Jubilee Dialogues: religion and foreign policy

17 July, 2013

The third instalment of the Jubilee Dialogue series considered the ways in which religion will shape foreign policy over the next ten years.

The Jubilee Dialogue

How will religion shape foreign policy in the next ten years?

Wednesday 10 July (WP1274)

The third Jubilee Dialogue was led by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Minister for Faith and Communities at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The meeting brought together a small group of faith leaders, theologians and experts in religious affairs to explore likely trends in foreign policy over the next ten years and consider how these will be influenced by religion.

Gary Wilton, Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the EU and Canon of the Pro-Cathedral of Holy Trinity at the Jubilee Dialogue

Gary Wilton, Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the EU and Canon of the Pro-Cathedral of Holy Trinity at the Jubilee Dialogue

It soon became clear within the discussion that the relationship between foreign policy and religion is complex and subject to intense debate. Religion is often one element at work within a multifaceted situation on the ground and should neither be under nor over-played.

The UK’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, participated in the discussion and also contributed some final thoughts on the matter in an FCO blog. Ambassador Baker states that whilst formal conclusions were not drawn, there was clear consensus on the need for foreign affairs practitioners to mainstream an understanding of religion across thinking and training. Furthermore, diplomats must “recognise that freedom of religion or belief (including the freedom to be non-religious, to change religion, and not to believe) is a fundamental right that needs greater attention internationally.”

Among the participants were Ed Husain, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council for Foreign Relations; Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association; Bharti Tailor, President of the Hindu Forum of Europe; and Ruth Gledhill, Religious Correspondent at The Times. Faith leaders from the Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic communities also engaged in debate on questions such as: is there a risk of western liberal miscalculation on the increasing importance of religion for governments elsewhere in the world? And, do we need more ‘religious literacy’?

 

Frances Campbell, Head, Policy Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association; Charlotte Keenan, Chief Executive Officer, Tony Blair Faith Foundation speaking at the Jubilee Dialogue

Charlotte Keenan, Chief Executive Officer, Tony Blair Faith Foundation speaking at the Jubilee Dialogue

Whilst it was acknowledged that the UK is becoming increasingly secular, participants argued that this is not the case in many other countries, including the United States, China and Russia, where religious affiliation is in fact rising; an aspect that must be reflected in foreign policy thinking.

Participants from the FCO outlined some practical examples of UK engagement on these issues and debated possibilities for future action. Some participants reflected on examples from other countries, eg tying conditionality of aid and trade to human rights objectives such as freedom of religion; appointing an Ambassador for Freedom of Religion or Belief; and setting up offices dedicated to these issues.

The conference report will provide further a broader overview of the discussion and will be available on the Wilton Park website in due course. Information and reports from previous Jubilee Dialogues can be found at the following links: Europe and the world in 2023 and the Arab Spring two years on.

The Jubilee Dialogue is a series of discussions in which external experts provide their views to Government on a key foreign policy subject. You can follow the series on twitter at #FCOJubileeDialogues.

 

Further information

Jubilee Dialogue on Europe and the world in 2023

Jubilee Dialogue on The Arab Spring two years on

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