Changing Chaplaincy: a Contribution to Debate over the Roles of US and British Military Chaplains in Afghanistan

Stacey Gutkowski, George Wilkes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article addresses the challenges presented to NATO military chaplains in conflicts waged in
majority-Muslim countries, focusing on the British and US experience in Afghanistan. Though the
two militaries have quite different formal guidelines for chaplains about relations with local
populations, it is argued here that the challenges for chaplains relating with local religious actors
are in many respects similar. Recent changes to chaplaincy guidelines in Afghanistan have reflected
a recognition of their potential to act as interpreters for soldiers facing a religious ‘frontier’ with
which they are ill-equipped to grapple. However, chaplain engagement with locals on a religious
basis is not uncontroversial. With this in mind, this article focuses on the symbolic status of the
military chaplain, both within the military and in encounters with locals. Though the symbolism of
a Christian chaplain in this context is not unproblematic, it is argued that ultimately chaplains
could contribute to the navigation of differences and commonalities between soldiers and civilians.
However, at present military chaplains are inadequately trained to deal with the religious Muslim
populations they encounter in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere. The contribution closes with
conclusions about likely developments in the roles and training of chaplains deployed in Muslimmajority
countries in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-124
Number of pages14
JournalReligion, State and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2011


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