I am a Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Global Politics and Societies department at Hollins University. My research and teaching interests are in global governance, peace and security, and religion. My book, Faith-Based Organizations in Transnational Peacebuilding (2018, Rowman & Littlefield) examines the meanings and roles of religious phenomena for transnational faith-based organizations working in areas of peacebuilding, humanitarianism, development, and human rights. I have a PhD in Political Science, with concentrations in International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Political Theory, from the University of California, Irvine, and a MA and BA in Political Science from the University of California, Riverside. Feel free to email me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Religion & Politics
Research Methods & Research Design
Text as Data
Though scholars now view religion as a legitimate topic of study in International Relations (IR), most continue to ignore practices like prayer, despite the fact that prayer is present in global political contexts, including in the service-advocacy work of transnational faith-based organizations (FBOs). In addition, FBO funders like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) require religious organizations to separate prayer from projects funded by these agencies due to contradictory perceptions about both the dangers and the inconsequence of incorporating “inherently” religious activities into development projects. The neglect of prayer in international relations scholarship and funding policies is, I contend, due to common ontologies of religious practice that link prayer with the transcendental, emotional, and private. Such ontologies lead scholars and others to assume that prayer is, and should be, materially and analytically distinct from the “real” work of FBOs. Drawing on interviews and participant observation of three FBOs working in areas of peace, development, and human rights, I argue that common ontologies of prayer employed by scholars of international relations and FBO funders do not accurately reflect the ontologies of FBOs themselves. Moreover, because scholars rely on such ontologies, they miss the ways that prayer manifests as a central, consequential, and sometimes political practice in the transnational work of FBOs.
Debates about the ethics of humanitarianism increasingly recognize the significance of faith-based organizations in the provision of aid. Critics charge that the primary problem with faith-based groups, especially Christian organizations, is their propensity to proselytize. We agree that proselytism is problematic. However, we argue that the focus on religious agents alone indicates a secularist presumption and lack of knowledge about the complexity of religious ethics that a) tend to mask significant differences among Christian groups in their ethics of aid, and b) prevent scholars from addressing an additional form of undue pressure in aid provision. We call this undue pressure “donor proselytism.” Our interviews with Christian groups in Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and the United States demonstrate the contestation among Christian humanitarians about what constitutes proselytism. Our interviews and NGO conference observations also show how donor pressures shape aid to conform to neoliberal conceptions of efficiency, sustainability, and measurable results. Ultimately, we assert that donor proselytism is in fact the more pervasive of the two. Both scholars and policymakers, therefore, should take into account the complexity of religious ethics regarding proselytism as well as the power of donor proselytism to affect the lives of those receiving humanitarian assistance.
How do faith-based organizations influence the work of transnational peacebuilding? How is the political role of such organizations informed by their religious ideas and practices? My book, Faith-Based Organizations in Transnational Peacebuilding (forthcoming March 2018, Rowman & Littlefield) investigates this set of questions by examining the work of three faith-based organizations (FBOs) that have pursued distinctive avenues of involvement in conflict resolution, reconciliation, humanitarianism, development, and human rights work. It examines how the meanings that these organizations assign to their religious practices, values, and identities inform their political goals and strategies as transnational organizations. The book addresses debates among scholars of religion and politics, as well as policy debates on peacebuilding and development, by demonstrating the political importance of religious practices in the work of FBOs and evaluating the distinctive strategies that transnational religious organizations employ to navigate religious difference. A central goal of the book is to propose a new way to study religion in international politics that treats “religion” (vis-à-vis specific acts, ideas, and communities) as diverse, sometimes-overlapping, and sometimes-competing ontological discourses.