How well does one understand the dimension of religion and its strategic influence on Europe? How should we approach religion as a dimension in both our engagements and theater planning? These questions and others were the focus of a four-day forum entitled “Religion, Security and Strategy Perspectives” sponsored by US European Command Chaplains Office. As Peter Berger once noted, “Those who neglect religion in their analysis of contemporary affairs do so at great peril.” The audience consisted of several disciplines within EUCOM and AFRICOM, along with Component Chaplains and Chaplains’ assistants from across Europe.
Dr. Marèque Ireland, Professor of World Religion and Systematic Theology at Fuller Seminary and a US Navy Reserve Chaplain, was the guest speaker who lead the forum. The opening comments for the forum were provided by RADM Christenson, EUCOM Chief of Staff. Gen. Breedlove, U.S. European Command Commander, provided his perspectives on the nexus of religion and Europe followed by a question and answer session for those in attendance.
The sessions began with discussions on confronting our blind spots because “we tend to take our Western view of the separation of church and state as axiomatic,” noted Dr. Ireland. Consequently, religion has become a casualty in analysis because we have created the notion that faith and religion are to be privatized. In the book, Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft, Douglas Johnson notes that because of this dichotomy of the religious and secular we “face a certain difficulty in comprehending the depths to which religious and political considerations interact in shaping the perceptions and motivations of individuals from other societies.”
I noted that “Religion is a powerful motivator of both individuals and societies and not to be seen as a third rail to be avoid in our discussions around the table.” Beyond economics and culture, religion is a key flash point. The increase of immigration is bringing tension across Europe into high relief, and the ways immigrants are integrating their faith into their new neighborhoods is changing Europe. Dr. Ireland later said, “Borders are no longer just geographical, nation-to-nation, but ideological.” The week’s events were centered on four briefings: Understanding European Religious & Secular Ideologies which examined the driving religious and secular ideologies that inform culture within Europe to include the increasing global interconnectedness. The second brief, Religious Extremism to include the factors and elements that contribute to religious extremism and the transnational element. In the third brief, we looked at the Comparative Ethics within Europe and its relation to contemporary issues such as religious tolerance. “What we see is a clash of values not a clash of civilization,” stated Dr. Ireland. The Fourth was focused on Interfaith Dialogue which explored constructive ways of engaging in interfaith and secular-religious dialogue as well as exploring the limits of such dialogue. Religion and our approach to religious dialogue is certainly a component to the way forward because doors are opened with understanding.
This was the first of such forums held at EUCOM and as I said at the forum, “we are planning on continuing this next year as a way increase our competency on a changing Europe.” If you would like a copy of the recommended Bibliography for Religion, Security and Strategic Perspectives contact the U.S. European Command Chaplains office at firstname.lastname@example.org.