Religion today remains deeply consequential, affecting the values, the actions, the choices, the worldview of people in every walk of life on every continent and, obviously, also here at home. It is a part of what drives some to initiate war, others to pursue peace; some to organize for change, others to cling desperately to old ways, resist modernity; some to reach eagerly across the borders of nation and creed, and others to build higher and higher walls separating one group from the next.
But religion is not only pervasive; it is also complex, especially when viewed from the ground up. Most religions are internally diverse, reflecting multiple schools of thought, regional variations, and complicated histories. And the actions of religious communities, like all communities, are embedded in the political, economic, and cultural environment in which they are carried out. That is why religion as it is actually lived does not always look the way that we expect or have the impact that we anticipate. It is also why our engagement with religious actors has to extend beyond designated leaders to the rank and file.
Now, historically the State Department has tended to downplay the role of religion or pay attention only when religion is deemed a problem, a threat, a challenge. The department has not traditionally had the resources or made the necessary commitment to systematically analyze the importance that religion holds for the success or failure of our foreign policy.... Now that has changed, and the purpose of my remarks tonight is to explain what we now do differently and why those differences matter.[Thanks to Blog from the Capital for the lead.]