Statement of Research
(Dr. Ezell presenting at the European International Studies Association Conference in Giardini Naxos, Sicily)
My research interest focuses particularly on the intersection between state and non-state actor engagement, with an interdisciplinary concentration on international relations, comparative religious thought, and cross-cultural interaction between groups. I believe that academic research in the twenty-first century should not push to the fringe critical analysis on inter-cultural affairs that is traditionally non-secular. As a scholar and teacher, it is my position that research in this new era must incorporate new elements and challenge conventional assumptions in the fields of political science and sociology to expand the boundaries of knowledge and understanding.
INTERDISCIPLINARY THEORY (POST-SECULARISM)
In pursuing my research objective, the scope of my work is guided by the premise of post-secular thought, led by German theorist, Jürgen Habermas, which takes into account the current shift in international relations caused by an increase in religion-based activity in international affairs. The once credible secularization thesis of the twentieth-century—anticipating the decline of religion’s role in society—is challenged by a new descriptive term, post-secularism.[i] Without notice, global politics shifted over the last three decades due to an unsuspecting rise in religion-based conflict and the proliferation of non-state actors influencing the international agenda. While the secular remains a fixed element in the field of international relations, its role is becoming less predominant in the world. The present shift toward a post-secular era “refers not only to the fact that religion is holding its own in an increasingly secular environment [but] that society must assume that religious fellowship will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.”[ii]
Post-secular thought does not regard the present decline in Western secular influence in the world as the end of secularism. It accepts that while the secular is holding a principal position in international relations, the confidence of traditional realism and the rational actor model of decision-making is confronted by a new challenge.
Hence, this interdisciplinary theory pushes my research in two immediate ways. On the one hand, it lifts the perspective that an intersection in international relations, religion, and culture are required variables for performing effective political analysis to quell emerging conflicts, especially those emerging in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). On the other hand, I believe that it is necessary to apply “cultural competence” as a practical tool in public and private sector relations to promote new modes of diplomacy to reach nation state interests. Several important research projects that I have led in the United States and Europe include a focus on South Asia and the MENA region: The EU and Turkish Integration Project (Prague, 2006), Faith Diplomacy in U.S. Public Diplomacy (2010), Enriching Religious Peacemaking in South-Asia (2010), and Examining the Dysfunction of an Anti-Islamic Film (2012), launching the M.A. in Interfaith Action (Peace and Social Justice) Program (2014), and founding the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Foreign Affairs at Claremont Lincoln University (2016).
Several of these projects emerged while I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of Birmingham (United Kingdom) researching state/non-state actor relations between the U.S. Department of State and the Arab world. I conducted pre-doctoral research in 2005 in North and West Africa that led to my intersecting political and comparative religious theories to develop the post-secular communication framework. My fieldwork demonstrated that theory alone could not explain the intricacies of diplomacy or quell new wars caused by religion-based conflict. It demonstrated that hands-on quantitative and qualitative research and interaction with an audience yield more practicable results. I applied this formula while working as a research fellow at the U.S. Department of State and later at the William J. Clinton Foundation (University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service). While at the University of Birmingham, my mentors Scott Lucas and David Cheetham highlighted the imperative of employing practical engagement beyond theory when conducting research on post-secular issues in this new era. This appreciation translated into a core argument of my award-winning doctoral dissertation, “Diplomacy and the Muslim World: The Possibility of the Post-secular and Interfaith Dialogue.” Whilst serving as an advisor to governmental leaders and NGO officials, I would later publish the notable book in 2012, Beyond Cairo: U.S. Engagement with the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan), a set of recommendations for the Obama White House on strengthening public diplomacy with Middle Eastern communities.
[i] See Jürgen Habermas, “Notes on a Post-Secular Society” (June 2008) [article online]; available from http://print.signandsight.com/features/1714.html; Internet, accessed October 2011; Troy Dostert, Beyond Political Liberalism: Toward a Post-Secular Ethics of Public Life (Indiana: Notre Dame Univ. Press, 2006); Roger Trigg, Religion in Public Life: Must Faith be Privatized (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2007).
[ii] Jürgen Habermas and Benedict Joseph Ratzinger, Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), 46.