Leo P. Ribuffo

For national leaders and specialists in the study of diplomacy alike, the notion that religion has affected United States foreign policy is familiar—too familiar. Whereas the Massachusetts Puritan John Winthrop's charge in 1630 to build an inspiring "city upon the hill" came to be quoted almost routinely by presidents as different as John F. Kennedy, James Earl Carter, and Ronald Reagan to sanctify one version or another of American mission, students of diplomacy rarely go beyond citing such rhetorical conventions to explore the complicated influence of religious ideas or denominational interests.

Thus, any discussion of religion and foreign relations must begin with an appreciation of the diversity of American faiths, their development over the centuries, and the problematical nature of their connection to international affairs. Contemporary liberals who celebrate a "Judeo-Christian tradition" and contemporary conservatives who conflate all "people of faith" both homogenize American religion, past and present. Not only have people of faith differed among themselves about domestic and foreign policy issues, but they have also often done so precisely because they took their respective faiths seriously. Nonetheless, even the most devout among them were also affected, usually without any sense of contradiction, by political, economic, strategic, racial, and ethnic considerations, as well as by personal feelings about worldly success, power, and glory. Furthermore, American foreign policy decisions, especially those relating to expansion, war, and peace, have affected religious life as well as the other way around.

Nor has a high level of religious commitment been constant throughout American history. Both the intensity of belief in the aggregate and the strength of particular religious groups have waxed and waned. So have interdenominational tolerance, competition, and cooperation. Religious groups have proliferated for reasons ranging from constitutional disestablishment to theological disagreement to mass immigration. In this context—and much to the consternation of clergy committed to one orthodoxy or another—individual Americans have always tended to create their own syncretic belief systems.


Abrams, Elliott, ed. The Influence of Faith: Religious Groups and U. S. Foreign Policy. Lanham, Md., 2001. Essays on the contemporary situation by authors from diverse ideological perspectives.

Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven, Conn., 1972. Still the best one-volume survey.

Chatfield, Charles. The American Peace Movement: Ideals and Activism. New York, 1992. Historical survey from a sociological perspective.

Ehrman, John. The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs, 1945–1994. New Haven, Conn., 1995. The best study of the neoconservatives and foreign policy.

Fairbank, John K., ed. The Missionary Enterprise in China and America. Cambridge, Mass., 1974. Excellent collection of essays with implications beyond China.

Feingold, Henry L. The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938–1945. New Brunswick, N.J., 1970. Still the most insightful study of Roosevelt's policy.

Field, James A., Jr. America and the Mediterranean World, 1776–1882. Princeton, N.J., 1969. Much material on missionaries.

Flynn, George Q. Roosevelt and Romanism: Catholics and American Diplomacy, 1937–1945. Westport, Conn., 1976. The standard work on the subject.

Fogarty, Gerald P. The Vatican and the American Hierarchy from 1870 to 1965. Stuttgart, Germany, 1982. Good coverage of the hierarchy's role in American politics and foreign policy.

Gribbin, William. The Churches Militant: The War of 1812 and American Religion. New Haven, Conn., 1973. The standard work on the subject.

Hall, Mitchell K. Because of Their Faith: CALCAV and Religious Opposition to the Vietnam War. New York, 1990. Standard account of the main religious group opposing the war.

Harrington, Fred Harvey. God, Mammon, and the Japanese: Dr. Horace N. Allen and Korean American Relations, 1884–1908. Madison, Wis., 1994. Biography of an important missionary and diplomat.

Hennesey, James. American Catholics: A History of the Roman Catholic Community in the United States. New York, 1981. Still the best one-volume synthesis.

Hero, Alfred O., Jr. American Religious Groups View Foreign Policy: Trends in Rank-and-File Opinion, 1937–1969. Durham, N.C., 1973. Good use of survey data.

Hunter, Jane. The Gospel of Gentility: American Women Missionaries in Turn of the Century China. New Haven, Conn., 1984. Fine social history with implications beyond China.

Jacobs, Sylvia M., ed. Black Americans and the Missionary Movement in Africa. Westport, Conn., 1982. An anthology that approaches the subject from varied angles.

Johannsen, Robert W. To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination. New York, 1985. Places the religious response in broad cultural context.

Latourette, Kenneth Scott. The Great Century in the United States of America A.D. 1800–A.D. 1914. Volume 4 of The Expansion of Christianity. New York, 1941. Insightful pioneering work.

Marchand, C. Roland. The American Peace Movement and Social Reform, 1898–1918. Princeton, N.J., 1972. The best treatment of the Progressive-era religious peace movement is in chapter 9.

May, Ernest R. Imperial Democracy: The Emergence of America As a Great Power. New York, 1961. New edition, Chicago, 1991. Good on religious aspects of 1898 diplomacy.

Merk, Frederick. Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: A Reinterpretation. New York, 1963. An astute essay on the varied conceptions of American mission in the nineteenth century.

Pierard, Richard V., and Robert D. Linder. Civil Religion and the Presidency. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1988. The best single account of the subject.

Piper, John F., Jr. The American Churches and World War I. Athens, Ohio, 1985. The standard work on the subject.

Pratt, Julius W. Expansionists of 1898: The Acquisition of Hawaii and the Spanish Islands. Baltimore, 1936. Chapter 8 is still a valuable analysis of religious opinion.

Ribuffo, Leo P. "God and Jimmy Carter." In his Right Center Left: Essays in American History. New Brunswick, N.J., 1992. The connection between Carter's Niebuhrian beliefs and his foreign policy.

Rosenthal, Steven T. Irreconcilable Differences: The Waning of the American Jewish Love Affair with Israel. Hanover, N.H., 2001. Thorough treatment of American Jewish attitudes toward Israel.

Sachar, Howard M. A History of the Jews in America. New York, 1992. Comprehensive survey.

Sarna, Jonathan. Jacksonian Jew: The Two Worlds of Mordecai Noah. New York, 1981. Biography of an important early diplomat and politician.

Silk, Mark. Spiritual Politics: Religion and America Since World War II. New York, 1988. Insightful essay on religion and politics.

Toulouse, Mark G. The Transformation of John Foster Dulles: From Prophet of Realism to Prophet of Nationalism. Macon, Ga., 1985. The fullest examination of Dulles and religion.

Welch, Richard E., Jr. Response to Imperialism: The United States and the Philippine-American War, 1899–1902. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1979. Good account of religious opinion and conflicts in chapter 6.

Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941–1945. New York, 1984. A broad look at American attitudes.

See also Colonialism and Neocolonialism ; Continental Expansion ; Cultural Imperialism ; Dissent in Wars ; Immigration ; Nativism ; Pacifism ; Race and Ethnicity ; Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy .

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