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. Retrieving some episodes of its older and its more recent complex history of ante-litteram religious engagement in foreign policy, we suggest Italy could develop a model of religious engagement in foreign policy mediated by its “special” relationship with the Catholic Church and with the world. Through this triangulation, Italy could engage religious actors abroad more effectively by engaging religious actors at home. For this model to work, however, some critical conditions should be met and some potential risks mitigated.
Fabio Petito, is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sussex.
Scott M. Thomas, lectures in International Relations and the politics of developing countries at the University of Bath, UK, and has been a Research Fellow at the Centre for Christianity and Interreligious Dialogue, Heythrop College, University of London.