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Faith and Diplomacy – a Critical Analysis

Madeleine Albright, author of ‘Emerging’, considers not lightly, the potential of religious belief in the diplomatic process. She has dedicated one chapter, ‘Faith and Religion’ to this effect, “The challenge for policy makers is,” she says, “to harness the unifying potential of faith while containing its capacity to divide.” She deigns to believe that religion would play a vital role in foreign policy. And begins by illustrating the kind of sway religion holds with a people, and further, how it can be put to work in differing situations. Being assuming of religion also, does not imply that it is not a factor to be considered in a particular situation and may in fact shed more light on it. She concedes though, that religion should not then be overemphasised (it may be perceived as a tool of manipulation detrimental to the cause). Upon taking all these into consideration I write this paper with the aim of convincing the reader that faith can be an extremely useful tool in the process of diplomacy and formulation of foreign policy.

Many individuals not particularly religious have argued that religion only serves to make worse an already bad situation; which is in fact true. Study indicates that ‘religious wars’ have been far more catastrophic. But truth be told we have not witnessed a war completely lacking in the religious component and therefore we do not know exactly how that would be (35). Catholic theologian Bryan Hehir points out critically that far too often we assume that we do not need to understand religion to understand the world. We take it upon ourselves to blame religion for all the troubles we face as humanity; but surely, there is far much more to it than just that.

Albright observes that the influence religion has considerable influence the world over. It plays a part in the thought processes of people, their emotions and their actions as well. Religious beliefs have the capacity to spark conflict and in the same breadth, water down and put out the infernos of dissension (36). To illustrate this, she recaps three different stories separated by space and time. In the first story, she tells of how, in the early 1980s, ‘81 to be precise, she visited a Poland which she knew to be unchanged for a long time under a communist government’s reign only to find her stirring, awakening. Her visit came after that of the pope, His Holiness Pope John Paul II a Polish native who opened the eyes and ears of the people to see the hollow at the heart of the communist system and they listened largely because of his past as a parish priest who in the past spoke and even under the communist reign still spoke to the peoples beliefs. This and other visits from him strengthened their wills and paved way for the liberation of Poland, the tearing down of the Berlin wall, the unity of Europe and a transformed earth as it was known (36).

In another story, Albright visited Africa as Secretary of State in December of 1997 and visited a mission camp, Gulu that serves as a haven for victims of the LRA. This is a rebel group who had taken religion and turned it into a horror story: following a change in government that threatened the ‘immunity’ of the Acholi of Uganda, a woman came forward alleging to be possessed by the spirit of a deceased Italian military officer who instructed that they retake the capital, Kampala and repent thereafter. They followed her in lieu of religion and although she did not succeed, she paved the way for her nephew to command a rebel group that threatens the security and prosperity of Uganda to this day. Despite it, there abounds a wilful joy; patients and volunteers communed and cared for each other. The doctor who ran the facility had been there more than twenty years and continued to stay. Albright was awed by this contrast in faith that bears such love and the other that brings horror such as that brought about by the LRA.

Unlike the characters from the stories above in His Holiness the Pope and the volunteers at the mission camp in Gulu who affirm the religious doctrine that we are all God’s children, others may not be as believing. For this reason, many a practitioner of foreign policy “…have sought to separate religion from world politics…to liberate logic from beliefs that transcend logic” (39). For instance, apportioning land on the basis of equity is a daunting task as it is; how much more on the basis of divine inheritance. Albright however maintains that religious motivations however repressed, at some time or the other return to the surface. She cites Bryan Herir’s comparison of this challenge to brain surgery that is necessary but may prove fatal if not dealt with appropriately. In a conflict, reconciling becomes possible when both parties begin to view each other as they view themselves hence the technique of asking either of them to look at the situation from the other’s perspective. This, in fact does not have to be difficult as the cause of disharmony could be used as a point of confluence due to the familiarity with which both parties have in the area (39).

Despite this ray of possibility, some conflicts, some conflicts have the warring factions pitted against each other as kerosene to water for instance, the allies’ and axis different vision of the future in the second world war. Another example unfortunately a large fraction of the world can only relate too well with is the lust of Al-Qaeda for “…a war of vengeance fought with the tools of terror…Some differences are too great to be reconciled” (40).

Often, reconciliation is preferable rather than continued quarrel; the path to this reconciliation is what seems to be ever so elusive. When both parties of a warring faction claim to be of person(s) of faith, a capable mediator may be able to appeal to this faith and question the acceptability of their actions to the faith they claim to profess. Such is the case of the most famous instance of faith-based peace making according to Albright where President Jimmy Carter brokered peace between Egypt and Israel thanks to his understanding and ability to appeal to the faith of the two nations’ presidencies.


Albright concedes that faith-based diplomacy cannot replace traditional diplomacy as most protagonists find appeals to faith or moral grounds to be in bad taste but non-the-less it can be a very useful tool of foreign policy and therefore “…requires at a minimum, that we see spiritual matters as a subject worth studying” (35).

Work Cited

Madeleine Albright, Faith and Diplomacy. Emerging contemporary Reading for writer.

Second edition. Ed. Barclay Barrios, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. 151-163.


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