Providential Religious Beliefs and U.S. Foreign Policy

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Principal investigator:

Rebecca A. Glazier

University of Arkansas at Little Rock



Sample size: 473

Field period: 7/11/2008-7/26/2008


Historically, religion has influenced U.S. foreign policy in both subtle and overt ways. But the literature remains fuzzy on some of the causal relationships. In what ways does religion influence foreign policy? This research looks to religious beliefs—in the classic religious trio of beliefs, belonging, and behavior—for answers and in the process introduces a new concept: providential religious beliefs. Those who hold providential beliefs believe that God has a plan that they need to support. This research tests the hypothesis that providential believers will be more supportive of foreign policies that they believe contribute to God’s plan, thereby explicating one causal pathway through which religion might influence foreign policy. The data support both this hypothesis and the conceptual distinction between providential beliefs and simple religiosity.


Hypothesis 1: given the religious history of the United States, foreign policies framed in terms of a providential religious duty will garner higher levels of support than either policies framed in terms of an international agreement or unframed policies.

Hypothesis 2: the presence of the providential religious frame will increase approval of the foreign policy to a greater extent for providential religious believers, compared to non-providential believers.

Hypothesis 3: providential religious beliefs constitute a significant and distinctive aspect of religious orientations and differ from simple religiosity.

Experimental Manipulations

The control condition is a hypothetical foreign policy speech given by a future president, which announces the deployment of troops and supplies in response to the collapse of the government of Moldova and the outbreak of civil war.

The first experimental condition presents the same speech as the control condition, but with a few extra sentences to justify the intervention in terms of an international agreement.

The second experimental condition presents the same speech as the control condition, but with a few extra sentences to justify the intervention in terms of a providential religious duty.


Approve/Disapprove of the hypothetical foreign policy.

Summary of Results

Logit analysis and predicted probabilities indicate that providential believers are much more likely to approve of the policy when it is framed in terms of a religious duty. In fact, the predicted probabilities show that this effect is present even for those who are strongly opposed to international intervention. For these respondents, predisposed to oppose intervention, moving from the lowest to the highest levels of providential beliefs is a 54 point jump in approval; high providential believers approve of the intervention 62% of the time.
Logit analysis also indicates a substantive difference exists between providential beliefs and simple religiosity, which supports the conclusion that providential beliefs are worth investigating further as a component of our tripartite understanding of religion: beliefs, belonging, and behavior.


Rebecca Glazier. 2011. Divine Direction: the Influence of Providential Religious Beliefs on Foreign Policy Attitudes. Sixth Biennial Symposium on Religion and Politics,The Henry Institute, Calvin College, April 28-30.