Greenberg Center at Trinity College Hosts Lecture by Expert in Religion and Politics

Shaun Casey was Head of Department of Religion and Global Affairs during Obama Administration

​Hartford, Connecticut, March 8, 2018 — Shaun Casey—a leading expert on issues of religion and politics who established and led the Department of Religion and Global Affairs in the U.S. State Department during the Obama administration—spoke recently at Trinity College as a distinguished visiting fellow in Trinity’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. His lecture, “Religion and American Diplomacy: From Obama to Trump,” discussed the role of religion in foreign affairs. Casey spoke in Mather Hall’s Alumni Lounge on February 17 to a crowd of students, staff, faculty, and the public. The lecture was presented in affiliation with the Trinity program, “Bridging Divides: Higher Education’s Role in Advancing Understanding and Promoting a Just Society.”

Shaun Casey speaks at Trinity College on February 17. ​

Casey is now the director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and a professor of the practice in Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. A mutual colleague introduced Casey to former U.S. Senator John Kerry in 2005. Their conversation on religion in electoral campaigns developed into a discussion on religion in foreign policy. In February 2013, Kerry became Secretary of State under President Barack Obama and decided to establish a religious authority bureau within the State Department. Less than a month later, Casey was invited to establish and lead the Department of Religion and Global Affairs, which he did for four years.

During the lecture, Casey shared the department’s mission with the audience. “Our primary role was to advise Secretary Kerry when religion came across his portfolio. There were 70,000 people in the State Department at that time, and we made sure that everyone had the capacity to understand religion in various contexts,” he said. “The department served as the port-of-call for anyone who wanted to work on their issues that related to religion or partner with a religious organization.” 

Casey and his department had the opportunity to connect politicians and religious groups and work together during one of the negotiations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Our presence gave American religious leaders a seat at the table,” Casey said. “I am Christian, but I could also relate to people of Jewish and Muslim faith. I feel it’s important that everyone have a voice in the discussion.”

Religious forces and group organizations have played a role in major international conflicts, such as the Iraq War, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and the Syrian Civil War, Casey said. “There are over 40 million displaced peoples in the world today. Religion often drives refugees to leave their countries, but religious groups are also at the forefront of helping people re-settle,” he said.

Although President Donald Trump disbanded the Department of Religion and Global Affairs upon taking office, the work continues to be important in the world today, said Casey, who remains optimistic about the role of religion in humanitarian efforts. “I have good faith in the concept of religion in foreign affairs. I think we’ve proven the validity of our work, and I am hopeful for the future,” he said.

Each year, the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life selects a leading scholar of religion to spend a week on the college’s campus. Greenberg Center Director and Professor of Religion in Public Life Mark Silk said, “Leonard Greenberg had originally proposed a lecture series, but I suggested that we invite a distinguished fellow instead. The fellows spend time on the campus, speak with the faculty and students, and really get a feel for Trinity.”

During his visit, Casey attended classes and other programs where he met with students. Brandon Campbell ’18 had lunch with Casey through the Greenberg Center’s undergraduate fellowship, Climate Change Plus. “Religion and its impact on domestic and international American diplomacy is an increasingly important issue in the United States, particularly under the current presidential administration,” said Campbell. “I think getting insight from someone whose experiences have put him on the front lines of these issues is great for students and Trinity as a whole.”

The Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life was established at Trinity College in 1996 to advance knowledge and understanding of the varied roles that religious movements, institutions, and ideas play in the contemporary world; to explore challenges posed by religious pluralism and tensions between religious and secular values; and to examine the influence of religion on politics, civic culture, family life, gender roles, and other issues in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Non-sectarian and non-partisan, the Center sponsors public lectures, organizes conferences and workshops, contributes to the liberal arts curriculum, and supports the publication and dissemination of materials for both academic and general audiences. The Center’s name honors Leonard E. Greenberg, a 1948 graduate of Trinity College who was a business leader and philanthropist with a passionate commitment to religion and politics. He died in 2017 at age 89.

To learn more about the Greenberg Center at Trinity College, click here.

Written by Lucy Peng ’18