KSU professor among international scholars responding to planned U.S. office of religious engagement

Maia Hallward

Maia Hallward, associate professor of Middle East Politics, is among 17 international scholars from a broad range of disciplines to give their prospective on the U.S. Department of State’s plans to open a new office of “religious engagement.”

Hallward’s viewpoints were published in a recent online edition of The Immanent Frame, a publication of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC).  She joined other experts in religious studies, ethics, political science and Middle Eastern studies from institutions as diverse as Georgetown University, the University of Oxford, European University Institute, University of Oslo, University of Toronto and City University of London, among others.

According to the blog posting titled  “Off the Cuff: Engaging religion at the Department of State, the new office will focus on engagement with faith-based organizations and religious institutions around the world to strengthen U.S. development and diplomacy and advance America’s interests and values.  The effort is viewed as a way to “further institutionalize an official U.S. commitment to globalize religious freedom, marginalize extremism, and promote interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.”

SSRC editors asked scholars to address the prospects for the new office and the potential implications of its efforts for the politics of religious diversity, both locally and transnationally.  It also asked what assumptions about “religion” underlie these efforts, and what are the implications for civil society, including organizations and associations that do not self-identify as religious?

In her response, Hallward said the creation of an office of religious engagement can provide the United States a number of beneficial opportunities for building cooperative partnerships and working for common aims with a broader array of civil society groups around the world.  However, she cautioned that the U.S. should be mindful of its own history and of different cultural understandings around the world.

“The United States should be humble in its aims and claims at promoting religious freedom and religious tolerance abroad,” Hallward writes.  “Not only does the United States itself have much to learn regarding tolerance and equality – one need only look at the experience of Muslims post 9/11, or at the powerful sentiments in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial—but the United States also conceptualizes “rights” and “freedoms” through a particular set of cultural lenses. Those crafting the scope and policies of an office of religious engagement should recall that others around the world may understand “rights” and “freedoms” differently.”

Read Hallward’s entire response and those by other international scholars at  http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2013/07/30/engaging-religion-at-the-department-of-state/