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Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh writes for The Immanent Frame in response to news that the US Department of State has announced the creation of a new office that will focus on engagement with religious organisations around the world

A local faith community unloads food aid in Tamale, Ghana © Anglican Alliance
A local faith community unloads food aid in Tamale, Ghana

The Department of State’s proposed establishment of an office of religious engagement arguably lays the foundations to further institutionalize existing Department of State political priorities by constituting new avenues and arenas for interventions under what we can refer to as a “religionized” model of good governance. Such a scheme raises a number of critical questions, including, firstly, whether such an initiative offers a shift in discourse, policy or practice, or merely offers a consolidated bureaucratic platform from which to continue pursuing long-standing foreign policy aims, as opposed to “humanitarian” concerns per se (although, of course, humanitarianism is itself inherently political). The parallels with existing foreign policy frameworks such as the Lautenberg Amendment (which prioritizes the provision of assistance to religious minorities seeking asylum from Iran or from the former Soviet Union) and the Office of International Religious Freedom (which the US Department of State notes “has the mission of promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy”) are numerous. While such a continuation may appear to be an extension of what the United States already considers to be its “good offices” towards Others, this consolidation risks further accentuating, rather than mitigating, tensions and mistrust between different actors on diverse levels.


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