foundation of social order, as just the way things are. This engenders a “confessionalization” of public life.95

The mechanism of religionization through categorization differs from elevation in that it highlights instead how the regimes contribute to socially construct the very same religious categories, subjectivities, and factors that they often seek to objectively govern, manage, and mobilize. Indeed, as scholars working from a poststructural and postcolonial perspective remind us, religious realities are not simply to be found out there in the social world, but are often “made.”96 Despite the intersubjective nature of this process, categorization does also have real material manifestations and consequences. Individuals, communities, and sites are either included or excluded, targeted or ignored, through different means (military, economic, or diplomatic), according to the labels and identities they subscribe to themselves or are given by others—notably, in our case, US foreign policymakers.

Religionization through categorization takes place at two levels. One level involves the breadth and depth at which religious idioms and frames inform and structure American foreign policy discourses, institutions, and practices. The other depends on changes happening in world politics. In particular, this depends on the extent to which processes of socialization into the religious categories (re)produced by US foreign policy occur on the ground. Socialization may be more superficial, whereby local actors instrumentally adopt religious idioms for the purposes of “marketing”97 themselves to gather international attention and resources from American foreign policymakers. Or it may go even deeper as actors internalize the religious roles, identities, and interests ascribed to them by the foreign policy regimes.98 While both dynamics could be theoretically plausible, it will be harder for this book—which focuses on changes in American foreign policy rather than developments on the ground—to empirically demonstrate whether and the extent to which socialization processes around the world are taking place at all.

(p.52) Regime Diffusion in International Policy

The operationalization of religion is not just an American phenomenon, but an increasingly global one.99 Networks of international religious freedom advocates and novel institutional arrangements designed to promote such norms internationally, for instance, have sprung up in Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, and within EU institutions since the 2000s. Initiatives designed to increase partnerships with faith-based organizations for the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance have taken place from the late 1990s onward in the context of multilateral donors such as the World Bank and the UN, as well as across bilateral ones such as the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). Strategies and policies aimed at winning the hearts, minds, and souls—so to speak—of Muslims in the context of the war on terror are being implemented in the United Kingdom and across many other Western countries since 2001. Foreign ministries in places like France and Italy are also building their capacity to better understand and engage with religions.

This flurry of activity can certainly be explained by referring to the same macro changes and micro-level forces—the emergence of a postsecular world society and the activities of desecularizing actors situated in and reproducing such macro processes—that account for the changes in US foreign policy. In other words, countries and institutions around the world may be subject to the same international and domestic, macro and micro pressures to operationalize religion as America is. This may not be the whole story, however.

In fact, at close scrutiny, the turn toward faith-based policies internationally often emerged in the aftermath, or if already present elsewhere it frequently expanded following, the operationalization of religion in the American context. This may not be a coincidence. It is plausible to assume that some kind of connection between American policy changes and similar developments elsewhere in the world may be at work too. I hypothesize that such connections may be of two broad kinds: a more linear process of norm and policy diffusion from the United States to other contexts, and another less linear process of knowledge circulation and mutual learning between the United States and other countries and international institutions.100

In those instances where the operationalization of religion emerged or considerably took off in different international settings in the aftermath of the American experience, I would expect to find linear processes of regime diffusion taking place from the United States to other contexts. Diffusion in these instances may occur directly or indirectly. In the former case, much of the (p.53) agency resides with American actors—activist, experts, or policymakers tied to a particular regime—who take on the role of international policy entrepreneurs, and advocate change and share experiences across boundaries with the explicit objective of promoting similar arrangements elsewhere. In the latter case, most of the agency would reside with non-American civil society actors and policymakers who carefully observe and learn from the superpower’s experience with the intent of reproducing or expanding similar arrangements in their own context.

In those circumstances where certain religious policy regimes developed internationally in important ways before or in parallel to the religious turn in American foreign policy, I hypothesize that we are still likely to see some connections emerging between these disparate developments. I would expect that in such instances American foreign policy changes may be affecting the global policy landscape in a less linear and unidirectional way, and we may instead be witnessing dynamics more akin to processes of knowledge circulation and mutual learning. In such circumstances American activists, experts, and policymakers tied to any one particular regime would both draw from the experience of others, as well as actively share their own knowledge with the hope of influencing the global international religious policy environment. Given the size and power of the United States, we may also expect to find American agents at the center and forefront of emerging networks seeking to share knowledge and coordinate activities across contexts.


This chapter laid out the theoretical and conceptual framework, grounded in a sociological approach to IR theory and a critical realist philosophy, used in this monograph to explain the causes, forms, and effects of the operationalization of religion—since the early 1990s to the end of the Obama presidency in 2016—in US foreign policy. This operationalization is most apparent in the institutionalization of four religious foreign policy regimes: International Religious Freedom, Faith-Based Foreign Aid, Muslim and Islamic Interventions, and Religious Engagement. These four distinct regimes share a number of features which constitute them into a larger whole, namely a foreign policy regime complex dedicated to marshaling and managing the power of faith globally to advance American values and interests abroad.

To enable us to understand why religion has progressively and systematically become a subject and object of American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, this chapter argued that the United States should be placed within a particular macro historical and global context. This is a context defined by the emergence of a postsecular world society exercising a range of international and domestic pressures on American foreign policy. Yet to causally explain in more detail how religion became operationalized in US foreign policy across different issue areas and during distinct presidencies, we need (p.54) to pay attention to how macro-level postsecular transformations are translated into policy developments via the actions of particular desecularizing actors at the micro-level.

Through the articulation and deployment of desecularizing discourses, desecularizing actors come forward to contest what they view as the problematic secularity of American foreign policy in the context of a novel postsecular age. As they contest established world views, norms, and practices on either principled or strategic grounds, they also seek to persuade policymakers to adopt new explicitly religious foreign policies. The success of these actors in institutionalizing their preferred religious foreign policy regime very much depends on the presence of two further contributing factors: critical junctures and exogenous trends. Both of these factors are crucial. They generate a favorable environment for the operationalization at first and evolution at later stages of each regime.

Secular contestation, and the adoption of the regimes, also leads to more underlying processes of foreign policy desecularization. These include processes of institutional desecularization, whereby new institutions and practices emerge to include religious actors and voices in the making and execution of foreign policy; epistemic desecularization, whereby religion is no longer viewed as irrelevant to social life and world politics; ideological desecularization, whereby religion is no longer viewed exclusively as a problem; and state-normative desecularization, whereby norms demanding a strict separation between state and church are relaxed. The shifting boundaries that such processes entail do not radically undermine foreign policy as an independent sphere of social and political activity. Rather, they open up spaces for particular, novel and deeper forms of religion–state entanglements that extend American influence in world politics both over and through religion.

Processes of desecularization also mean that American foreign policy increasingly intervenes, and thus becomes ever more enmeshed, in global religious and secular realities. It is my contention—and the aim of the analysis of the four cases that follow—that the religious foreign policy regimes are likely to produce three broad international effects: (i) transform global religious landscapes in ways that are informed by and resemble particular American norms and interests; (ii) inject more religion in discourses and practices of world politics through processes of elevation and categorization; and (iii) contribute to the proliferation and expansion of similar religious regimes internationally across countries and institutions through linear (direct and indirect) or circular processes of norm and policy diffusion.


(3) Hurd (2012b, 945).

(4) For the literature on domestic policy regimes, see, for example, May and Jochim (2013); Wison (2000). For that on international regimes, see Hasenclever, Mayer, and Rittberger (2000); Krasner (1983); Kratochwil and Ruggie (1986).

(8) See, for instance, Preston (2012).

(9) For an excellent overview of the development of secularization theory see Gorski (2003).

(10) See, for example, Fox (2006), whose large N comparative study identifies the United States as having the highest levels of separation of religion and state in the world.

(12) For example, a recent Pew Research Center (2014a) poll surveying Americans’ views of desirable/undesirable presidential traits—including experience in the military, being gay or lesbian, or having smoked marijuana—identified atheism as the most negative of all.

(13) On middle-range theorizing and analytical eclecticism see Sil and Katzenstein (2010); also Bennett (2013). For examples of links and overlaps between Historical Sociology, Constructivism, and the English School in IR see Buzan (2004); Buzan and Lawson (2013); Hobson and Hobden (2002); Lawson (2007); Reus-Smit (2008); Reus-Smit (2002). For the critical realist philosophical underpinnings of Historical Sociological theorizing in IR see Curtis and Koivisto (2010); Lawson (2007, 357–358). For a critical realist understanding of Constructivism see Wendt (1999). For sociologists of religion grounding their thinking in a critical realist philosophy see Gorski (2013); Smith (2008).

(14) On middle-range theoretical notions of complex causality, see Bennett (2013); Kurki (2007; 2006); Sil and Katzenstein (2010).

(15) Kurki (2006, 202).

(16) Habermas (2008a, 2008b; 2006); Habermas et al. (2010); Habermas and Mendieta (2010). For wider discussions and debates in the social sciences on the postsecular, inspired by the work of Habermas, see Calhoun, Juergensmeyer, and VanAntwerpen (2011); Calhoun, Mendieta, and VanAntwerpen (2013); Gorski et al. (2012b).

(17) Camilleri (2012, 1020); see also Beckford (2012).

(18) For more normatively oriented postsecular scholarship in the discipline of IR, see Barbato and Kratochwil (2009); Mavelli and Petito (2014); Review of International Studies (2012). For a more analytical approach, see Bettiza and Dionigi (2015).

(19) The distinction between the two postsecular processes identified here is not arbitrary, but builds upon similar distinctions made by Habermas (2008b, 21) and others. As Gorski et al. (2012a, 2) argue: “The question of the post-secular poses two lines of inquiry: first, determinations about the state of religiosity in the world; second, understanding the new ways that social scientists, philosophers, historians, and scholars from across disciplines are and are not paying attention to religion.”

(20) When using the terminology of “growing political salience” of religion I draw from Bellin (2008). I prefer this language to the more commonly used notion of religion’s “return” or “resurgence” (e.g., Hatzopoulos and Petito 2003; Thomas 2005; Toft, Philpott, and Shah 2011). Pointing to the growing political salience of religion does not imply some kind of comeback of religion from a previous bygone era. This is a highly contentious issue, with a range of scholars—like Haynes (2006), Hurd (2008), and Wilson (2012), for example—suggesting that religion never really completely went away from politics to begin with. Moreover the notion of growing political salience more clearly highlights processes connected to the politicization of religion, thus discarding a wide range of other sociologically relevant, but only indirectly politically significant, religious phenomena. These include, for example, the continued vitality of religious beliefs and traditions or the proliferation of new religious movements in the modern world (e.g., Pentecostalism in the developing world), which some authors (e.g., Berger 1999a, and Thomas 2010)—but not all (e.g., Toft, Philpott, and Shah 2011)—include in their definition of religious resurgence. Having said this, for practical and stylistic reasons, I will employ from time to time the terminology of “religious resurgence” throughout the book.

(21) On the secularization of the international system, see Philpott (2000). On nationalism as an alternative source of belonging and norms to religions, see Anderson (2006).

(24) The literature on the contemporary rise of fundamentalism, politically engaged theologies, and forms of religiously infused identity politics is vast. For seminal contributions in these fields, see Barber (1992); Huntington (1996); Juergensmeyer (2008); Marty and Appleby (1991–1995). For seminal contributions in the discipline of IR, see Hatzopoulos and Petito (2003); Thomas (2005); Toft, Philpott, and Shah (2011).

(26) For seminal critiques of secularization theory see Berger (1999b); Casanova (1994).

(29) Habermas and especially his dialogues with Cardinal Ratzinger (Habermas and Ratzinger 2006) is exemplary of this postsecular strand of thought. See also Taylor (2007); Dallmayr and Manoochehri (2007). For similar perspectives in the discipline of IR see Barbato and Kratochwil (2009); Mavelli and Petito (2014).

(30) Exemplary voices here are those of Asad (2003a; 1993); Cavanaugh (2009); Connolly (1999). For perspectives closer to IR see Hurd (2008); Wilson (2012).

(35) Broadly speaking, critical realism stakes a position between positivist empiricist and hermeneutical interpretivist philosophies of science. Compared to more radical interpretivist approaches, critical realism is ontologically realist in the sense that it recognizes a reality that is mind-independent from those who wish to know it. Compared to positivist philosophies, it is epistemologically critical in the sense that is sees science as a human activity that is inevitably mediated by cultural and historical context, human language and social power (Joseph and Wight 2010; Kurki 2007; Patomäki and Wight 2000; Jackson 2011, ch. 4).

(36) Barkawi and Lawson (2017, 1). Postsecular thought should not be simply seen as a reflection of empirical and historical changes connected with the growing political salience of religion. A series of intellectual developments—the crisis of secular ideologies and projects (whether socialist or liberal), poststructural and postcolonial critiques of universalizing Enlightenment assumptions, the cultural and linguistic turns in the social sciences and humanities—have without doubt contributed to opening the door for the growing interest in religion in the academy partly independently from real-world religious dynamics. Yet the assumption that postsecular consciousness is mostly an intellectual construct divorced from wider developments and events connected with religion’s growing political salience is problematic too. Ontologically it is problematic—from this author’s philosophical perspective—because it suggests that there is little reality beyond our own interpretations and discourses. Empirically it is problematic because it assigns too much power to scholars in shaping the world most people live in, one where religious beliefs, communities, rituals, and symbols are experienced “in practice” (Riesebrodt 2012) beyond what we as scholars say or do.

(37) Desch (2013, 15).

(38) Buzan (2004, 87–89). See also Bull (2002, 266–271); Buzan (2018); Hobson, Lawson, and Rosenberg (2010, 2–4).

(39) This understanding of the international system is distinct from those that either posit the state—as Realists do for instance—as the primary unit of analysis and overlook non-state actors, and those—like Marxist theorists instead—which concentrate on non-state economic actors and forces and view state behavior predominantly as a mere reflection of capitalist agents and structures.

(40) For historical sociological and English School views of how world society interacts and influences the foreign policy of states, and vice versa, see Alden and Aran (2012, ch. 6), and Hill (2003, chs. 7–8). This book is mostly concerned with the study of what Carlsnaes and Guzzini (2011) define as Foreign Policy (FP), which is a broader domain of research compared to a particular body of scholarship recognized as principally concerned with studying foreign policy known as Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA). FPA is generally focused on investigating the multiple influences that impact the decision-making process leading to a specific foreign policy output. It largely takes a snapshot view of the decision-making process, where the state and its foreign policy structures are seen essentially as given. A FP approach taken here instead, rather than being singularly concerned with decision-making and outputs, investigates the origin, development, and evolution of institutions, practices, ideas, and norms that structure and constitute a state’s foreign policy.

(42) The relationship between religion and the American presidency is a complex one, and there is a long history of either personally devout presidents or political leaders adept at mobilizing the religious sentiments of their compatriots (Smith 2006). In this context, however, the George W. Bush presidency has been often singled out as one of the most explicitly religious presidency of the post-World War II era (Aikman 2004; Mansfield 2003).

(43) See, for example, Marsden (2008); Mead (2006).

(44) See Mahoney, Kimball, and Koivu (2009) for a discussion on the logics of historical explanation, sequence analysis, and necessary and sufficient conditions.

(45) On the mutual constitution of social structures and agents, see Carlsnaes (1992); Wendt (1987); Wight (1999).

(47) Karpov (2010); also Lisovskaya and Karpov (2010).

(48) Saeed (2016, 24).

(49) I extend the analysis of desecularization beyond the domestic sphere, where it is often confined (Lisovskaya and Karpov 2010; Saeed 2016), and apply it to explain changes in foreign policy.

(50) For a similar attempt to reconcile large scale structural processes with agents’ actions to explain variations in secularization/desecularization, see Mayrl (2016). Compared to Mayrl, who focuses on domestic education policy rather than foreign policy, the broader context I focus on within which actors pursue their religious-secular political struggles is represented by the macro transnational world society level rather than the meso-level of the state. For scholarship that emphasizes either large-scale structural forces and processes or contingency and political conflicts among agents—but not necessarily both—to explain secular–religious change, see note 23 in chapter 1.

(51) I draw from, but also revisit, Karpov’s (2010, 251–255) notion of “counter-secularization activists and actors.”

(52) In much constructivist literature, norm entrepreneurs are secular and generally advocate for the adoption of a range of human rights norms (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998). Recently scholarship has emerged conceptualizing religiously based actors as norm entrepreneurs, for instance Adamson (2005); Bettiza and Dionigi (2015); Bob (2015).

(53) On the history and politics of the American Christian Right, see Wald and Calhoun-Brown (2018, ch. 8); Wilcox and Larson (2006).

(56) An epistemic community is “a network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within that domain or issue area” (Haas 1992, 3; see also Adler and Haas 1992). Sandal (2011) broadens the definition of epistemic community beyond scientific experts to include also religious leaders and organizations.

(57) These are institutes that do not just seek to conduct policy-relevant research and influence the public debate (the “think” part), but also take a more proactive role in lobbying governments and carrying out their own programs (the “do” part).

(58) See the volume by Brian Hehir (2004), which came out from a Brookings event in the early 2000s.

(62) Cromartie (2005). Peter Berger’s seminal 1999 edited volume The Desecularization of the World was published under the auspices of the EPPC.

(63) Hall (1993, 279).

(64) Wison (2000, 257).

(67) See also the notion of “discourse coalition” by Hajer (1993).

(68) My understanding of discourse as a causal mechanism here is anchored to what Benjamin Banta (2013) calls “critical discourse analysis” (CDA), compared to the more commonly adopted “poststructural discourse theory” (PDT). See the methodology section in chapter 1 for a fuller discussion of CDA.

(69) Checkel (2006, 364).

(70) INUS stands for “an insufficient but necessary part of a condition which is itself unnecessary but sufficient for the result” (Mackie cited in Mahoney, Kimball, and Koivu 2009, 129). INUS causes are neither necessary nor sufficient for an explanation rather they constitute a cause in a larger combination of causes that is sufficient for explaining a particular outcome.

(71) For seminal scholarship on “critical junctures,” see Capoccia and Kelemen (2007); Mahoney (2000); Pierson (2004, ch. 5).

(72) I draw here also from more interpretative approaches to critical junctures (Widmaier, Blyth, and Seabrooke 2007; also Guzzini 2012). These suggest that particular shocks and crises, do not speak for themselves, but acquire salience when they become constructed as critical by certain actors pushing for specific outcomes and changes.

(73) The discussion here draws on Historical Institutionalist theorizing, which is increasingly being applied in the study of IR (Fioretos 2011) and foreign policy (Mabee 2011; 2007).

(74) Saeed (2016, 23).

(76) Ibid., 24.

(77) Casanova (2011). My understanding of institutional secularization, for instance, draws on secularization understood as the functional differentiation between religion and other spheres of life including the state. My distinction between epistemic, ideological, and state-normative secularism applied to the realm of foreign policy is inspired by Casanova’s distinction between the categories of phenomenological secularism, secularism as ideology, and secularism as statecraft doctrine. For other approaches unpacking how different kinds of secular assumptions inform and structure the foreign policy of the US and European states, see Gutkowski (2013); Hurd (2008).

(78) This is a highly institutionalized practice in the US whereby individuals from across different civil society sectors—business, academia, policy research, advocacy, and, increasingly, religious sectors—are often called upon to take up assignments within government for a particular period of time, following which they go back to positions outside of government. Thanks to the revolving door practice, nongovernmental actors have direct, rather than mediated, access to policymaking.

(79) I would like to thank one of the reviewers for pushing me to clarify this important point.

(82) For a classical statement on the “ambivalence of the sacred,” see Appleby (2000). For a critique of the good/bad religion dichotomy see Hurd (2015, ch. 2); Mamdani (2002).

(83) Pew Research Center (2009c) and Davis (2010) offer, respectively, a briefer or more comprehensive overview of the complex debates around the meaning of these two clauses and the state–religion interactions these regulate in the US. It is important to note that strict separationist interpretations of the Establishment Clause have, historically, often not been exclusively advocated by humanist, secularist or civil rights groups. But rather by religious minorities, including minority Christian Protestant denominations and sects seeking to curb the influence of more establishmentarian religious traditions such as the Anglican/Episcopal and Catholic churches.

(84) See note 17 in chapter 1 for references to these debates.

(85) Linklater (2009, 137). Jonathan Agensky (2017), for instance, has recently explored from a historical sociologically perspective the entangled history between religion and the global political transformations of the nineteenth century, and how the latter shaped and were themselves reshaped by the former.

(87) See section “Definitions and Methodology” in chapter 1.

(88) Ikenberry (2001; 2011).

(89) On the role of party and ideological affiliation on US foreign policy, see Dueck (2010). On different party attitudes to religion in contemporary American politics, see Claassen (2015); Putnam and Campbell (2010).

(90) For an excellent overview of these issues see Wald and Calhoun-Brown (2018). For a classic statement on the constant tensions and accommodations which take place between a demographically and culturally dominant Protestant country and other Christian denominations and religious traditions, see Herberg (1955).

(91) See Asad (2011) in general, but also Casanova (2010) and Wilson (2012) for a closer look at the American case in particular.

(92) Philpott (2009, 193).

(93) See Byrnes (2011), and Mearsheimer and Walt (2007) for examples of how the interests of particular religious and ethnic advocates/lobbies can be in tension with the foreign policy priorities of the US.

(98) The literature on global-local dynamics of socialization is vast, for a good place to start see Checkel (2005).

(100) Conceptually I draw here on constructivist-inspired literature on norm/policy diffusion and circulation. See, for example, Acharya (2013); Finnemore and Sikkink (1998); Simmons, Dobbin, and Garrett (2006).