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Religious diplomat encourages students to find common ground with other religions

By Kyle Downey
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Religious diplomacy is the best way to defuse international incidents when secular diplomacy breaks down, according to the president and founder of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy said Tuesday during a lecture at Utah State University.

“We build upon shared religious principles to make trust-based confidence building measures,” said Dr. Douglas Johnston, a graduate from the United States Naval Academy with a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University.

Johnston gave the lecture in the Taggart Student Center auditorium as the inaugural speech of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Tanner Talks series, cross-disciplinary events meant to bring new viewpoints to students. His speech was sponsored by the USU history department.

The International Center for Religion and Diplomacy was founded to promote faith-based diplomacy, the incorporation of religious practices or thinking into international diplomacy, and it has worked since its inception to foster greater understanding of religious ideals which drive decisions and how to work with them to find common ground.

“So many conflicts arise from faith, so why can’t it have the reverse affect?” asked Kennedy Carrill, a business administration major.

Among the center’s accomplishments, Johnston said it had played an instrumental role in the release of 21 South Korean missionaries from Taliban militants in 2007 through connections to Afghan religious leaders.

“With the level of belief present in many nations, ignoring faith is a pretty substantial mistake,” said Justin Nafziger, a computer science major. “Like many things, ignoring the context of a question only leads to misunderstanding.”

Johnston encouraged students to talk to their own religious leaders about reaching out to the imam of a local mosque, so they could hold a social gathering between congregations. This, he said, would dispel preconceptions about other religions and foster better relations between non-Muslim Americans and Muslim Americans.

-mdl