January 17, 2012

SAIS launches Global Politics and Religion Initiative

The Henry Luce Foundation has awarded a two-year $440,000 grant to Johns Hopkins’ Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies to support a program on the study of religion and international affairs.

The Global Politics and Religion Initiative at SAIS has three main components that will incorporate the study of the interaction between religion and politics into the school’s existing graduate-level international relations program: new master’s degree courses, faculty and community research seminars, and executive education training sessions. The initiative’s goal is to foster an appreciation and deeper understanding of religion and international affairs among students, scholars and practitioners who will shape and influence future policymaking.

“We have entered an era when the resurgence of religion’s influence has caught the majority of scholars and analysts by surprise. Religion, in many cases, appears ready to displace the spread of 20th-century secularizing regimes, ideologies and social trends in defining national policy goals,” said Charles Doran, director of the SAIS Global Theory and History Program and of the new initiative.

“A perfect recent example of this trend,” he said, “is the potent role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which survived decades of harsh repression while managing to remain politically relevant both by serving as a highly effective opposition to a corrupt secular regime and by joining the newly revitalized democratic platform.”

SAIS Dean Jessica P. Einhorn added, “This generous grant from the Luce Foundation will allow us to advance scholarly research on religion in different national contexts while preparing students to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex world.”

The first new GPRI course, to be offered this semester, is Heaven on Earth: Conflict, Democracy and the Growth of Religious Toleration. Students will explore whether religious toleration is more likely within the framework of democracy, and if democracy nurtures religious toleration. Two other proposed courses will address religion and international relations, and religion, politics and policymaking.

This year, SAIS will begin hosting periodic faculty and community seminars on religion and politics, involving scholars from SAIS and other Johns Hopkins divisions as well as experts from other area universities and the surrounding policy community in a dialogue about the role of religion in the historical and modern forms of government, particularly democracies.

The third GPRI component will be a series of executive education training sessions targeting professionals in the U.S. government, military, nonprofit organizations, media and business. The course work will focus on how the interaction between religion and politics affects current policy issues.

The Luce Foundation also supports SAIS’ International Reporting Project, which, as part of its mission, provides several fellowships to journalists reporting overseas on topics of religion. IRP fellows will play a role in the Global Politics and Religion Initiative, providing insights from their on-the-ground reporting trips to participants in the courses and training sessions.

SAIS received the grant through the foundation’s Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs. Announced in June 2005, this initiative aims to deepen understanding of religion as a critical but often neglected dimension of national and international policies and politics.

Established in 1936, the Henry Luce Foundation seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities.