Later this month, the U.S. State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group will submit its recommendations to Secretary Hillary Clinton after a year of work. With subgroups on development, religious freedom and democracy, and conflict mitigation and prevention, the Working Group facilitated engagement with religious leaders, civil society groups, and experts on religion. One impetus for the Working Group was a 2010 report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which called for strengthening U.S. foreign policymaking by strengthening the capacity to engage religion.
The Working Group is long overdue. Religion is a key factor, for good and ill, in the national security “headliners” from Iraq and Iran to Pakistan and Israel-Palestine, but also in other conflicts festering beneath the radar, such as those in Congo, Sudan, and Colombia. U.S. policy on these and other areas has suffered from a lack of literacy about religion and a failure to effectively engage religious actors. The notable exception is religious freedom, after 1998 legislation established a new State Department office and an independent commission on the issue.