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Elizabeth Prodromou

Assistant Professor of International Relations
Associate Director, Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs
Boston University
International Perceptions of the US Promotion of Religious Freedom: Views about Culture and Conquest

Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou is assistant professor in the Department of International Relations at Boston University, where she is also the associate director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs. Prodromou holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
 
Prodromou has published widely, and some of her publications include "Negotiating Pluralism and Specifying Modernity in Greece: Reading Church-State Relations in the Christodoulos Period" (Social Compass: 2005); "Religious Pluralism in 21st-Century America: Problematizing the Implications for Orthodox Christianity" (Journal of the American Academy of Religion: 2004); "Christianity and Democracy: the Ambivalent Orthodox" (Journal of Democracy: 2004); "God Is Not Neutral: Religion and US Foreign Policy After 9/11" (Orbis: 2004); "Reintegrating Cyprus: the Need for a New Approach (Survival: 1998); "The Perception Paradox of Post-Cold War Security in Greece" (The Greek Paradox, Promise vs. Performance, G. Allison & K. Nicolaidis, eds.: 1997); "Paradigms, Power and Identity: Rediscovering Religion and Regionalizing Europe" (European Journal of Political Research: 1996). She is currently working on a book on "Orthodox Christianity in American Public Life: The Challenges and Opportunities of Religious Pluralism in the 21st Century."
 
A regional expert on Southeastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, Prodromou's scholarship and policy work concentrate on religion and international relations, nationalism and conflict resolution, and non-traditional security threats. She has been an invited policy consultant in the U.S. and Europe, and has received numerous academic awards and grants, including those from Harvard University, New York University, and Princeton University. Prodromou was the founding Executive Director of the Cambridge Foundation for Peace. Prodromou was appointed in October 2004 to a two-year term as Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). 


International Perceptions of the US Promotion of Religious Freedom: Views about Culture and Conquest

Summary Statement of Core Proposition: This thesis paper is concerned with the relevance of what is arguably a dominant international perception that US foreign policy to promote religious freedom abroad is a façade for a new (post-Cold War and historically unique) American imperialism built on cultural dominance and military conquest.  In other words, the focus of the thesis paper is the relevance of (mis)perception to the US capacity to promote religious freedom abroad as this affects America's national security and strategic interests.  The remainder of the paper presents some initial thoughts on how to test and measure the consequences of the proposition about a perception problem that affects the promotion of religious freedom in US foreign policy: in other words, what sort of research agenda might be feasible for evaluating the sources of and consequences of the perception problem, and therefore, for devising feasible remedies for the perception problem.

Point of Departure:  My point of departure for examining the above proposition is the prospectus for the project on "The USA with the World," which stated that "the overarching purpose of this project is to encourage high quality Christian thinking on the present and future role of the USA with the world in order to foster significant Christian contributions to public conversations." (1)

Before turning to explore the proposition about international perceptions of America's goals in promoting religious freedom, I want to suggest that we avoid the trap of speaking about (or, at least, adopt a constructively skeptical stance regarding the notion of) "a Christian voice" as though there is a monolithic Christian worldview on the normative and practical foundations of America's support for religious freedom in the world today.  Undoubtedly, it is possible to identify a set of shared theological convictions that inform Christian perspectives on religious freedom, but there exist relatively serious disagreements amongst Christianity's main denominations (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) about the accurate interpretation and appropriate actualization of these convictions when it comes to the promotion of religious freedom through US foreign policy.  Indeed, there is a growing scholarly and policy literature (2) evaluating the origins, driving religious actors, and consequences of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) (3) as the foundational legislation for America's commitment to the promotion of religious freedom.  This literature, in tandem with debates about the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and, more broadly, the War on Terror as the linchpin of the Bush Administration's National Security Strategy (4), reveal the absence of a single, unified Christian voice on the present and future role of the US in the world, particularly as regards the question of US foreign policy and the promotion of religious freedom abroad.  

Consequently, for our purposes in this project, it would be most fruitful to recognize and consider the implications of the plurality of voices in American Christianity regarding US foreign policy and religious freedom.  This may seem an obvious and relatively pedestrian point, yet the diversity of perspectives within American Christianity has possible bearing on our understanding of the origins of and potential remedial responses to the international consensus that US efforts to promote religious freedom abroad are a cynical, self-interested, and culturally chauvinistic maneuver to transform what then-President Clinton called "the fullness of time" into an American Empire. (5)

Exploration of Core Proposition and Related Assumptions: What is the working logic of the core proposition that I stated at the outset of this thesis paper?  The unanticipated salience of religion in contemporary international relations has forced scholars and policymakers to recognize that there are myriad linkages between religion and security (6), with profound implications for the conception and practice of sovereignty and, especially, for the associated principle of (non)intervention as this relates to matters of human rights.

The survival and revival of religion in world affairs has been all the more notable for the extraordinary religious pluralism evident around the world, and the complexities and paradoxes of religious pluralism are contributing to what Thomas Banchoff has characterized as "…a new politics of religious freedom at the intersection of transnational religious activism, international law, and national interest." (7)   A particularly remarkable aspect of the contemporary historical expression of religious pluralism, particularly as it relates to religious freedom or, more broadly, religious human rights, is the fact that, while religious communities are using their conceptual and practical resources to contribute actively to the "…reflective and ethical dimensions" (8), many religious communities are deploying theological justifications, organizational assets, and human capital to argue for or against proselytism as a basic religious freedom.

The ratification of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 by the U.S. Congress constitutes explicit recognition by the United States that the nexus between religion and security is crucial to the formulation and protection of American strategic interests in the post-Cold War era.

Taken at face value, the mission of promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy deserves commendation, as the IRFA created a set of institutional structures and earmarked the kinds of resources that could bring to bear the extraordinary assets of US foreign policy to remedy what John Witte has called the "Dickensian era of human rights…[given that the world in the past two decades has]…seen some of the best of human rights protections inscribed on the books, but some of the worst of human rights violations inflicted on the ground." (9)   Furthermore, the dramatic rise in hybrid interest (10) in the role of religion in contemporary world affairs suggests that the normative and analytical hegemony of secularism has been replaced by more historically nuanced, culturally informed, empirically valid(ated), and analytically robust approaches to the problematic of religion, human rights, and national security strategy.
 
Yet, Thomas Farr is among the many experts maintaining that the importance of religious ideas and actors as drivers for US foreign policy in the post-Cold War has been seriously over-emphasized, and that classical realists, liberal internationalists, and neoconservatives continue to share a predisposition to either ignore or marginalize the salience of religion-and, most especially, religious freedom-in the US national security calculus. (11)  Such a view deserves more than a momentary pause in our considerations about the relevance of religion to America's present and future role in the world.

Accepting Farr's claim that "the depth and quality of our believe in religious liberty are today connected to our national security," (12) while also recognizing the conflicting data about the influence of religious groups on US foreign policy, we are left with a puzzle: what accounts for the comprehensive evidence (13) of a consolidating international perception that Washington has instrumentalized religious freedom for purposes of imperial conquest after the Cold War? (14)   Indeed, as I have argued elsewhere with Andrew Bacevich, religion has long been relevant to, but not determinant in, US foreign policy calculations (15), I want to clarify and adjust this claim, by arguing that what is particular about the current expression of religious ideas and interests as an animating force in foreign policy is the international perception that religion is a dominant factor in both the formulation and objectives of US foreign policy.  In this respect, the question of perception is absolutely central to, yet largely under-appreciated, in its effects on US strategic interests and national security, especially as these are shaped by the efficacy of US foreign policy in promoting religious freedom.

Why and how do perceptions matter to the promotion of religious freedom through US foreign policy?  How can we begin to think systematically about the relevance of perceptions to US foreign policy and the promotion of religious freedom?
 
Two points are worth considering by way of answering the above questions and for clarifying the possible outlines of a future research; the first point is theoretical in nature, and the second is methodological.

First, we need to accept that perceptions affect decisionmakers' assumptions and policy choices; the reactions to such policy choices; and, therefore, policy outcomes.  There is, of course, a substantial literature on the relevance of perceptions in foreign policy decisionmaking and effectiveness.  Cutting across the diversity of methodological approaches adopted (e.g. social and cognitive psychology, group dynamics, historical-cultural explanations, constructivist theory) is a consensus regarding the veracity of Robert Jervis' view that perceptions operate as constraints on decision-makers' choices and policy outcomes and, consequently, must be taken into account. (16)

In this sense, I am making an argument that US policymakers can more precisely achieve the goal of promoting religious freedom by taking into account perceptions (images, beliefs, and intentions that derive from conditions of incomplete information, cultural bias, and historical experience) as they have been factored into overall foreign policymaking since Jervis wrote his seminal work three decades ago. (17)  Until now, both scholars and policymakers have paid short shrift to perceptions as a constraint on US policymaking designed to promote religious freedom.

Yet, if perceptions do matter-and a review of the scholarly, policy, media, and public opinion sources abroad suggest that this is the case-then it is plausible to suggest that the promotion of religious freedom as a formal component of a post-Cold War US foreign policy characterized by a decided turn towards militarism and unilateral intervention may have generated boomerang effects and blowback that, unintentionally, have either generated new threats or aggravated existing threats to American national security; the war in Iraq is a compelling example that suggests the verity of this point.  By the same token, if perceptions matter, post-Cold War US foreign policy choices premised on the promotion of religious freedom abroad may have produced a decline in the soft power (18) that proved so effective in the Cold War; the recent war in Lebanon is an example that supports this point.  

Interestingly enough, it is the interface of these two aspects of the perception problem that require systematic attention, but until now, studies of the ideological bases of US foreign policy after the Cold War and research on the role of religion in American public life have not participated to any meaningful degree in a systematic conversation, nor has the idea of such a conversation given rise to an integrated research agenda that aims to test the proposition of a perception problem.

For example, there is an intriguing body of literature that has begun to explore the influence of domestic religious groups on US foreign policy in general and matters of religious freedom in particular.  Notable examples of this literature include Allen D. Hertzke's prolific work on religious interest groups in American domestic politics and, most recently, in shaping the institutional structures (the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the State Department Office of International Religious Freedom, and the United States Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom) that grew out of the IRFA (19), as well as the recent, controversial work by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt on the negative effects of the Israel lobby on US foreign policy when measured in terms of American strategic interests (hard power) and moral authority (soft power). (20)  Similarly, there is a voluminous literature on the tension between realists and idealists, in the form of a fundamental philosophical cleavage between neo-conservatives and liberal internationalists, to explain the turn in post-Cold War US foreign policy towards militarism and unilateral interventionism to promote democracy and to prevent terrorism.  Andrew Bacevich's studies of US foreign policy, along with James Mann's analysis of the hegemony of neo-conservatism in the foreign policy apparatus of the Bush 43 administrations, and David Rieff's work on the peculiar commonalities between liberal internationalist and neoconservative perspectives regarding unilateral and preventive interventions, are amongst the more celebrated and contested works on this topic. (21) 

The above discussion brings me to my second point, which concerns the methodological remedies for the failure to take perceptions seriously as a constraint and limitation on US foreign policy and the promotion of religious freedom.  In other words, what are the (faint) footprints of a research agenda that can test the proposition that there is a perception problem when it comes to the promotion of religious freedom?  Two possible avenues of research are worth consideration and can serve as trajectories for discussion at this conference.

First, debates about the origins, application, goals, and consequences of IRFA, and most specifically, about the work of the USCIRF, lie at the center of international criticism regarding the intentions of US foreign policy when it comes to religious freedom, especially when this is part of the larger project of democracy promotion.  The lightening-rod issue of this critique is the phenomenon of proselytism and whether or not proselytism axiomatically equates with religious freedom.  Scholarly research that points to the origins of IRFA as a tactical alliance between conservative (mainly evangelical Protestant) Christians and Jews, informs international perceptions that the work of the USCIRF is a smokescreen for pressuring other states to adapt their domestic laws to facilitate aggressive proselytism by conservative Protestant groups with a competitive advantage in terms of human, organizational, and financial capital resources.  Furthermore, there is, at best, weak consensus over the question of intentions and methods acceptable to common theological foundations for the support of proselytism, so that the practical consequence of what is, in its origins, a problem of theological hermeneutics, bear exploration as they relate to the work of the USCIRF.  Insofar as the right to proselytize has been articulated by religious freedom activists in the US in terms of a marketized discourse, the work of USCIRF has been critiqued as culturally biased, as international human rights activists and democracy-builders charge that the Commission and the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom straightjacket other countries into developing religious human rights laws that mimic the church-state relationship enshrined in the US First Amendment.  In short, research into the consistency  of proselytism with religious freedom and research into the elasticity of religion-state arrangements compatible with democracy could help to clarify US foreign policy formulation regarding the promotion of religious freedom and, therefore, could help to alleviate the perception problem aggravated by these two issues.

Second, the salience and vitality of the perception problem can be explored through case studies of post-Cold War US foreign policy actions justified in terms of spreading democracy.  A possible cluster of such case studies might include the US aerial bombardment of Serbia, the US decision to cut off economic assistance to the Palestinian authority in the wake of the Hamas election victory, and Washington's support for Israel's war against Hizbollah in Lebanon.  In each of these cases, US foreign policy actions have been evaluated in international policy circles, media, and public opinion surveys, as an expression of the cynicism that drives America's commitment to the promotion of religious freedom.  More specifically, research tracking the input of domestic religious groups into US policy decisions, and perhaps more importantly, tracking the perception (through review of political debates, media reports, and public opinion surveys) that religious groups shaped US foreign policy choices, could help to clarify the degree to which the policy responses of state and non-state actors alike were determined by perceptions of US motives and intentions.  


© Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Center for Christian Studies at Gordon College.


Footnotes

? This thesis paper was prepared as a conference presentation and, therefore, represents work in progress.
1. Harold Heie, "Prospectus: The USA With the World: Christian Perspectives Informing Future Choices".
2. Representative and authoritative sources include Allen D. Hertzke, Freeing God's Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006) and Rosalind I. J. Hackett, Mark Silk, and Dennis Hoover, eds., Religious Persecution as a U.S. Policy Issue (Hartford, CT: Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, 2000).  Walter Russell Mead's recent discussion of differences within American Protestantism regarding America's role in the world is illustrative of the degree to which we need to speak of voices of American Christianity.  See Walter Russell Mead, "God's Country?" Foreign Affairs 85, no. 5 (Sep/Oct 2006).
3. The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) was passed in 1998 as (H.R. 2431 ). 
4. See National security Strategy (NSS) of the United States of America (editions 2002 and 2006) on http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html.
5. See Clinton's "Remarks at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland" (18 May 1998) and the related Biblical passage in St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians 4:4.  The phrase American Empire is taken from Andrew Bacevich's trenchantly argued, if highly controversial, book by the same title.  See American Empire: The Realities & Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).
6. Representative of the crossover, academic-policy literature on the relationship between religion and security are recent works by John D. Carlson and Erik C. Owens, eds., The Sacred and the Sovereign (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2003) as well as Robert A. Seiple and Dennis R. Hoover, eds., Religion & Security: the New Nexus in International Relations  (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).
7. Thomas Banchoff, "Thematic Paper," (Conference on The New Religious Pluralism in World Politics, (Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.: 5 July 2005): 1.
8  Ibid.
9. The temporal parameters for Witte's exploration of religious in global perspective extend from the end of the Cold War to the present, a period which Witte characterizes as a "Dickensian era."  John Witte, Jr., "A Dickensian Era of Religious Rights: An Update on Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective," (Paper at the Conference on Religion and Violence, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, MA, 27-29 October 2005): 1.
10. I use the term "hybrid" to refer to those scholars and policymakers who are engaged in regular dialogue and, frequently, cooperative projects, regarding the theoretical, conceptual, and applied aspects of religion in international relations; while such "hybrids" may reside primarily in either the academic or public policy spaces, in terms of their theoretical and applied research, they cohabitate in a shared space with porous boundaries between the academy and the public policy (whether government or non-government) arena.
11. Remarks by Thomas Farr in a briefing to the USCIRF (Washington, DC: 6 June 2007).  For a broader inquiry, see Daniel Philpott, "The Challenge of September 11 to Secularism in International Relations," World Politics 55, no. 1 (October 2002).
12. Thomas Farr, "The Diplomacy of Religious Freedom," First Things 163 (May 2006): 20 (available at   http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0605/opinion/farr.html).
13. Consider public opinion polls, media reports, scholarship, and statements of political leaders around the world and, in some cases, in the U.S.
14. I have argued elsewhere with Andrew Bacevich that religion has long been relevant to, but not determinant in, US foreign policy calculations.
15. Elizabeth H. Prodromou and Andrew J. Bacevich, "God Is Not Neutral: Religion and US Foreign Policy After 9/11," Orbis 48, Issue 1 (Winter 2004).
16. Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976).
17. Parenthetically, it bears emphasis that I am arguing for taking seriously the perspective established by Jervis as an augmentation to, rather than a rejection of, structural explanations of international change.
18. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs Books, 2005).  Nye's work shows why American foreign policy efficacy is as much a function of the ability to mobilize unprecedented military might, or hard power capabilities, as a US moral authority based on the attraction of American culture (values and ideals).  Soft power, then, is the power to attract and persuade others on the basis of the appeal of American culture.
19. Allen D. Hetzke, Representing God in Washington: the Role of Religious Lobbies in the American Polity (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006); Robert Booth Fowler, Allen D. Hertzke, Laura R. Olson, Kevin R. Den Dulk, Religion and Politics in America: Faith, Culture, and Strategic Choices (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004); and, Allen D. Hertzke, Freeing God's Children.
20. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," working paper, March 2006. (available at http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP06-011/$File/rwp_06_011_walt.pdf).
21. Andrew J. Bacevich, American Empire and The New American Militarism: Now Americans are Seduced by War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: the History of Bush's War Cabinet (New York: Viking, 2004); and, David Rieff, At the Point of A Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005).


Bibliography

Bacevich, Andrew J. American Empire: The Realities & Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Bacevich, Andrew J. The New American Militarism: Now Americans are Seduced by War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Banchoff, Thomas. "Thematic Paper." Conference on the New Religious Pluralism in World Politics. Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.: 5 July 2005.

Carlson, John D. and Erik C. Owens, eds. The Sacred and the Sovereign. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2003.

Farr, Thomas. "The Diplomacy of Religious Freedom." First Things 163 (May 2006): 17-20.

Fowler, Robert Booth, Allen D. Hertzke, Laura R. Olson, and Kevin R. Den Dulk. Religion and Politics in America: Faith, Culture, and Strategic Choices. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004.

Hackett, Rosalind I.J., Mark Silk, and Dennis Hoover, eds. Religious Persecution as a U.S. Policy Issue. Hartford, CT: Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, 2000.

Hertzke, Allen D. Freeing God's Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006.

---. Representing God in Washington: the Role of Religious Lobbies in the American Polity. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.

Jervis, Robert. Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.

Mann, James. Rise of the Vulcans: the History of Bush's War Cabinet. New York: Viking, 2004.

Mead, Walter Russell. "God's Country?" Foreign Affairs 85, no. 5 (Sep/Oct 2006): 24-43.

Mearsheimer, John J. and Stephen M. Walt "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy." Faculty Research Working Paper Number: RWP06-011 (March, 2006).  See http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP06-011

Nye, Joseph S., Jr. Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. New York: Public Affairs Books, 2005.

Philpott, Daniel. "The Challenge of September 11 to Secularism in International Relations." World Politics 55, no. 1 (October 2002): 66-95.

Prodromou, Elizabeth H. and Andrew J. Bacevich. "God Is Not Neutral: Religion and US Foreign Policy After 9/11." Orbis 48, Issue 1 (Winter 2004): 43-54.

Rieff, David. At the Point of A Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Seiple, Robert A. and Dennis R. Hoover, eds. Religion & Security: the New Nexus in International Relations. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.

Witte, John, Jr. "A Dickensian Era of Religious Rights: An Update on Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective." Paper at the Conference on Religion and Violence, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, MA, 27-29 October 2005.