Meet State Department’s New Head of Religious Outreach

Meet State Department’s New Head of Religious Outreach

On July 15, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry appointed Shaun Casey to become the Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Previously, he was at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, where he is Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the National Capital Semester for Seminarians (NCSS). Mr. Casey served as senior advisor for religious affairs for the 2008 Obama campaign and was National Evangelical Coordinator in the 2008 presidential campaign. His research interests include ethics and international affairs, the public implications of religious belief, and the intersection of religion and politics.

He is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School with a Master of Divinity Degree and a Doctor of Theology in Religion and Society. He also earned a Master of Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University with a concentration in International Security. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Abilene Christian University. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion and served as chair of its Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion. He was a visiting scholar at the Center for American Progress and a subject matter expert in religion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In a recent interview with me for The Islamic Monthly, Mr. Casey discussed his new role within the State Department and how religious outreach will be used in America’s public diplomacy efforts around the world.


Shaun Casey Photo courtesy of the State Department.

Shaun Casey
Photo courtesy of the State Department.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: What is your official title at State Department?

SHAUN CASEY: I am Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Faith-Based Community Initiatives.


ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: How did this office and your role come about?

SHAUN CASEY: Over the past few years, officials at the State Department came to realize two things:  first, that faith-based communities are deeply relevant to U.S. foreign policy goals and strategic interests around the world, and second, that we lacked an office that had an explicit mandate to reach out to these groups and work with them towards shared objectives. 

As a result, Secretary of State John Kerry decided to launch this Office, and invited me to head it, soon after he was confirmed as Secretary of State.  I have had the privilege of knowing Secretary Kerry for eight years during which time I have advised him on the intersection of religion and foreign policy and the key role of faith-based engagement in advancing human rights, promoting development, alleviating poverty and mitigating conflict.


ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: What is the mission and vision of this position?

SHAUN CASEY: During the rollout event for the Office in August, Secretary Kerry said that we should not ignore the role of religion in global politics.  I couldn’t agree more.  In order to fight extreme poverty, to promote human rights, and to mitigate conflict and build peace, the United States government has to be able to understand the power of religion to help us achieve these goals while acknowledging that at times, religion can be a force aligned against these goals. 

This new Office seeks to help our government deepen the sophistication of its engagement in these areas. 

I describe our mission as having three broad tasks.  First, we will help to build the capacity of the Department of State to engage with religious communities around the world on a broad range of diplomacy and development efforts.  Second, we will advise the Secretary on the religious dimensions of policies he is working on.  Third, we will serve as a conduit for external stakeholders who want to learn more about the work of the Department.


ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: How will the State Department office be different than other entities like the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) or the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (WHOFBNP)?

SHAUN CASEY: There are many offices in the U.S. government that address issues relating to religion, but none of them has the explicit mandate of this Office, which is to engage with faith communities around the world. The State Department’s IRF Office addresses international religious freedom, as does USCIRF, a congressionally mandated commission that is independent of the State Department. And the WHOFBNP addresses issues primarily related to domestic faith communities. We have a partnership with each of these offices, but our mission is distinct.


U.S. State Department Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

U.S. State Department
Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: With many conflicts around the world centered in Muslim majority nations, how do you envision this new State Department office will conduct outreach with religious institutions and figures in the Muslim world? (meaning how will you pick with whom to dialogue, etc.)

SHAUN CASEY: Our Office is expansive and inclusive in its outreach to religious groups.  Many Muslim groups provide humanitarian aid, support global human rights, and mitigate conflict, which are objectives the USG shares.  I have already met with a number of Muslim leaders and organizations and that number will continue to grow.


ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Do you envision leveraging American Muslim stakeholders to help conduct outreach with figures in the Muslim world?

SHAUN CASEY: The simple answer is yes.  Already we have found many American Muslim stakeholders who are eager to support the work of the Office and to promote its mission.  Going forward we will build our global relationships with the indispensable help of these stakeholders.  Islamic Relief USA held a meeting with a number of American Muslim organizations to introduce the mission of our Office.  These sorts of connections have already proven helpful in the early stage of our work.

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