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date: 23 March 2017

Religion in Foreign Policy

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

The foreign policies of most states are secular in orientation and focus. A few make religion a prominent component of their ideological approach to foreign policy. States whose foreign policies are consistently or irregularly informed by religion include: Egypt, Iran, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. In each case, these states’ foreign policies feature domestic religious actors seeking to have regular or intermittent involvement in the making of foreign policy. The impact and capacity of such religious actors is linked to the ideological and/or national interest priorities of incumbent governments. That is, religious actors may have an opportunity for input into foreign policy that reflects a concern more generally with the association between material concerns—national security—and religious and ethical ideas, norms and values.

In addition to states with input from religious actors in foreign policy making, we can also note several important non-state actors whose religious beliefs centrally inform their foreign policies, which often focus on the United Nations (UN), the world’s largest and most comprehensive organization with near-universal state membership. The UN is a key focal point to pursue such policies, and three such actors can be identified: the Holy See/Vatican (and, more generally, the Roman Catholic Church), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the World Council of Churches, whose religious orientations are, respectively: Roman Catholicism, Islam, and non-Catholic Christianity.

Religious actors have important roles in foreign policy in relation to selected states and to non-state actors.