Divine Direction: How Providential Religious Beliefs Shape Foreign Policy Attitudes


  • Author's notes: This research was made possible through the financial and logistical support of Time-sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences. The author thanks Corwin Smidt, Ted Jelen, Kent Jennings, Amber Boydstun, Daniel Whelan, Kyle Joyce, Christopher Swearingen, James F. Reinhart, Lan T. Chu, David J. Meyer, Joshua Su-Ya Wu, and the anonymous reviewers at Foreign Policy Analysis for their helpful comments on earlier versions.


Despite recent scholarly and popular work regarding the role of religion in US foreign policy, we still know little about how religious factors affect the public's foreign policy views. This paper proposes one potential mechanism for influence—the connection of providential beliefs to foreign policy issues through a compelling religious frame—and tests the explanatory power of this approach through a nationally administered survey experiment. The “providential” orientation of respondents—the extent to which they believe in a divinely authored plan—is measured through questions that tap the nondenomination specific nature of religious beliefs. A multi-methods approach of means comparisons, logit analyses, and exact logistical regression indicates that when a foreign policy is framed in religious terms, providentiality is a significant predictor of support, even in the face of countervailing political beliefs. These findings highlight one mechanism through which religion can influence foreign policy attitudes, thereby demonstrating the value of further investigating the role of religious beliefs in politics.