What fascinates me most about these religious freedom conversations—within the U.S. and between America and the world—are the words we use. Some words, even with the very best of intentions, mean very different things to different audiences. Assuming we have been careful about our diction, what “we” say nevertheless is often not what “they” hear, and vice-versa. For example, I don’t like the term “secularism.” It rings of laïcité, which perhaps works for the French, but is certainly not germane to the American experience. Meanwhile, for my Muslim friends, “secularism” suggests a godless society—something inconceivable to them, and, for that matter, to me. … Here’s another term that is more complicated than it seems: “Cairo Speech.” I was in Pakistan recently, and a thoughtful person told me that he was tired of Cairo speeches. Between Condoleezza Rice’s speech there in 2005, which I had forgotten about, and Barack Obama’s speech in 2009, nothing had fundamentally changed.Read the rest of Words for a faithful world.
Chris Seiple, Ph.D., is the president of the Institute for Global Engagement. He is also the founder of The Review of Faith & International Affairs, a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (Philadelphia), and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (New York) and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London). His book, The U.S. Military/NGO Relationship in Humanitarian Interventions, is a seminal work in the field, and he is the co-author of International Religious Freedom Advocacy: A Guide to Organizations, Law, and NGOs (Baylor University Press, 2009). He wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Uzbekistan.