Since World War II, the promotion of American-friendly “free” religion abroad has been understood to benefit the rest of the world by saving it from religious and political tyranny. For decades, the United States has designed and sponsored religious reform projects to instruct religious individuals and groups abroad on how to be free, or at least freer, versions of themselves. This chapter explores the politics of US foreign religious engagement. It argues that while religious engagement does involve an attempt to strengthen US-friendly religious authorities and communities abroad, it is, at the same time, and more fundamentally, a project of religious reform, of transforming religions into what is understood to be better versions of themselves. It discusses three empirical focal points in the history of US foreign relations that illustrate this argument, beginning with American efforts to promote “global spiritual health” during the early Cold War.
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