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April 10 PDAA Program Examines Diplomatic Engagement with Religious Groups

Douglas Johnston

Douglas Johnston at PDAA lunch program, 10 April 2017 (A. Kotok)

(Update: 12 April 2017) Over 80 percent of the world’s people identify with a religious group, and religious groups and leaders are playing increasingly important roles in both their own societies and in international relations.   Yet, the U.S. Government and American diplomats have long been wary of engagement with religious groups for fear of violating the separation of Church and State.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and subsequent acts of terrorism by individuals and groups claiming a religious affiliation, as well as a rise in religious conflict and religious discrimination, diplomatic engagement with religious groups has become a national security imperative.  That engagement has focused not only on countering violent extremism or resolving conflict, but also on promoting sustainable development, providing humanitarian assistance, and advancing pluralism and human rights.  Public diplomacy has played a key role in this engagement, using everything from exchange programs, seminars, and cultural preservation efforts to social media and partnerships with the private sector.

Why is diplomatic engagement with religious groups so essential, and how can we do it more effectively?   Our program on April 10, Religion and Diplomacy: Broadening the Agenda, explored these issues with two of the leading scholars and practitioners on the subject.  Dr. Douglas Johnston is the founder and President of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, which for the past 18 years has been working to prevent or resolve religious or identity-linked conflict in Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, and Colombia, among other countries.    A distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Dr. Johnston holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University.

Among his government positions, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Director of Policy Planning and Management at the Department of Defense.  He was the founding director of Harvard University’s Executive Program in National and International Security, and served as Executive Vice President and COO of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  His numerous publications include Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft, and Religion, Terror, and Error:  U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement, which won the Book of the Year award in 2011 from Foreword Reviews, the rating agency for universities and independent publishers.

Peter Mandaville

Peter Mandaville at PDAA lunch program, 10 April 2017 (A. Kotok)

Our second speaker was Dr. Peter Mandaville, Professor of International Affairs at George Mason University. He is also a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and an Adjunct Scholar with the RAND Corporation.  From 2015-16, he served as a Senior Advisor in the Office of Religion and Global Affairs at the State Department, where he led the office’s work on ISIS, sectarianism, and conflict in the Middle East.  From 2011-12, he was a member of State’s Policy Planning staff.  He is the author of the book Islam and Politics  and Transnational Muslim Politics: Reimagining the Umma.  He has testified multiple times before the U.S. Congress on topics including political Islam and human rights in the Middle East.

Dr. Johnston and Dr. Mandaville discussed diplomatic engagement with religious groups to prevent and resolve conflict; promote religious tolerance, pluralism, and human rights, and foster sustainable development, drawing from their own experience and research on how this engagement can be carried out most effectively. The program took place on Monday, April 10, at DACOR-Bacon House, 1801 F. St., NW, Washington, DC.

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