On October 18th, the U.S. Department of State (Office of the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs) launched its Working Group on Religion and Foreign Policy as a part of the Secretary of State’s “Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society.” Representatives from civil society—including religious leaders from around the world, academics, and leaders from faith-based and secular nongovernmental organizations—attended the launch that began this year-long initiative. This is the first time in the history of the U.S. Department of State that it is intentionally and comprehensively seeking to institutionalize its engagement of religious actors worldwide. IGE is privileged to be able to participate in this historic initiative, helping to shape the mindsets and structures of the public and private sectors about the role of faith in world affairs. The opening plenary was webcast live, and is also now available to view online.

On October 19th, the U.S. Department of State convened a webcast to provide an overview of the October 18th meeting, report on the results of the working group, and answer questions from viewers around the world. The online panel discussion featured the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religion Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook, Dr. William Vendley from Religions for Peace, U.S Ambassador to the Holy See, Dr. Miguel Diaz, Chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, Joseph Grieboski, and IGE’s own Dr. Chris Seiple. The video of this session is now available to view. During this hour session a great deal of ground was covered specifically discussing the role of religion in international affairs. Over 5,800 users from 29 countries tuned in to watch the live webcast. In addition, approximately 30 participants from 9 different affiliations such as World Alliance, The Fulbright program in Moscow, the Institute for Global Engagement, Law and Liberty Trust, USCIRF, Regent University, as well as journalism and religion scholars from Cambridge and Melbourne engaged in the chat room and asked live questions. The following key themes emerged through the chat dialogue:

    The need for increased interfaith dialogues;
    The role religious exchanges can play in improving international relations;
    The need to revise religion-related terminology in the public sphere: i.e., using “religious respect” rather than “religious tolerance” which, as one chat room participant pointed out, implies begrudged acceptance rather than understanding; and,
    The need for more women religious leaders.

Thanks to Jennryn Wetzler, Senior Producer, IIP CO.NX, Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State for her technical support and providing the above listed metrics.