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U.S. advisor details foreign policy goals

| Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dr. Shaun Casey, Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, spoke Tuesday at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies on the growing role of religious engagement in U. S. foreign policy.

As the inaugural holder of this office, Casey said he welcomed the challenge to “launch a new office at the State Department that might have a long term impact on our foreign policy.” He said one reason his position now exists is that Secretary of State John Kerry “is deeply convinced that the United States needs a firmer grasp on the power of lived religion across the globe.”

Casey began his job in July 2013 and has since set to work on its “three overarching missions,” the first of which is to fulfill his role as advisor on faith-based and community initiatives, he said.

“Eighty percent of what Secretary Kerry does today has religion-related issues,” Casey said.

Second, the office had to build capacity and organize within the State Department to further and systemically engage with religious communities. Casey said his office is attempting to unify the efforts of the State Department relating to religious engagement.

“We do a tremendous amount of religious engagement, but it’s never been systematized; it’s never been examined,” he said.

The third mission incorporates Casey’s goal for “external engagement” that will make his office “the point of contact, the customer service window … for external faith communities,” he said. In this capacity, Casey and his staff work with religious groups and addresses their needs and concerns while working to connect their communities with the offices inside the State Department that are best suited to handle their specific issues.

Essential to these missions was the need for the “U. S. to show up,” Casey said.

“Too often we’ve been content with simply looking at big-hat religious leaders and the things that they write,” he said.

Examining only the opinions of prominent figures does not provide a full understanding of what is occurring in any given country, Casey said. Religious training centers help identify areas of concern and offer a fuller understanding of the religious dynamics in a country beyond what the “big-hat” religious leaders have to say, he said.

“We live in an era where no one has really figured out analytically the right relationship between international relations theory and interpreting religion,” Casey said.

Casey said his office faced criticisms that it would either be too Christian or not Christian enough. Other complaints suggested religion is “inherently icky” and, because of that, the State Department should refrain from religious engagement, Casey said. To counter the critics and provide standards for their efforts, Casey and his office developed certain maxims to follow.

The first maxim is “do no harm,” Casey said. Second, the department must “be radically inclusive” and, third, recognize that “context is everything.” Casey explained that his office must be inclusive of all groups to avoid any sense of favoritism and must respect the geographic and historic differences within individual faith traditions, such as the distinct characteristics of Catholicism in Ethiopia and in Poland.

The fourth maxim involves being skeptical of grand theories of peace and instead addressing issues in an ad hoc manner, Casey said. The fifth states that the State Department should consult “actors with local experience about lived religion.”

For the final maxim, Casey said the State Department needs to “spend more energy in assessing and evaluating interfaith peace building.” He said that it is not enough to simply engage other faiths and nations, but that the department should examine the outcomes of their attempts to build peace through religious engagement.

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