Summary of "Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft"

Summary of

Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft

By Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson

Summary written by Eric Brahm, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Johnston, Douglas and Cynthia Sampson, eds. Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1994.

This volume is motivated by a desire to highlight how religion and spirituality can play a positive role in the conduct of diplomacy. The often sharp distinction between public life and religious life in the United States often makes American diplomats blind to the influence of religion. As Douglas Johnston argues in summarizing the case study findings, the role of religion is often invisible because religious actors often maintain a low profile and also get little attention from the media. Written in the early 1990s, it could not foresee what many now see as an overtly religious foreign policy on the part of George W. Bush. While this is often seen in negative terms, this collection focuses on the positive role of religion and the volume may challenge some readers to examine Bush's diplomacy in a different light. In sum, the book provides a collection of theoretical chapters and case studies on this theme.

Theoretical chapters make the case for the importance of this endeavor. Edward Luttwak's chapter argues to greater attention to spiritual factors. Despite the fact that religion and religious leaders have played an important role in many contemporary conflicts, material factors remained a privileged explanatory factor in most studies of diplomacy. For policy makers, for example, economic measures remain the standard response to conflict, but these may not influence actors motivated by spirituality, at least not as one might expect. Barry Rubin chronicles how the West's assumption that religion was declining in importance around the world led governments to be unprepared for what has become an era of what he calls "strong religions, weak states." Harvey Cox surveys the aspects of many of the world's religions that are conducive to making positive contributions to conflict resolution.

Case study chapters illustrate how religion has played a positive role in conflict resolution episodes. Edward Luttwak describes the role of the Moral Re-Armament Movement in facilitating discussions on Franco-German reconciliation after WWII (and David Steele provides snapshots of other religious organizations involved in the same process in an appendix). The importance of the Conciliation Commission, made up of Protestant church leaders, in facilitating peace talks in Nicaragua between the Sandinista government and East Coast Indians in the latter 1980s is highlighted in a chapter by Bruce Nichols. Cynthia Sampson examines Quaker conciliation in bringing about an end to the Biafran civil war in Nigeria. Church leaders were also important in ensuring a peaceful transition from communism in East Germany, as David Steele explains. Henry Wooster describes an instance where the Catholic Church played a more partisan role in helping to bring down the Marcos regime in the Philippines. Douglas Johnston traces how churches played an evolving role in South Africa from some being apartheid supporters to helping bring about apartheid's end. Finally, Ron Kraybill argues for the importance of religion in producing peace in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe both with respect to the faith of individuals on both sides of the conflict and through Christian leaders as peacemakers.

The volume also has a nice collection of chapters exploring the implications of the case studies. Stanton Burnett, for example, surveys the track record of the US foreign policy establishment's attention to spirituality and suggests lessons from the case studies. Having illustrated the role of religious actors in the case studies, William Vendley and David Little examine the challenges faced by religious communities in realizing this positive potential. Finally, Douglas Johnston envisions how political and religious actors can make use of each other's strengths to realize the fuller potential of peacemaking.