Religion & Peacebuilding: Actors & Activities
Religious actorsThree types of actors need to be distinguished:
Faith-based NGOsFaith-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are non-state actors that have a religious or faith core to their philosophy, membership, or programmatic approach, although they are not simply missionaries.2 An important distinction has to be made between local and international faith-based NGOs but, unlike secular international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), these generally have existing channels for communication and collaboration in the field and ready-made constituencies. According to Susan Diklitch and Heather Prince, "Faith-Based NGOs can tap into domestic church groups and congregations, who thus provide these NGOs with access to a grassroots forum. More importantly, the church, especially in Africa, holds a position of reverence, moral legitimacy, and influence, although churches and faith-based organizations have also sometimes fallen into corruption."3
Some of the key international, non-missionary faith-based NGOs include the Aga Khan Foundation, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), B'nai B'rith International (most widely known as Jewish Humanitarian), Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Islamic Relief Worldwide, Mercy Corps International, Lutheran World Relief (LWF), the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), and World Vision. They work in a large number of countries on different continents. Starting as organizations that focus largely on development issues and international aid, some of them (particularly the Christian NGOs) have gradually positioned themselves as forces for building peace in specific local contexts. Some experiences, such as in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, have deeply affected the orientation of these organizations, pushing them further into peacebuilding work.
Other faith-based NGOs have been more specifically involved in faith-based diplomacy. This is the case with the Community of Sant'Egidio, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD), and the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE). ICRD was founded by Douglas Johnston, one of the pioneers of faith-based diplomacy, and has been doing work in faith-based diplomacy in Sudan, Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere over the past 10 years or so. IGE works on religious freedom.
The Community of Sant'Egidio began in Rome in 1968 at the initiative of a young man who was then less than 20 years old, Andrea Riccardi. He gathered a group of high school students, like himself, to listen to and put the Gospel into practice with a specific orientation to service to poor people. In the last 10 years, the Community of Sant'Egidio has become increasingly well known on the international level for the contribution of some of its members as facilitators or mediators in the Mozambique and Guatemala conflicts, as well as in a number of other conflicts in Africa and the Balkans. This commitment was preceded by the International Prayer for Peace initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1986 and continued by Sant'Egidio every year since then. These gatherings led to further involvement, including the Platform for a Peaceful Resolution of the Algerian Crisis, which was a direct consequence of meetings that occurred in that context.4
Interreligious and transnational movementsInterreligious and transnational religious movements are another type of contributor to religious peacebuilding. According to R. Scott Aplleby, "Whether their major contribution lay in the provision of neutral and secure space for talks, active mediation, advocacy, education, or in serving as a liaison to external governments or relief agencies, one striking advantage of such movements [is] their ability both to build on and transcend local and regional variations in religious belief and practice."5
As the sampling of movements below suggests, these networks have multiplied as people from different faiths have recognized the importance of communication in facilitating interfaith cooperation and ending religion-based violence. It is important to stress that this list is not intended to be exhaustive.6
The International Network of Engaged Buddhists has trained Buddhist peacemakers in Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, overcoming barriers presented by the national and historical schools of Buddhism in the region.
The Institute for Interreligious Dialogue (Iran) works for greater understanding among different religious faiths. It does so in part by maintaining a library with resources on different religions and sponsoring language classes for those interested in studying Islam. It holds monthly meetings and is involved in local and international conferences to promote knowledge of other religions.
The Institute of Interfaith Dialog (IID) works to bring together representatives from different faiths around the world to promote understanding. By promoting learning about other faith traditions, it aims to build understanding of ones own faith. It also promotes efforts at religious education to eliminate ignorance.
The International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ)is an umbrella organization of Christian-Jewish dialogue organizations in nearly 40 countries around the world. The dialogues were initially in response to the Holocaust. Recently, ICCJ has been pursuing dialogue with Muslims. The organization holds annual conferences, as well as ad hoc consultations.
Religions for Peace (World Conference of Religion for Peace) is the largest international coalition of representatives from the worlds major religions dedicated to promoting peace. Its initiatives include programs on peace education; women, faith, and development; the Global Women of Faith Network and the Global Youth Network; and conflict transformation. Some recent initiatives of Religions for Peace include: building a new climate of reconciliation in Iraq; mediating dialogue among warring factions in Sierra Leone; organizing an international network of religious women's organizations; and establishing a program to assist the millions of children affected by Africa's AIDS pandemic, the Hope for African Children Initiative. Religions for Peace brings together hundreds of key religious leaders every five years to discuss urgent world issues.
United Religions Initiative (URI), created in 2000, has thousands of members representing over 100 religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions in more than 50 countries around the world. They are working to build solidarity and facilitate the spread of best practices to build cultures of peace. The centerpiece of URI is Cooperation Circles, which are regional or virtual teams made up of diverse members who identify concerns and articulate a vision of peace.
Non-religious actors supporting the role of religion and religious actors in peacebuilding
Bottom-up and top-down approaches to religious peacebuildingJohn Paul Lederach has emphasized the importance of distinguishing between three broad categories of actors: elites (people in top-level positions who have the potential to influence widely the groups ideas, practices, and values); mid-level people whose occupations are thought to have influence over smaller groups of people, in a more personal way (such as local clergy and teachers); and grassroots participants or activists.11
Scholars and practitioners do not always agree on which category of actors is likely to be the most influential. Marie Fitzduff notes, "In some cases influential leaders have opened the gate to greater respect and appreciation for difference. In other cases it had been leadership from the grassroots that has gradually enabled the institutional churches and religions to move into a more inclusive mode."12 Lederach himself has suggested that the mid-level leaders are best positioned to lead long-term peacebuilding efforts. They have greater flexibility of movement and are more numerous than top-level leaders, and they are connected to a wide range of individuals in the conflict settings through their work and professional associations. Within the religious community, the mid-level leaders are the highly respected monks, priests, ministers, ulema, rabbis, and others who serve as heads of regional religious bodies (e.g., synods or dioceses), as representatives to ecumenical, interreligious, or civic bodies, or as pastors of local prominent congregations.13
In practice, as in other aspects of peacebuilding processes, both bottom-up and top-down approaches are equally important and need to be balanced according to the specificities of each context.
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Education and trainingVarious institutes and faith-based NGOs focus on training in peacebuilding and conflict resolution from a religious perspective, or on targeting a specific audience of religious groups. Different kinds of trainings and academic efforts are developed within that context:
A selection of organizations engaged in these activities is presented here, but it should be noted that this is not an exhaustive list. It instead aims to give a sense of the range of programs being implemented.
cts with her Palestinian colleague, Ghassan Abdullah. The teachers and school principals in their workshops are encouraged to bring pluralistic awareness and commitment to their students. Shapiro reports that the organization's "major focus [is] on how to cope with trauma and tension, in our individual lives and as teachers in schools. This combination of professional healing and personal development is what the educators need now. It is not explicitly 'education for peace' but the long-term result is the forging of a common society based on mutual understanding and respect. Meeting with each other, even in Turkey, is vital for both sides now. The teachers need to keep their hope alive so that they can convey that spirit to their students. Otherwise we are all trapped in a dead-end situation."20
Support to local faith-based NGOsMany training programs are complemented by support to the creation or development of local faith-based NGOs. This is a way to ensure the continuity of the work from a longer-term perspective.
Interfaith dialogues and programsRenee Garfinkel suggests, "Interfaith dialogue brings people of different religious faiths together for conversations. These conversations can take an array of forms and possess a variety of goals and formats. They can also take place at various social levels, and target different types of participants, including elites, mid-level professionals, and grassroots activists."27 However, she notes, "It is not an all-encompassing concept: interfaith dialogue is not intended to be a debate. It is aimed at mutual understanding, not competing; at mutual problem solving, not proselytizing."28 Some faith-based NGOs, like the World Conference on Religion and Peace and United Religions Initiative, have a specific focus on promoting interfaith collaboration.
In his introduction to Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding, David Smock lists a variety of ways interfaith dialogue has been organized and targeted:
Other projects include interfaith artistic programs. For example, the Pontanima Interfaith Choir was established to bridge religious and cultural differences in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was started by Catholic members (part of the Oci u Oci (Eyes to Eyes) initiative of the Catholic order under the Franciscans in Sarajevo) but has since grown to include Muslims, Orthodox, Jews, and unaffiliated persons. The choir sings music from all religious traditions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, Father Ivo Markovic, founder of the Pontanima Interfaith Choir, has endeavored to create programs that organize church and mosque visits for children in order to acquaint them with other religions of the country.32
In order to foster such concrete involvement and impact of interfaith programs, organizations, such as the World Conference on Religion for Peace (Religions for Peace), facilitate and support the creation of interreligious councils in post-war countries. They become involved in different initiatives to help end civil war and implement some key aspects of peace agreements. An example is obtaining the release of significant numbers of child soldiers, as in the case of Sierra Leone. Important contributions have also been provided by the Interreligious Council in Macedonia. These councils may also work regionally to promote peace. 33
In so doing, interfaith dialogue programs may resemble secular peacebuilding programs in some ways. In other ways, though, religious content and spiritual culture are infused throughout the programs, distinguishing them from their secular counterparts.34
We, as religious and spiritual leaders, pledge our commitment to work together to promote the inner and outer conditions that foster peace and the non-violent management and resolution of conflict. We appeal to the followers of all religious traditions and to the human community as a whole to cooperate in building peaceful societies, to seek mutual understanding through dialogue where there are differences, to refrain from violence, to practice compassion, and to uphold the dignity of all life.
Source: Commitment to Global Peace, New York, August 29, 2000
In September 2006, a High-Level Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace was organized by the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace. The forum is an open-ended partnership among governments, the United Nations, and civil society. The theme of the conference was "Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace: Contributing to Peacebuilding and Development." The conference was designed to provide an interactive tripartite dialogue that developed the theme. In October 2007, the first high-level dialogue on interreligious and intercultural understanding and cooperation for peace was held at the United Nations General Assembly. The World Council of Churches and the World Conference on Religion and Peace (Religions for Peace) are among the sponsors of such international gatherings.
1. Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred, 9.
82 Diklitch and Prince, "The Mennonite Central Committee," 622.
3. Ibid., 622.
4. Communication with Andrea Bartoli (August 20, 2008).
5. Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred, 224.
6. Eric Brahm, "Religion and Peace," Beyond Intractability (September 2005).
7. Kimberly A. Maynard, The Role of Culture, Islam, Tradition in Community Driven Reconstruction: The International Rescue Committees Approach to Afghanistans National Solidarity Program (New York: International Rescue Committee, March 2007), 5.
8. Douglas Johnston, "The Religious Dimensions of Peacebuilding," People Building Peace II.
9. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), "Dialogue."
10. Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred, 212.
11. John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997), 39.
12. Fitzduff, "Civil Society and Peacebuilding," 12.
13. Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred, 241-42.
14. Liora Danan, Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement with Religion in Conflict Prone Settings (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 2007), 8.
15.Appleby, "Disciples of the Prince of Peace?," 131.
16. Smock, Faith-Based NGOs and International Peacebuilding, 3.
17. CURA Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs, The Tolerance Project.
18. Warwick Institute of Education.
19. UNESCO, "Dialogue."
20. Landau, Healing the Holy Land, 29.
21. World Conference on Religions for Peace, Women of Faith Transforming Conflict: A Multi-Religious Training Manual (New York: World Conference on Religions for Peace, 2004).
22. Ibid., 12-15.
23. World Conference on Religions for Peace, Religions for Peace Global Women of Faith Network Plan of Action 2007-2011.
24. World Conference on Religions for Peace, "Religions for Peace Global Youth Network."
25. United Religions Initiative, "Ugandan Youth Peace Building Workshop: Kampala, Uganda."
26. Seeds of Peace.
27. Garfinkel, What Works? Evaluating Interfaith Dialogue Programs, 1.
28. Ibid., 2.
31. This view is in the direct line of John Paul Lederach's vision of conflict transformation. See, in particular, John Paul Lederach, The Journey Toward Reconciliation (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1999).
32. Pontanima Interfaith Choir.
33. World Conference on Religions for Peace, How to Build an IRC (New York: World Conference on Religions for Peace, 2006).
34. Muhammed Abu-Nimer has published extensively on the role and importance of interfaith dialogue in the Middle East. See, in particular, Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Amal Khoury, and Emily Welty, Unity in Diversity: Interfaith Dialogue in the Middle East (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2007); Muhammad Shafiq and Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Interfaith Dialogue: A Guide For Muslims (Herndon, VA: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2007).