Religious freedom, American-style

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


A rapidly escalating number of international authorities are promoting religious freedom as a foreign policy objective, with the United States leading the charge. Legal guarantees of religious freedom are embedded as riders in trade agreements, in aid packages, and in humanitarian projects. Diplomats are instructed in how to persuade their counterparts to safeguard religious freedom. Foreign policy establishments are formalizing its promotion. This essay explores the politics of promoting religious freedom abroad. It begins with an introduction to the 1998 U.S. International Religious Freedom Act and the bureaucratic and administrative structures it created. This programming is the latest installment in a history of U.S. attempts to promote American strategic interests through social and religious engineering projects abroad. The second section turns to the political consequences of employing the discourse of religious freedom in the context of the 'Arab spring' and the war in Syria. In emphasizing the dangers of Christian persecution and privileging religion as a matter of difference in the conflict, the discourse of religious freedom fuels interpretations of the war as a sectarian conflict in which the rights of Syrian Christians will be threatened by the political empowerment of a Sunni majority. Relying on religion as a policy category obscures complex causal factors on the ground in Syria, and, in reducing the conflict to a case of «religious warfare», makes it more difficult to respond effectively to the violence.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-242
Number of pages12
JournalQuaderni di Diritto e Politica Ecclesiastica
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


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