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The Geopolitics of Religious Soft Power

This project will explore the global impact of transnational religious propagation activities sponsored by several countries in the Middle East—including Saudi Arabia, other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Iran, and Turkey—which for decades have deployed religion as a form of soft power in pursuit of their evolving foreign policy and other objectives. With the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, project research will explore the motivations, modalities, and mechanisms surrounding state sponsorship of religious soft power. Case studies of multiple countries that have been on the receiving end of such influences will identify and assess the local impact of such activity in various world regions with respect to shifts in religion culture; levels of societal pluralism and inclusivity; the status of women and minorities; and dynamics of instability, conflict, and violence.

Project outputs will include a research monograph, an edited volume, a policy report, a series of policy briefs and online commentary articles, audio and visual resources such as podcasts and short videos, and a range of events and public outreach activities to disseminate the research findings. The policy-oriented outputs will be developed and disseminated in cooperation with the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. While the topic at the heart of this project has been a persistent focus of discussion and debate among scholars, policymakers, and practitioners for several decades, a full understanding of the phenomenon has not yet emerged due to a lack of independent, systematic, and comprehensive analysis. The outputs arising from this project will hence inaugurate a new field of study and directly address knowledge gaps with data and analysis likely to inform and shape scholarship, policymaking, and practice.

Grand Mosque in Brussels, Belgium

Project Leader

Peter Mandaville headshot

Peter Mandaville

Senior Research Fellow

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