Thinking about the Role of Religion in Foreign Policy: A Framework for Analysis


  • Authors’ note: An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion/Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture, Tampa, FL, 2007. This paper benefited from earlier extensive discussions with Mark Woodward and George Thomas. We thank Linell Cady, John Carlson, Roxanne Doty, Elizabeth Shakeman Hurd, Ramazan Kilinc, Halit Mustafa Tagma, Robert Mochrie, Mark Vincent, Murat Somer, Yoav Gortzak, and Carolyn Forbes for helpful comments and the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Arizona State University for providing research support for the initial phase of this project. We appreciate as well the comments of three anonymous reviewers and the editors at Foreign Policy Analysis.


The article outlines a framework for the analysis of religion and foreign policy. Despite the increased attention to religion in international relations, questions remain. Particularly controversial, yet relatively unexplored, is the role of religion in the foreign policies of states. We extrapolate from theories in the fields of international relations and comparative politics to explore religion’s potential avenues of influence on foreign policy. There are potential tools of analysis in these fields, which can be fruitfully extended and applied to understand the role of religion in foreign policy. We propose a framework within which various causal pathways and mechanisms can be situated. We also show how contributions from the field of religion and politics might be used to frame theories and specify further hypotheses about religion and foreign policy. After identifying the main threads of these lines of research, we discuss how to apply them to the question of the role of religion in foreign policy and set out a new research agenda. We conclude that the potential of these theoretical approaches to the analysis of religion has not yet been exploited.