American University
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A Moral Nudge? The Role of Religious Advocacy in US Foreign Policy Decision Making

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posted on 2023-08-04, 09:27 authored by Marcelline T. Babicz

The global resurgence of religion suggests that religious actors may increasingly be relevant to the decisions states make as they navigate their relations with other states, nonstate actors, and international organizations. This dissertation adds to our understanding of religious actors by answering the question: Is religious advocacy effective at changing US foreign policy, and, if so, under what conditions? The Kingdon three streams model was used to examine three cases in which religious actors advocated for US foreign policy change. Policy change did occur in two cases (the 1996-1997 North Korean famine and the Vatican’s involvement in the US-Cuba 2014 normalization of relations) and did not occur in a third (the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center and the elimination of torture and indefinite detention). The findings showed that religious actors did effect policy change in the North Korean famine and US-Cuba cases, could not effect change to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, and were not a factor in outlawing torture. Within-case and cross-case comparisons revealed three conditions that affected the potential success of religious advocacy. The first condition, appealing to an individual with the authority and opportunity to act, was necessary for religious advocacy to be successful. The likelihood of success increased if the religious actors were able to personally engage the decision makers either through interpersonal or values-based connections. Targeting broad entities such as Congress or the public appeared to be much less effective. A second condition necessary for success was agreement on what constituted moral action. Competing definitions of what was moral decreased the effectiveness of religious actors’ moral arguments. The third condition for success was a lack of competition between moral and national security arguments. When pitted against potentially significant national security concerns, the moral argument lost. Chances of failure increased the greater the disagreement about what constituted moral action and the more significant a national security threat was perceived to be. These findings extend our knowledge beyond whether religion matters to how religious actors and their moral arguments may potentially influence US foreign policy decision making.





Degree Awarded: Ph.D. School of International Service. American University


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