Besides taking classes, going on site visits, and participating in cultural experiences in Italy, our students also attend academic colloquia each semester.This past week our PC in Rome Program sponsored an academic colloquium at CEA with Victoria Alvarado, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican.
Her lecture topic was “Diplomacy, Religion, and Conflict Resolution”. She spoke about her experience in promoting religious freedom and diplomacy and partnering with religious leaders worldwide to work for peace in the face of violent extremism.
A career diplomat, Mrs. Alvarado joined the U.S. State Department in 1996. She has held a range of overseas and domestic assignments focused on Latin America, Muslim-majority countries, and on the nexus between national security and religion. Mrs. Alvarado recently completed a senior-level Master’s degree program at the National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs, where her thesis assessed the effectiveness of partnerships between governments and religious leaders in countering violent extremism.
Coming just five days after the Paris attacks, her topic, peace building in the face of violent religious extremism, was very apropos. Mrs. Alvarado began by tracing the history of religious freedom in the United States and explaining how embedded it is in the American project. She then explained how the U.S. State Department has evolved in its treatment of religion as a serious part of diplomacy. This is because of the growing importance of religion to foreign policy and national security.
Mrs. Alvarado’s Washington assignments have included director of the Office for International Religious Freedom, strategic planning adviser for the Bureau of Conflict Stabilization Operations, and director for Central America and Caribbean Affairs at the National Security Council. She commenced her assignment as Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See in August 2014.
She explained the multi-pronged approach that the U.S. State Department has in incorporating religion into the education, mandate, and policies of American diplomats around the world. This is evident in the Religion and Foreign Policy working group, the Secretary of State’s religion and foreign policy mandate, and the creation of the post of senior adviser on religious minorities.
After her lecture, there was a robust question and answer period during which many students asked about current affairs, the refugee crisis, the reality of ISIS, and the U.S. government’s policies to combat violent religious extremism. In fact, Mrs. Alvarado ended up staying longer than expected to interact with students and answer every last question from the floor. Afterward there was a reception where the conversation continued over refreshments.
The purpose of these colloquia sponsored by CEA and PC each semester is to give students and faculty an opportunity to interact outside of the classroom in high quality academic exchange and dialogue. Indeed, our Fall Colloquium helped to “keep the study in study abroad” – which is always one of our mottoes here in Rome. Keeping the kind of academic integrity that Providence College expects and requires is a constant focus of our programming. And our evening with Deputy Chief of Mission Alvarado did just that.