The “religious turn” in the study of international relations has started to break through and inform concrete policy discussions. The first part of this article briefly explains that breakthrough and the broader context for Italy’s engagement with religious non-state actors, including similar recent initiatives in the foreign affairs ministries of other countries. The second part examines some of the theoretical underpinnings of the approach we have started to develop in discussions over the last few years with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), and a variety of religious nonstate actors from Italy and other countries—an approach emphasizing a new form of knowledge generated through the encounter and dialogue with religious communities and religious nonstate actors. In the light of these insights, the final part of this article examines the Italian case and begins to explore how engagement with religious leaders, organizations, and communities could contribute to Italy’s foreign policy objectives and decision-making. Our argument is that Italy could represent a special case of religious engagement in foreign policy because of its unique geo-religious position: in the context of the current epochmaking changes in the international society, there is a sense in which Rome has become again, religiously speaking, caput mundi—the center of the world—as a unique hub of a transnational network of religions connections.
Italy finds itself in a very specific situation with the head of the Catholic Church in its capital. Rome is the heart of Christianity, the home of the Holy See, and also of a transnational network of religions. This has a special impact on Italy, not only because of the past when the Papal States were part of the Italian debate, but because of the present situation where the Pope is one of the most influential people in the world(1), even without any of the hard power that other states can have.
The special case of Italy
It is obvious that Russia as a multinational and poly-confessional state with a rich history is influenced by religious traditions in its cultural and political life. First of all, we mean the impact of Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam as leading religions that are traditional to Russian history and modernity.