Saying governments cannot lead a world they do not understand, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted the impact of religion on foreign policy during a Tuesday speech in Houston, Texas.
“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 at Rice University.
It was his first speech focusing exclusively on the topic of religion and foreign policy.
However, a senior State Department official said Kerry has long recognized the importance of understanding religious dynamics as part of the “broader U.S. foreign policy making.”
In 2013, Kerry established the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs as part of the Obama administration’s initiative to encourage interfaith cooperation.
“With 84 percent of people around the world identifying with a religious group, religion is a powerful force in global politics and civil society – one that must be taken seriously,” the State Department said in a 2015 fact sheet.
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In his speech, Kerry touted religious initiatives that have taken place under his watch, including a 2015 workshop for religious leaders in Nigeria on the topic of corruption. He also noted 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 added that extremist groups such as Islamic State have carried out atrocities under the veil of religion.
“They continue to kill Yazidis because they are Yazidis, Christians because they are Christians, and Shia because they are Shia,” said Kerry.
“Daesh is responsible for committing genocide against these groups in areas under its control,” he added, using an acronym for IS.
In addition, Kerry said Christians have been facing persecution or repression in regions including the Middle East and South Asia, Tibetan Buddhists face harassment in China, and the Rohingya population has been “singled out” for discrimination in Myanmar.
Kerry is on the first leg of a two-day trip to Texas that also will include a stop in Austin, where he will take part in a clean energy event and a summit focusing on the Vietnam War.