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Religion Meets International Relations

by Pamela Johnson

Youths reenact Christ’s walk to his crucifixion during a Stations of the Cross march.

Photo/Jerry Berndt

For the first time, USC College will offer courses designed to teach students to work in a world where religious identity increasingly plays an integral role in shaping global policies.

“We’re preparing our future leaders of public policy,” said Steve Lamy, professor of international relations. “We want to prepare them for a world where religion will be a very important factor in their profession.”

Called Religion, Identity and Global Governance, the program involves courses, seminars and conferences that will explore the impact of religious beliefs on domestic and international politics.

The program � part of a $300,000 grant over three years from the Henry R. Luce Foundation � creates a partnership between the College and the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

The College’s School of International Relations (SIR), Center for International Studies and Center for Religion and Civic Culture will work with the newly created Center on Public Diplomacy and the Knight Chair in Media and Religion to develop the courses for undergraduate and graduate students.

USC was among five universities throughout the nation awarded a Luce grant for the purpose of “deepening the public understanding of religion as a critical but often neglected factor in policy issues throughout the world.” The five universities were selected among the country’s 19 professional schools of international affairs.

Lamy, former director of the SIR, and Patrick James, professor of international relations and director of the USC Center for International Studies, submitted the grant proposal. Lamy said he hoped the new courses would help to train future diplomats and students seeking careers in the United States Foreign Service.

“Very little, if anything, is being done in universities throughout the nation to develop these kinds of courses,” he said.

Diane Winston, holder of the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the USC Annenberg School and associate professor of journalism, is developing a course on the impact of religion on U.S. foreign policy.

“Religion has long played an important role in how our nation sees other countries,” Winston said. “For a long while, there was no foreign policy, per se, and so the only view we had of foreign countries came from the Christian American missionaries. So the Christian view really shaped our foreign policy.”

Winston’s class also will examine the ways in which other interest groups, such as the powerful pro-Israel lobby, have helped to form U.S. foreign policy. The class may be offered as early as spring 2007.

“This Luce grant taps into the biggest issue of our day, and that is the role that religion plays on our political landscape,” Winston said. “This gives us a chance to teach the next generation to factor in the importance of faith and religious values when they’re looking at the international political scene.”

Donald Miller, executive director of the College’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, said faculty members who teach courses in major religions � from Islam to Buddhism � have been invited to design courses that also focus on world politics.

The religion courses will be geared toward master’s and doctoral students studying for careers in public service, such as with the Central Intelligence Agency.

The courses will cover “fields where their work will definitely require better knowledge of religion and cultural sensitivity,” said Miller, a professor of religion and sociology. “To some extent, many global issues are affected by a country’s religious worldview. Without knowledge of that religion, it’s difficult to understand what motivates people.”

Religion Meets International Relations

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