Monday, July 14, 2014

Leo Ribuffo on Religion and American Foreign Policy

Over at History News Network, George Washington University historian Leo Ribuffo comments on the proliferation of scholars working on the relationship between religion and American foreign policy.  For example, at the recent meeting of the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations there were six sessions devoted to religion.  (Compared to two sessions on Korea, World I, and World War II combined).

Ribuffo writes about how he got interested in this topic and then offers eight "cautionary admonitions" to those working in the field.  I have summarized them below, but please read the whole essay to see how Ribuffo develops each point:

1.  Over the course of the 20th-century evangelicals have moved from anti-semitism to an embrace of Israel because of their larger engagement with modern America.

2.  Anyone studying religion and American foreign policy must study both sub-specialties.

3.  Not everyone in the United States is or has been a white evangelical Protestant.

4.  The centrality of religion to a nation's identity "ebbs and flows" over time.

5.  Religion in foreign policy always exists alongside economic issues and "geopolitical notions."

6.  Religious issues have had--at most--a secondary influence over policy makers

7.  Historians should study religiously-motivated groups that ended up on the losing end of policy debates

8.  Foreign relations have influenced American religion as well as the other way around.

Here is Ribuffo's conclusion:

In sum, understanding the connection between religions and foreign relations requires the same sort of reflection and empirical investigation needed to understand other influences. Keep reading Christian CenturyChristianity TodayCommonwealand Tikkun, but don't cancel your subscriptions to PoliticoForeign Affairsand the Financial Times.