Knox Thames is a visiting expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace with the Middle East and Religion and Inclusive Societies teams. Thames joined USIP after 20 years of government service, including at the State Department and two different U.S. government foreign policy commissions.

Most recently, Thames served across two administrations as the special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia at the U.S. Department of State. The first to serve in this capacity, he received a civil service appointment in September 2015 to lead State Department efforts to address the situation of religious minorities in these regions.

Thames previously served on the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe—also known as the Helsinki Commission—as well as with the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, AmeriCorps, and the U.S. Army War College as an adjunct research professor. In addition to USIP, he is currently a senior fellow with the Institute for Global Engagement, with both positions made possible thanks to the Templeton Religion Trust.

Reflecting his expertise on religion and global affairs, Thames’ articles have appeared in the Yale Journal of International Affairs, the Small Wars Journal, and the Georgetown Journal for International Affairs. He was the initiator and lead author of “International Religious Freedom Advocacy: A Guide to Organizations, Law and NGOs” published by Baylor University Press. He has spoken before the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, the European Parliament, the OSCE, and the U.S. military war colleges.

Thames received a bachelor’s from Georgetown College, a Juris Doctorate from American University's Washington College of Law, and a master's in international affairs from the School of International Service at American University. In addition, he studied at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland.

Publications By Knox

Finding Common Ground on U.S. International Religious Freedom Policy

Finding Common Ground on U.S. International Religious Freedom Policy

Thursday, May 20, 2021

By: Peter Mandaville, Ph.D.; Knox Thames; Emily Scolaro

On May 12, Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued the Biden administration’s first annual religious freedom report. It was accompanied by a strong speech, highlighting the importance of the issue and singling out countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia and Nigeria, among others, for their particularly severe violations. The secretary also made a point to establish that the Biden administration’s approach emphasizes that the right to religious freedom is one component of an integrated human rights agenda. This stands in contrast to others who view religious freedom to be of unique importance and deserving of singular attention. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Religion; Human Rights

How Military Chaplains Are Key Agents for Peace for the U.S. Armed Forces

How Military Chaplains Are Key Agents for Peace for the U.S. Armed Forces

Monday, April 5, 2021

By: Knox Thames; Melissa Nozell

Over the past few decades, U.S. military chaplains have increasingly played a key role in promoting peaceful resolutions in conflict environments. While their primary mission across the service branches is pastoral care — leading religious services, providing counsel and offering spiritual guidance, for example — military chaplains have also, at times, served as liaisons and bridge-builders with local religious leaders.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Religion

Missing Piece of the Puzzle: Preserving Religious Diversity by Protecting the Past

Missing Piece of the Puzzle: Preserving Religious Diversity by Protecting the Past

Thursday, February 18, 2021

By: Knox Thames

The United Nations General Assembly in January adopted a noteworthy resolution, “Promoting a Culture of Peace and Tolerance to Safeguard Religious Sites,” highlighting the often-ignored nexus between protection of cultural heritage and preservation of religious pluralism and peaceful coexistence. The resolution’s aims are broad, calling for “strengthened international efforts to foster a global dialogue on the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels.” But it also mandates the U.N. secretary-general to convene an international conference focusing on the “United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites.”

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Religion

Knox Thames on the State of Global Religious Freedom

Knox Thames on the State of Global Religious Freedom

Monday, November 30, 2020

By: Knox Thames

As global restrictions on faith reach all-time highs, USIP’s Knox Thames say the United States must continue to be a vocal leader in combatting persecution and pursuing religious freedom, saying, “I think the time is right … anything we say goes out like a megaphone to the rest of the world.”

Type: Podcast

Religion

Human Rights Education as the Solution to Religious Persecution

Human Rights Education as the Solution to Religious Persecution

Monday, November 23, 2020

By: Knox Thames

Persecution on account of religion or belief confronts every community somewhere around the world—and it is an increasing trend. Challenges range from terrorist violence against minorities, such as ISIS’ depravations against Yazidis, to persecution by authoritarian governments, with China’s targeting of all faiths a prime example. To organize a defense of freedom of conscience and belief, the United States convened the Ministerial to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2018 and 2019, bringing together a virtual congress of nations and civil society activists from around the world. The third ministerial, organized by Poland, was held virtually in mid-November. Discussions identified challenges but also solutions. One consistent answer to the vexing problem of persecution was proffered: educating youth about human rights and pluralism.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Religion; Education & Training

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