Meet Inaugural Director of the Upcoming M.A. in International Affairs Professor Michael Driessen
Originally from Minnesota, Professor Michael Driessen holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame with a dissertation on religion and democratization in the Mediterranean. He moved to Qatar for a post-doctoral fellowship and then to Rome. He started teaching Political Science at JCU in 2012 and was recently appointed inaugural Director of the soon to be launched M.A. in International Affairs.
Congratulations on being appointed Director of the soon to be launched M.A. in International Affairs. How do you envision the program?
Thank you! We are quite excited about the program and have been preparing it for a number of years thanks to a generous donation from the Hon. Frank J. Guarini, Chair Emeritus of the JCU Board of Trustees. We’ve designed the degree to build on the existing strengths of John Cabot that have long made the University a particularly well-suited place to study international affairs. These include JCU’s cosmopolitan student body and its dynamic, international faculty, both of which are brought alive by a strong liberal arts learning environment and the incredible setting of Rome. Many people don’t realize just how important Rome is for global politics and policy making. As the diplomatic seat of Italy and the Holy See, as well as a major U.N. hub for food security and development, Rome is a key diplomatic node in the region that bridges Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic. Ultimately, we aim to take full advantage of these strengths to train students for a professional career in international affairs.
What advantages would a student get by pursuing an M.A. in International Affairs at JCU?
Students will have the opportunity to engage the institutional, professional, and policy making worlds in a genuinely multicultural environment. They will be challenged by an academically rigorous program and mentored by fantastic faculty in the liberal arts tradition while doing so. Students will also have access to a strong network of relationships that John Cabot University has cultivated with international organizations and firms in Rome and abroad. I think we have an uncommon combination of strengths here at JCU and I think our students will come away ready for their next big steps in the world of international affairs.
What research projects are you currently working on?
Over the last five years I’ve been working on a research project that I call the “Global Politics of Interreligious Dialogue.” The project explores the growth of state-supported dialogue initiatives over the last decade and their use as a tool for foreign policy making and international cooperation. I focus on four particular interreligious initiatives across the Middle East, in Lebanon, Algeria, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, and over the last five years I’ve travelled across the region conducting interviews for the project. I view these initiatives as teaching us important – and sometimes contradictory – lessons about how religion is operating in late modernity. For example, states often try to use these initiatives in the service of authoritarian ends. At the same time, some of the same initiatives have generated important new thinking around concepts like inclusive citizenship and human fraternity in the region. They have also mobilized multi-religious coalitions for humanitarian ends.
Tell us about your latest publications.
I am just coming out with a new book this semester entitled The Global Politics of Interreligious Dialogue: Religious Change, Citizenship and Solidarity in the Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2023). I’ve also recently helped edit a volume on inclusive citizenship and human fraternity that was published together with the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Adyan Foundation in Lebanon. The book brings together a number of voices working at the crossroads of religion, policy, and diplomacy, and I think it reflects the emergence of that constellation as a critical set of actors and institutions in contemporary global politics.
What is the role of religion in a world that is becoming more and more secularized?
I think it is helpful to think about an ongoing transformation of religion within Western societies into a multiplicity of forms rather than simply a process of secularization. So that could include the dramatic growth in numbers of youth across the United States and Europe who do not identify themselves institutionally with any specific religion but who still attach importance to various forms of spirituality and often in experimental ways. It also includes the rise of powerful new movements like Christian Nationalism. And, of course, much of the world outside of Europe and the United States is deeply religious and growing – a recent, much-cited Pew Research statistic reports that more than 8 in 10 people worldwide identify with a religious group. All of this has consequences for global politics, and it makes the role of religion in the world critical, dynamic, plural, and very, very important to study- especially in the Eternal City of Rome!
Anything else you’d like to add?
One of the things I have always loved about John Cabot is that the culture of the student body here is so alive, both intellectually and creatively. If you want to really grapple with the big questions facing global politics today and invest yourself in the study of ideas and practices, then I think John Cabot is a magnificent place to do just that. We’re eagerly looking forward to welcoming our first cohort of students for the M.A. in International Affairs in the Fall of 2024 and that means we’ll already be accepting applications for the program throughout the 2023-2024 academic year. Check out our program website and think about applying!