Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Irvine

UC Irvine Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Irvine

Instruments of the Divine? Faith-Based Organizations in International Politics


My dissertation asks: (1) What are the meanings that faith-based organizations (FBOs) assign to their own values, identities, and practices?, and (2) How do such meanings shape the service-advocacy work of FBOs? Scholars are increasingly interested in the role of FBOs in areas of peacebuilding, development, humanitarianism, and human rights. Such scholars often categorize certain practices and ideas exhibited by FBOs as “religious,” “secular,” or “political.” However, other scholars in international relations, political theory, and other fields have shown that the religious-secular analytical framework is problematic at best. Thus, I argue that scholars who want to understand the role of “religion” in the work of FBOs should move past religious-secular categorizations, and the related assumptions that go along with such designations, and examine the meanings and roles that FBOs assign to their values, identities, and practices. This reflexive and bottom-up concept approach provides more specificity in understanding why and how FBOs engage in their political projects. Drawing on interviews, participant-observation, and textual analysis, I show this methodological approach “in action” through an empirical examination of three FBOs—Religions for Peace, International Justice Mission, and the Taizé Community.

Employing a reflexive and bottom-up conceptual approach yields several important findings for IR, political theory, and interdisciplinary studies of FBOs. First, my research reveals the critical importance of practices like prayer for FBOs. I show that such practices are not always conceptually distinguished from the “political” or “real” work of FBOs and that they facilitate peacebuilding, reconciliation, and other FBO projects. Second, my cases highlight some of the problems with current scholarly approaches to engagements of religious difference, which often focus on dialogue. I also argue that more attention need be paid to shared experiential practices like prayer, communal manual labor, and cooperative action in such encounters. By shedding light on the specific differences and similarities between FBO and scholarly conceptualizations of religious phenomena and what they do, my research suggests that a more fruitful way to approach the study of religion is to view what we call “religion” as a set of ontologies, which function as overlapping, and sometimes competing, authoritative discourses.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View