The political process has been a part of my life since early childhood, but one event occupies a place of singular importance in solidifying my commitment to politics. The local government of Havre, Montana was standard dinner conversation fare between my father, the assistant city clerk, and my mother, an elementary school teacher. My mother's salary and job resources require voters' support for the annual mill levy and my dad serves at the pleasure of the mayor, so Election Day always combined excitement and fear. Elections were always important in an abstract sense, but not until third grade did the democratic process' realities become concrete. Returning home from soccer practice, I saw my mother weeping for the first time. My gut reaction, apart from tears, was that 'there must have been a death or accident. I soon discovered that, for the first time in my life, a local mill levy failed. At the time, I could not make the connection between my mother's pain and the voter's concerns ab out taxation and funding allocation, all I saw was her suffering. My understanding of the mill levy process has changed significantly over the years, but the lesson that simply having elections does not guarantee the best policies remains. I began avidly following local, state, national and eventually international events and engaging in political discussions with my relatives, friends, and teachers: two passions that continue to this day. !
In contrast to my fascination with politics, my early interactions with religious institutions were characterized by apathy that bordered on dislike. The early morning Lutheran church service followed by Sunday school never excited me. I simply did not appreciate religious practice in the same way that I appreciated sleep. Not surprisingly, I never really considered a religious studies major. That changed in college when I began rigorously studying religion to enhance my understanding of domestic and international politics. I developed an interest in religion as a remarkably potent force in shaping human behavior and ended up with a double major in political science and religious studies. My view of religion expanded as I examined religious practice not just as something that is simply performed, but also as something that is studied, debated, and lived - not unlike politics. I became alive to the religious aspects of policy in areas ranging from lobbying by religious organizations, such as efforts by the Christian Coalition to prevent foreign aid funding for overseas abortions, to the large role religion plays in many of the world's most violent and enduring past and current conflicts, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Though barely scratching the surface of what Delhi -let alone India - had to offer, my abbreviated trip to India last year presented an opportunity to contextualize abstract ideas into practical religious politics. I talked to people about the tensions over Kashmir and the importance of the government being perceived as strong in relation to Pakistan for the upcoming state elections, government corruption, and the continuing religious strife in Gujarat I listened to my landlord describe his experiences moving to De1hi from the Punjab region after the subcontinent's partition along religious lines. My experiences in the world's largest, but deeply troubled, democracy highlighted the importance of discourse both domestically and abroad with different cultures and religions as well as the need for constant vigilance in upholding democratic ideals that transcends casting an occasional ballot.
As a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, I have been able to use my educational training in Washington's dynamic policy world. I have had the opportunity to develop new understandings about the foreign policy making process and how different actors attempt to influence it As I research and write about topics as varied as Latvian political finance reform to patterns in Iraqi resistance to the United States led occupation, I have gained a fuller appreciation of the nuances of foreign policy. This is particularly true of the personal or bureaucratic relationships not described in newspapers, magazines, or academic journals. But most importantly, I have seen concrete proof of the belief that inspired my interest in politics: that a good idea combined the passion to work towards its actualization can influence the world for the better.
Over a decade after the mill levy's failure, I am still intrigued by the workings of governments and profoundly concerned about the impact of policy decisions on people. By pursuing an Oxford degree in International Relations, I will develop the skills and context necess'4ry to understand the interplay between religion, democracy, and domestic considerations in international relations. A Rhodes Scholarship also provides an opportunity to study international politics in a different political environment The United Kingdom has substantially different perceptions of international events, no written constitution, no legally mandated separation of church and state, and a parliamentary government system These factors substantially influence how individuals conceptualize events and policy, making study in England the ideal way to further my understanding of religion and politics. A Rhodes Scholarship provides the necessary foundation for public service to which I plan to dedicate my life. I firmly believe in the power of discourse and an MPhil in International Relations prepares me to produce academic work that clarifies the interplay between religion, democracy, and domestic policy to help both state and non-state actors understand and alleviate international conflict Finally, but perhaps most importantly, Oxford provides excellent preparation for my ultimate goal of serving as a government policymaker working towards international peace.