Miller Center

Shannon Nix

History, University of Virginia

‘The Soul of our Foreign Policy’: Human Rights Politics, U.S. Foreign Policy, and the Struggle for Central America, 1976-1984

Nix photo

Shannon Nix’s dissertation examines a series of transnational political struggles waged on the terrain of human rights and their influence on U.S. policy toward overlapping Central American crises during the Carter and Reagan administrations.  While recognizing the importance of traditional U.S. policymakers, it draws attention to the contribution of non-governmental organizations in Washington and their transnational advocacy networks. Often staffed by former missionaries, as well as civil rights and antiwar activists, many had close ties to mainstream religious groups. Increasingly disillusioned with U.S. Cold War policy, they sought to change Washington’s policy toward nations tragically riven by intransigent inequality and civil war. Building on longstanding commitments to the Social Gospel, fused with emerging theological commitments to ecumenicism and social justice, they used human rights politics to shape both policy and the domestic political climate. More than a Cold War struggle for Central American hearts and minds, this was, quite literally, one for the “soul of American foreign policy.”

Fellowship year: 2016

Mentor: William Michael Schmidli, Bucknell University

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