July 18 2018

by Fred Glennon, Le Moyne College

Black and white photograph of 2 men and 3 women around a table, each with one hand on top of it. A spectre of a hand arises from the floor toward the bottom of the table.

Walk into a classroom early and you might overhear students talking about such television shows as The Walking Dead, Ghosthunters, or Haunted Case Files; or the latest horror film like Ouija: Origin of Evil. Such paranormal pop culture is so prevalent these days that there is a website whose mission is “dedicated to covering all of paranormal culture in mass media.” While the website does not endorse claims about the paranormal, it does reflect the widespread interest in the paranormal among the population. Personally, I love the films that deal with ghosts and demons, as do many of my students. They are intrigued, if not a little bit spooked, by the genre. They want to believe that there are mystical experiences and forces that transcend the routine in everyday life. I share their interest.

by Jack Hunter, University of Bristol

Black and white photograph of 2 men and 3 women around a table, each with one hand on top of it. A spectre of a hand arises from the floor toward the bottom of the table.

Introduction

by Evan Berry, American University

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Pope Francis and his translator on December 2, 2016 in the Vatican. They sit around Pope Francis' desk.

How is scholarly knowledge about religion useful to conversations about public policy? Can—and should—scholars of religion lend their expertise to governments? After a decade of public calls for improved religious literacy in the United States, it seems reasonable to say that the kinds of knowledge produced by AAR members are valuable to policy debates. Perhaps our knowledge can also be useful to policymakers themselves.

I served as a fellow in the AAR-Luce Fellowship in Religion and International Affairs program during the final year of the Obama administration. I worked alongside career foreign service employees, political appointees, and other academic fellows in the Department of State’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs. There are helpful sources treating the history of this office and the diplomatic work it has advanced, and I hope to supplement these here by describing my particular role and considering how religion scholars’ expertise can be informative for US foreign policy.

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