A Transatlantic Secular Divide? The Representation of Religion in EU and US Foreign Policy

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It is a common – often stereotypical – presumption that Europe is secular and America religious. Differences in international religious freedom and religious engagement policies on both sides of the Atlantic seem to confirm this “cliché”. This article argues that to understand why it has been easier for American supporters to institutionalise these policies than for advocates in the EU, it is important to consider the discursive structures of EU and US foreign policies, which enable and constrain political language and behaviour. Based on the analysis of foreign policy documents, produced by the EU and the US in their relationship with six religiously diverse African and Asian states, the article compares how both international actors represent religion in their foreign affairs. The analysis reveals similarities in the relatively low importance that they attribute to religion and major differences in how they represent the contribution of religion to creating and solving problems in other states. In sum, the foreign policies of both international actors are based on a secular discursive structure, but that of the US is much more accommodative towards religion, including Islam, than that of the EU.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)451–469
JournalForeign Policy Analysis
Issue number4
Early online date18 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) (2019). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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