The simplest definition of the word diplomacy would be "tact or skill in dealing with people."
However it would an injustice to simplify the term diplomacy to the mere definition given above as the term diplomacy encapsulates so much more. It can also be defined as the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of states. It usually refers to international diplomacy, the conduct of international relations through the intercession of professional diplomats with regards to issues of peace-making, trade, war, economics, culture, environment and human rights. During the Cold War era, the role of religion was ignored by scholars of international relations, in particular the scholars who studied international conflict. The western circles considered religion to be a declining force in politics in general. No one would have predicted that religion in its many forms would during the 1990's become an alternative to the competing ideologies that dominated world politics in the 1950's and 1960's namely - communism, socialism, liberalism and capitalism. The concept of religion and its significance in matters regarding international politics didn't gain considerable impetus until the aftermath of the Second World War and the process of decolonisation that followed, which created a large number of new states that were on the whole culturally fragmented, had rapidly growing populations, unstable governments and were virtually struggling to deal with numerous complex problems that they couldn't find a solution to, in such a limited amount of time. These new states had no particular affinity towards the international status quo. However, they had no choice but to accept it upon achieving independence. The citizens of the newly formed states were found to be caught between the government’s effort to modernise their societies along modern cultural lines while also attempting to preserve their long-held cultural and religious beliefs. Yet, this effort failed for most part as it was soon released that secularism proliferates at the expense of cultural pluralism and the human need for sacred authenticity.
According to Sam Huntington in his much acclaimed book titled "Clash of Civilisations" he has pointed out that as modern diplomacy became systemized in the 17th and 18th centuries, wars of religion gave way to wars of national interest in the age of nationalism. To this day conventional wisdom holds either that religion is irrelevant to diplomacy in the modern secular nationalist age or it is the source of future conflicts. Religion over the years has grown more central in international politics and hence, diplomacy. This has occurred with the increase in religious, ethnic and national conflict on all continents along with the collapse of unpopular or unstable governments. But religion cannot be looked upon as a solely negative factor as religion still continues to play a very important role and may even play a positive role in diplomacy and conflict resolution. If some religious values strengthen diplomacy then diplomacy too will be capable of providing tools for managing or even resolving disagreements and easing religious conflicts. The biggest impediment to this positive outcome is the lack of knowledge and correct information by major social groups about religious and diplomatic linkages. Religion has different roles at different times at different places. Like in the case of the Iranian revolution which placed religion at the forefront of the society and policy-making on all issues. It totally changed Iran's government from a secularising and modernising monarchy to a theocratic, religious fundamentalist state and society. The Khomeini revolution initiated the new discussion of the importance of religion in international affairs and is often considered the benchmark for the religious involvement in politics. Less well known is the role of the Protestant Church played in the demise of the German Republic, when the federation of Evangelical churches provided space for discussion of politics and privately urged the regime toward a more open and progressive society. This led to church support for a series of demonstrations across East Germany which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the German Democratic Republic. The Catholic and Protestant traditions have been well documented in diplomatic history and literature, forming the base for the Westphalian diplomacy of the past 400 years. The Protestant rejection of hierarchy and focus on individual salvation mingled with the American Democratic experiment and till today fuels American idealism and universal rights aspirations. The Eastern Orthodox Church has always played a significant role in the newly-acquired independent Eastern European region, which has channeled orthodox religion activity along nationalist lines with residual criticism of free market economics and open political debate which is seen as a challenge to the existing monopoly.
Religions around the world are following the trend of revivalism. It’s a growing phenomenon where religion is being used as a grand umbrella to bring together the people belonging to a particular faith in such globalised times as a unified global community. Politically, Islamist resurgence mainly revolves around Islamic regimes in Iran, Sudan and Taliban Afghanistan and resonates with the regimes in the Middle East region as well as secular countries of Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Pakistan, and while these countries are not themselves projecting its resurgence, they nonetheless have made some concessions to its growing popularity. The Islamist revivalism has led to the manifestation of conservative Islamization of Muslim societies, a greater focus on religious piety and a growing adoption of conservative Islamic culture among Muslims. Islamic revivals have traditionally had periodic occurrences throughout the Islamic world, usually believed to be led by a "reviver". It is believed that the reviver will fear no one but God, and put a stop to religious ignorance and false innovations. For example, in 1971 the constitution of Egypt was made to specify that the "Sharia" was the main source of legislation. While a bill was introduced in Pakistan to legalise the "Sharia" and to be regarded as an exclusive source of law as early as 1977, this bill was finally passed in 1993 under the Nawaz Sharif government. The Sharia penal code was also proclaimed as legal in Sudan in 1983. Polygamy was made legal under a new Family Code in South Yemen in 1993. Religious teachings were made compulsory in Turkey during the 1980's. It was noticed that doctorates were written in religious sciences comparatively more than either social sciences or literature by the end of the 1990's in Morocco. These are just a few instances where secular Muslim states have resorted to conservative Islam as a way of maintaining and promoting their culture in a time where nations of the world are on the path to "westernisation". This whole concept of westernisation is viewed with much contempt among such states and is also looked upon as a threat towards their faith. According to a study conducted by American political scientist Walter Russell Mead, Christianity is now "on it biggest roll" in its 2000 year history. Many Christians though are unaware of the faith’s phenomenal advance. Once reduced to its European roots during the prevalence of the Mongol dynasty in Asia, Christianity is facing massive resurgence in Asian countries as well. In China alone some 30,000 people a day are resorting to Christianity. It has been estimated that there are about 150 million Protestants and Catholics, compared to the 60 million communist party members. The Chinese government and its tolerance of greater religious freedom now as compared to the past is also an important factor that has contributed to the faith's revival in the nation.
"In the last few years, Christianity has surpassed Islam both as the most popular religion in the sub-Saharan Africa and as the leading Abrahamic religion in China. The Roman Catholic Church alone claims as many adherents as the number of Sunni Muslims in the world." Further, the global rise of Pentecostalism produced the fastest growth of any religious movement in history- this single church increased its membership from zero to 279 million in a course of just over 100 years according to a Pew Forum study carried out in 2011. Altogether, Christians now outnumber Muslims two to one.
Some historians count the revival of religion as a development in international politics to the creation of the state of Israel and the Arab-Islamic political response to what they considered a dismaying event. Islam and the West have been at odds since the times of the crusade, 800-plus years ago for geopolitical more than religious reasons, although these two reinforced each other throughout history. As this state of affairs became enmeshed with colonialism and the Arab nationalist response, religion took a backseat until the establishment of Israel. The Arab-Israeli Peace Process of the last 30 plus years has involved both overt and covert religious diplomacy. In Japan however religion has little role to play when it comes to diplomacy as compared to other states. Religion in Japan functions at a familial and communal level rather than at the level of universal beliefs upheld by articles of faith.
Religion has played a vital role in the articulation and dissemination of national and organizational views and though these may be distinguished from individual faith views, they obviously influence them. The faith and religious beliefs of politicians and diplomats not only affect their perception of issues but also reflects in how they implement measures and formulate policies. What is needed most in current times with the advent of post-modernism and the resurgence of both religious and social movements is better understanding of normative theory and religion for coping with the future.
-- Yanki is a student of Political Science at Delhi University.