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Baker Institute Update: Secretary of State John Kerry speaks on the role of religion in foreign policy
May 4, 2016: In this edition
Secretary of State John Kerry: The role of religion in foreign policy

Two secretaries of state — one current, one former — took to the stage in a packed house at Rice’s Stude Concert Hall April 26 for a Baker Institute event focusing on religion and foreign policy.
 
Secretary of State John Kerry was introduced as a man who “knows that true leadership lies in the willingness to address precisely those complex and contentious problems that discourage the fainthearted” by former Secretary James A. Baker, III, the honorary chair of the Baker Institute.
 
“We cannot understand the world if we fail to comprehend and honor the central role that religion plays in the lives of billions of people," Kerry said in a 45-minute address, his first speech focusing exclusively on the topic of religion and foreign policy.
 
“My basic argument is straightforward,” he said. “The more we understand religion, the better we are able to engage religion, the more effective our diplomacy will be. … We don’t make contacts for the sake of having interesting conversations; we do so to make progress on our foreign policy and security goals, to make America safer.” This approach has traditionally not been a focus of U.S. diplomatic strategy, he said.
 
Within his first months in office in 2013, Kerry established the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs, headed by U.S. Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs Shaun Casey, as part of the Obama administration’s initiative to encourage interfaith cooperation. In U.S. embassies around the world, diplomats have been encouraged to understand and reach out to religious groups. Rice alumna Liora Danan ’03 serves as the office’s chief of staff and was in attendance at the speech. Casey and Danan met with William Martin, the Baker Institute’s Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy, and other religion scholars at the university and local civic leaders the day after Kerry’s address.

He underscored how religion can have either a positive or a destabilizing influence on world affairs. “It is part of what drives some to initiate war, others to pursue peace,” said Kerry, who pointed out that extremist groups such as the Islamic State have carried out atrocities under the veil of religion.
 
Kerry also noted that people are more likely to become radicalized if they have experienced political repression or corruption. Long-range policy efforts to defeat terrorism should focus on boosting employment as well as entrepreneurial and educational opportunities — initiatives that can determine “whether young people feel a greater stake in building their countries up rather than tearing them down,” Kerry said.
 
Addressing domestic politics, Kerry cautioned against current presidential campaign rhetoric attacking members of the American Muslim community and associating them with the violent actions of extremists.
 
“Muslims have lived in the United States since the founding of our country,” Kerry said. “They have fought on our side in every single one of our wars. They make their homes in every region, including right here in Houston. They pursue a broad range of occupations. In other words, they are Americans.”
 
The event, part of the institute’s Shell Distinguished Lecture Series, was open to Rice University faculty, staff and students as well as members of the Baker Institute Roundtable and Emerging Leaders.



Prior to the event, Secretary Kerry held a private meeting with former President George H.W. Bush and Secretary Baker.  
 
Click here to watch Kerry’s full remarks.
        
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Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy is a nonpartisan, independent think tank in Houston, Texas. The institute's fellows and scholars conduct research and collaborate with experts from academia, government, the media, business and private organizations on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy.
 
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