Religious Appeals in Power Politics

My new book was recently published by Cornell University Press as part of their Religion and Conflict series. You can order it here.

Religious Appeals in Power Politics examines how states use, or attempt to use, confessional appeals to religious belief and conscience to advance political strategies and objectives. Through case studies of the US, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, I demonstrate that religion, although not as high-profile or well-funded a tool as economic sanctions or threats of military force, remains a potent weapon in international relations.

Public policy analysis often minimizes the role of religion, favoring military or economic matters as the “important” arenas of policy debate. However, as I show, at transformative moments in political history, states turn to faith-based appeals to integrate or fragment international coalitions. Henne highlights Saudi Arabia’s 1960s’ rivalry with Egypt, America’s post-9/11 leadership in the Global War on Terrorism, and the Russian Federation’s contemporary expansionism to both reveal the presence and power of calls for religious unity and to emphasize the uncertainty and anxiety such appeals can create. Religious Appeals in Power Politics offers a bold corrective to those who consider religion as tangential to military or economic might.

The book has already received praise from several high-profile scholars in the field:

In his highly original book, Peter S. Henne persuasively argues that states use religious appeals to forge or deepen international cooperation to advance national interests and security goals—often by dividing adversaries—but because of the potency and malleability of faith, these appeals also produce negative effects that can undermine those same goals.

-William Inboden, author of Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945–1960

In the rapidly growing scholarship on religion and power in international relations, this book stands out for its theoretical acumen, methodological rigor, and empirical depth. Peter Henne shows us why, when, how, and to what effect states mobilize religious appeals and legitimation strategies in high-stakes power political struggles and global crisis. A must-read for scholars, students, and policymakers alike.

-Gregorio Bettiza, author of Finding Faith in Foreign Policy

Peter Henne’s book makes it clear that religion is an integral part of power politics. Both scholars and policymakers tend to treat religious rhetoric as either a mere window dressing for material interests, or as atavistic appeals outside the realm of politics. Henne persuasively demonstrates that religious appeals are simultaneously ideological and strategic, a powerful force for mobilizing coalitions that help leaders increase their influence over their opponents. Clearly written and carefully researched, Henne’s book is likely to become a standard reference on religion in international relations.

-Stacie E. Goddard, author of When Right Makes Might

Peter Henne’s is a superb piece of scholarship not only because it explains how significant religion is in global politics, but also because it does so on the home turf of the sceptics: in the analysis of power politics. And yet, the book does not succumb to the temptation of oversimplification. Its meticulously researched case studies show that religious appeals impact power politics in diverse and sometimes unexpected ways. Highly recommended!

-Petr Kratochvíl, Institute of International Relations Prague

I have presented on the book at John Cabot University in Rome, and will be talking on it at Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs in November 2023. Other talks are being planned, so I will update this page. I have also applied its arguments to current events in Ukraine in a piece at The Duck of Minerva.