States, Religions, and Power: Highlighting the Role of Sacred Capital in World Politics

Author: Gregorio Bettiza

March 30, 2020

This report suggests that certain states are endowed with significant religious resources by virtue of hosting the historical, cultural, and institutional centers of major faith traditions and communities with global reach. It identifies these religious resources as sacred capital, further divided into three types—symbolic, cultural, and network—which can indirectly produce or be explicitly mobilized by states to generate multiple forms of influence that include but also go beyond soft power dynamics. This framework is illustrated with empirical examples from a range of states which, arguably, have considerable sacred capital at their disposal, including India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

This working paper was written as part of the Geopolitics of Religious Soft Power project, a partnership between Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Brookings Institution supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

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