©

Mat Wright

In 2013, the Henry R. Luce Foundation generously awarded a grant to the British Council to support a 3-year program known as Bridging Voices, a series of policy and academic dialogues on religion and international affairs. The objective of the Bridging Voices program was to provide a transatlantic space for policymakers and academics in the field of religion and international affairs to discuss best practice, research needs, policy solutions, and areas for collaboration. Since the project was launched, we supported 43 universities, think tanks and NGOs to run 50 dialogues and public events across the US, the UK, and Europe. 

E-book

The e-book (available for download below) summarizes the first three years of the program and highlights the British Council’s role in bringing together new transatlantic partnerships to generate innovative or renewed discussions on various topics concerning religion and international affairs. The program supported transatlantic partners to produce knowledge, build understanding between policy and academic spheres and encourage future collaboration amongst experts in the field. All views and results depicted in this e-book belong to the various partners of each Bridging Voices grant. We would like to thank each partner for contributing.

View projects by year

Year 1 Projects (2013-2014)

  • Let's Talk (and Walking the Walk) - British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Muslims for Progressive Values, Danish Institute

Let’s Talk (and Walking the Walk) screened the documentary “Ijtihad: Nine Muslims with Progressive Values”, directed by Nancy Graham Holm of the Danish School of Media, in Washington, DC and London. These screenings were followed by ‘trialogues’ between policymakers, academics/activists, and members of the general public. These trialogues took on such topics as Islamic perspectives of secular democracy and navigating between the rights of religious and non-religious groups in secular democracy. The project also produced three short PSA-style humorous videos on civic engagement.

  • The Role of Religion in Foreign Policy and Societal Transformation: Bridging Scholarship and Policymaking - City University London, George Mason University

This project brought together academics and policymakers in Washington and London, seeking to capitalize on increasing interest from US and UK governments in engaging on issues of religion and religious actors in foreign policy. One dialogue aimed to bridge the knowledge gap between academics and policymakers on these issues and tackle some of the practical challenges of integrating awareness of religious issues and religious actors into the foreign policymaking process. The second dialogue followed on from the conclusions of the first and applied to the specific challenges of societal transformation and democratization in diplomacy and development.

  • Addressing the Asylum Crisis: Postsecular Contributions to Rethinking Protection in Global Politics - University of Kent, Tufts University, University of Groningen

In response to the overwhelming pressure being put on established procedures and mechanisms for asylum seekers, refugees, and people in need of protection, this project aimed to explore the role of religious actors in providing services to those groups. The dialogues organized as part of this project brought together an interdisciplinary group of policymakers, scholars, and practitioners and explored potential opportunities for partnerships between governments, NGOs, international organizations, and religious organizations to create new frameworks for working on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees.

  • Religion, Conflict Resolution and Digital Media in the Greater Muslim World: Dialogue Among Policymakers and Researchers - Georgia State University, Royal Holloway University of London, Oxford University

This project responded to the increasing role of religious institutions and networks in addressing social unrest, conflict, extremism, and discord through arbitration and/or humanitarian assistance. The project also sought to unravel the interplay between the governance and conflict resolution work of these organizations and the growing use of digital technologies. The dialogues organized as part of this project brought together policymakers, scholars, and the media to specifically examine the role of Muslim institutions in the aforementioned aspects of international affairs.

  • Gender, Religion and Equality in Public Life: Perspectives from the United States and the United Kingdom - School of Oriental & African Studies, Brandeis University

This project explored the role of religion in the struggle for women’s equality around the world, particularly within the contexts of domestic/foreign law and international human rights policy. Through dialogues in Boston and London, participants from the academic and policy spheres discussed how the latest scholarship on the complex interplay between religious norms and legal frameworks which may frustrate efforts to achieve gender equity in a number of societies around the world.

Year 2 Projects (2014-2015)

  • Religious Literacy for Foreign Policy Professionals - World Faith, Three Faiths Forum

World Faith, Three Faiths Forum, and independent consultant Josh Cass worked with academics and policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic to further develop and refine a religious literacy training program for foreign policy professionals. Participants in the project engaged with and critiqued the program material which is focused on the effective integration of religious engagement (with religious actors and religious issues) into diplomatic institutions and foreign policies. The training focused on how such engagement can improve the design and delivery of the policy. While maintaining academic rigor, the program utilized case studies and simulations as part of its methodology.

  • Toward Better International Policymaking: Understanding the Role of Religion in Priority Regions - University of Leeds, Institute for Global Engagement, Georgetown University

This project brought together regional specialists from the academic and foreign policymaking communities focused on two regions: the Horn of Africa and the Middle East/North Africa. In two workshops, these specialists focused on the role of religion and religious actors in regional foreign policy, development and conflict stabilization. Participants in these workshops worked towards the production of a set of working guidelines to help practitioners engaged in ‘religion-related’ policymaking to work with religious actors, understand religious dynamics and the influence of religion, and learn from previous cases.

  • Islam, Secularism, and Security in Central Asia and Beyond - University of Exeter, Communities Engaging with Difference and Religion (CEDAR), George Washington University, Chatham House

The dialogues organized as part of this project considered the place of political Islam in Muslim-majority countries which also have strong experiences of secularism, chiefly in post-Soviet Central Asia. Academics and policy participants explored how radicalism can emerge from a confrontation between political Islamic groups and the state’s assertive Islamic secularism and how the state’s associated security discourse has shaped Muslim groups’ faith and behavior. The dialogues produced 16 short written pieces on related policy challenges for a general and policymaking audience. 

  • Freedom of Religion and Belief (FORB) and Foreign Policy: Transatlantic Dialogue for a Multilateral Approach to Religious Freedom - University of Sussex, Notre Dame University, European University Institute, International Consortium for Law and Religious Studies (ICLARS)

This project identified, addressed and discussed differences on both sides of the Atlantic in approaches to international religious engagement and religious freedom policy. The project critically evaluated the effectiveness of these approaches and contextualize them within broader foreign policy strategies. In bringing together relevant academics and policymakers from the US and Europe to discuss these particular issues, the project ultimately aimed to outline and develop a transatlantic multilateral approach to such policies. 

  • Shining Knight or Trojan Horse? Political, Academic and Media Portrayals of Religious Freedom in US and UK Foreign Policy - Lancaster University, Religion News Service, University of Missouri, Newseum

Transatlantic dialogues addressed some critical questions about religious freedom policies in the US and Europe. They identified key challenges including areas in which religious freedoms may conflict with other rights and freedoms. Much of the dialogues’ focus was on religious freedom initiatives directed at the Middle East and Europe and the impact of media coverage of international religious freedom policy on domestic politics and the implementation of the policy itself.

 

Year 3 Projects (2015-2016)

  • Gapping the Bridge: Reconsidering the Role of Muslim Civil Society in Conflict Zones - Stanhope Center for Communications Policy Research, Georgia State University, Kadir Has University

This project will build upon two years of multi-institutional research and programming collaboration to look at countering violent extremism (CVE) and the role of development-focused Muslim NGOs operating in transitioning conflict zones. Additionally, the project will look at the accomplishments and challenges of Muslim NGOs in transitioning or conflict zones and ask how models can be scaled and examine best practices.

  • Press Start Dialogues - Global Potential, University of Cambridge, Northeastern University, L'Institut Universitaire de Technologie de Montreuil, Woolf Institute

This grant will promote improved understanding of the role religion plays in France, the US and Europe as it relates to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21. Dialogues will focus on how youth social entrepreneurs, policymakers, academics and civil society practitioners can create social change through exploring their own cultural and religious identities while focusing on questions related to environmental protection. Together, these dialogues will put forth policy recommendations on how to commit 50% reduction in global warming pollution by 2030 and to promote carbon neutrality by 2050. 

  • Religion and State: How Governments can Work Effectively with Religious Bodies and Credible Voices Addressing the Gender Dynamics of Radicalization to Counter Extremist Messaging and Address the Underlying Drivers of Extremist Violence - Institute for Strategic Dialogue, US Institute of Peace, Georgetown University, University of Cambridge

This grant will focus on academics, policymakers and religious actors to share knowledge and best practice related to countering extremist religious narratives with particular aim to concentrate lessons learned at the nexus of gender and security. Within the context of countering extremist messaging, this team will explore the role of women in CVE efforts. The team will look at how extremist groups leverage religious interpretations to further gender-based subjugation while also using religion as a tool for recruiting women into violent extremist groups, dictating it is their spiritual duty, a topic deserving greater attention.  Most importantly, the team will ask how greater female involvement in counter-messaging can change the perception of counter-messaging as being Western, male-dominated, top-down and aggressive, and how the greater involvement of Muslim women can improve the effectiveness of counter-extremist messaging.

  • Multinational Efforts to Promote Freedom of Religion or Belief - University of Birmingham, International Religious Liberty Association, Stefanus Alliance International

This project will bring together global parliamentarians, scholars, policymakers and diplomats to discuss case studies and blueprints on the issues of religious persecution and freedom of religion or belief. The conversation will focus on bringing together parliamentarians with academic and policy practitioners to broaden the conversation both in approach and in a global capacity. The key themes include: a discussion of the present global position in relation to religious restrictions; multinational collaboration in freedom of religion or belief; strategies for parliamentary collaboration; and strategies for interreligious collaboration in this space. 

  • Engaging with Sunni-Shia Dynamics - New Horizons in British Islam, Hofstra University

This grant will explore the context of the Sunni-Shia dynamic, specifically as it relates to sectarianism in Muslim communities and the role of diaspora. The grant is aimed towards policymakers, think tank professionals, activists and community leaders to engage under-represented voices, consider questions of approaches to dialogue and to broaden the consideration of the Sunni-Shia dynamic to include a greater understanding of the lived diversity of these religious traditions. The dialogue conversations will be turned into a user-friendly resource for policymaking professionals.