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Talking Politics in a Religious World

By Amanda Morad | September 28, 2012

Dr. Eric Patterson
Photo by Tim Kay

Dr. Eric Patterson, dean of the Robertson School of Government (RSG) at Regent University, recently launched his latest book, Politics in a Religious World: Toward a Religiously Informed U.S. Foreign Policy, with a panel discussion on Tuesday, Sept. 25.

Before a classroom of students, professors and administrators, Patterson discussed the importance of religious competence in foreign affairs, joined by a panel including Dr. Paul Bonicelli, executive vice president, and Skip Ash, adjunct professor in the School of Law.

In his opening remarks, Bonicelli summarized the idea behind Patterson's book: "Religion is fundamental to most people throughout the world," he said. "You have to look at people in the context of their religion."

Not doing so, Patterson said as he expounded upon the book's main premise, can sometimes carry serious consequences. "The United States foreign policy has willfully blinded itself to the impact of religious and cultural influence," he explained. "Cultural faux pas are the kind of thing that can escalate to a level of hostility like we've seen in the Middle East recently." Patterson mentioned the recent response in the Muslim world to the American-made video mocking Muhammad.

What is both encouraging and somewhat concerning, he continued, is that the public expression of religion throughout the world is increasing. Though the expression of religion can build tolerance and understanding, it can also produce division and violence, Patterson explained. "There are sectors of the world where the government is not the voice of authority," he said. "We need to be prepared to deal with that."

A major factor in religion's authority in the world is its common service mandate. "In poor places, religious actors will continue to keep people alive," Patterson said, noting that, in most underdeveloped countries, religious groups take care of the poor. Therefore, places like the Middle East will continue to have religious actors impose order, not the government.

Drawing from years of international relations as an Army "brat" and then officer, Ash noted the importance of Patterson's book at this time. "Based on the secular mindset we have, we have diplomats who go out and offend people all over the world," he said. "Everyone in the United States who represents us abroad must be sensitive to the religious views of those we interact with, even if we think they are the same as us."

"The United States is well poised to understand the relationship between religion and policy because we are the most religious Western society in the world," Patterson concluded. "American religious capital is a comparative advantage because of our diversity. We have many unique religious voices to learn from."

Politics in a Religious World is currently available through the publisher at continuumbooks.com or on Amazon.com.

Learn more about the Robertson School of Government.


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