Dissertation

How can the power of religion be used for political ends? In my dissertation, I explore how US presidential use of divine election cues activates the otherwise latent power of religion to mobilize greater foreign policy support in domestic audiences.  Combining insights from religious studies, presidential communication studies, and political science, I argue presidents’ use of religious rhetorics are foreign policy cues that shape how publics understand and construct attitudes about foreign policy.  

But not all types of religious rhetorics are effective foreign policy cues.  I focus on divine election rhetoric that claims God is on America’s side, God has uniquely blessed America to be His agent in the world, and America has a religious obligation to bring about God’s will in the world.  When presidents use divine election cues, they increase the geostrategic salience of the crisis and expectations of success.  These framing effects then produce mobilization effects and higher public support for the president’s foreign policy agenda.  Divine election cues use religious framing and are thus more effective among religious Americans. Since there are religious Americans across the partisan spectrum, I expect the use of divine election cues can mobilize both co-partisans from the President’s party and contra-partisans otherwise opposed to the President.  

Using an original dataset on presidential religious rhetoric and an original compilation of all foreign policy polls fielded during US foreign policy crises from 1946 to 2006, I find robust historical evidence that presidential use of divine election cues do mobilize co-partisans and contra-partisans.  These findings are corroborated by a survey experiment that identify the framing effects of the divine election mechanism and further evidence of the co-partisan and contra-partisan mobilization effects of divine election cues.  Finally, I conclude by discussing how my empirical findings can inform and inspire further research on the role and influence of religion in international politics.

The dissertation is organized into 6 chapters.
Chapter 1: Religion and International Politics
Chapter 2: Presidential Invocations of Religion in Foreign Policy Crises
Chapter 3: Presidents’ Empirical Use of Divine Election Cues
Chapter 4: Historical Effectiveness of Divine Election Cues, 1946-2006
Chapter 5: Experimental Tests of Divine Election Mobilization Mechanism
Chapter 6: Conclusion and Implications



Fig 1: 50 most frequent words used in presidential religious rhetoric (1946-2007)