Postsecular Expertise and American Foreign Policy Change, Global Secularisms Conference, New York University, November 2013.
Over the past two decades a growing body of scholarly work – mostly originating in American academic and research circles – has emerged concerned with challenging the secular premises of, and bringing greater religion in, the social scientific study of international affairs. This paper argues that much of this scholarly effort is, to varying degrees, tied also with challenging the secular premises of, and bringing greater religion in, American foreign policy. The paper conceptually and empirically advances this argument in two ways. First, it proposes to conceptualize this scholarly knowledge on religion in international affairs as produced by a heterogeneous ‘postsecular epistemic community’. Second, the paper maps the emergence, overlaps and connections between postsecular expert discourses and institutions, from the 1990s onwards, and the consolidation of three American religious foreign policy regimes: the promotion of international religious freedom, the institutionalization of religious engagement, and the development of initiatives designed to reform Islam and win the hearts and minds of ‘Muslims’.
This paper takes a ‘sociology of expertise’ approach to unpacking the links between the American postsecular epistemic community and U.S. foreign policy. Such an approach is warranted for at least four reasons. First, it moves scholarship on the development of these religious foreign policies beyond current debates that have overwhelmingly taken a normative/policy oriented slant towards, instead, generating greater understanding of the context and agents leading to foreign policy changes with a religious dimension. Second, this investigation is warranted because scholarly research on the influence of religion in American foreign policy, so far, has been confined to social movements and presidents, generally ignoring the place and role of intellectual elites. Third, an investigation into the scholarly and policy influence of postsecular experts also helps to challenge a dominant narrative which sees intellectual elites, in general, and American elites, in particular, as overwhelmingly secular, secularized, and secularist. Lastly, the paper can help generate a more self-reflective debate among scholars working beyond U.S. academic and research circles, about the American-centric nature of much of the current postsecular literature on religion in international affairs – particularly in terms of its substantial proximity to America’s national interest and foreign policy concerns.