This timely book offers an accessible introduction to religion in international affairs. Shireen T. Hunter highlights the growing importance of religion in politics and analyzes its nature, role, and significance. She places the question of religion’s impact on global affairs in the broader context of state and nonstate actors, weighing the factors that most affect their actions. Through the lens of three compelling and distinctive case studies—Russia’s response to the Yugoslav crisis, Turkey’s reaction to the Bosnian war, and Europe’s policy toward Turkish membership in the EU—Hunter demonstrates that religion increasingly shapes international affairs in significant and diverse ways. Her book is essential reading for anyone needing a better understanding of why and, more important, how, religion influences the behavior of international actors and thus the character of world politics.
Our St. John’s colleague, Rosemary Salomone, has written an interesting column for University World News titled “Why English is Not Enough,” which reflects on the importance of language in understanding different cultural responses to events that attract global attention–including the recent, religiously-motivated murders in France. Here is a fragment, and a thought afterward:
Hearing American journalists and political pundits deconstruct the underlying issues was one thing. Hearing the French explain and defend their deepest convictions was quite another, even if one sharply disagreed with the underlying principles or policy outcomes. At the very least it gave grounding for a more informed response to the problems now confronting France’s criminal, educational and social welfare institutions in the wake of these recent events.
As debate on free speech and the press slowly recedes for now, and France’s (and Europe’s) ‘Muslim question’ takes centre stage, these observations give rise to a less obvious though consequential point on language and cultural competence.
Defining moments, like the attacks in Paris, should remind us that language is key to gaining an insider’s view and a sense of the ‘big picture’, which by the way also allows us to critically examine ourselves. Print and broadcast media, as well as the global blogosphere, still speak in many voices and worldviews and they are powerful shapers of ideas and opinions.
Though multilingualism is clearly important in the global economy, we should not underestimate the force of language and intercultural awareness in promoting global understanding and security.
Today it’s French. Tomorrow it could be Spanish, Chinese, Farsi or any other language depending on the vagaries of world events. With terrorism unwittingly binding the free world together, linguistic skills and the cultural doors they open are essential to both digging deep into differences, especially among our enemies, while finding common ground for mutual respect and joint action among present and potential allies.
Read the rest. I quite agree that the knowledge of foreign languages is important for these instrumental, political reasons (as well as for far more important intrinsic reasons, such as reading what the great minds of other civilizations have had to say). One thought that occurs to me on reading Rosemary’s piece, however, is that the instrumental reasons to learn a foreign language may be especially weighty today in the case of European languages like French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and so on. That is because it is in Europe, more than many other parts of the world, that cultural clashes of the sort we have just witnessed and are probably going to witness in the coming decades are most likely to occur.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan, independent agency within the federal government, today issued its annual report on religious freedom violations around the world. The International Religious Freedom Act authorizes the Commission to study violations of religious freedom around the world and name “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) — those countries that have practiced or tolerated “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom, including systematic torture and other human rights violations. This year, the Commission named 16 CPCs: Burma, the Democratic People‘s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, the People‘s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. The problems of Christians in the Middle East are extensively discussed, but so are violations directed at dissenting Muslim and other communities. This annual “naming and shaming” process has drawn criticism as another example of American overreaching, but the designation of CPCs does not always have an impact on American foreign policy. Although IFRA generally requires the President to take action in response to the designation of a country as a CPC, the statute also allows the President to waive this requirement if circumstances warrant, and Presidents often do so — an pattern the Commission criticizes in its report.
Dr. Dennis R. Hoover is executive director of the Center on Faith & International Affairs at the Institute for Global Engagement. Dr. Douglas M. Johnston is founder and president of the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy. Together, Doctors Hoover and Johnston have edited a new collection, Religion and Foreign Affairs: Essential Readings (Baylor, 2012). The articles and other shorter works in the volume reflect on the meeting of secularism, faith, religion, morality, and foreign policy. The authors commence with foundational pieces: New York Times Columnist David Brooks reflects on the nature of the secularist ethic in foreign policy generally; Atlantic Correspondent Robert D. Kaplan explores secularism in antiquity; and Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) discusses St. Augustine’s political realism with accompanying excerpts from Augustine’s City of God (ca. sixth century C.E.). Other notable chapters discuss religious ethics and armed conflict, religious peacemaking, religion and international terrorism, and religion and globalization (the table of contents—which highlights the remaining topics—may be accessed here).
Please find the abstract from Baylor Press after the jump. Continue reading