Religion & Peacebuilding: Religion & Peacebuilding Processes

In the post-9/11 world, religions and religious actors are more commonly associated with extremism and conflict between religious communities than before, in particular in the popular mind.1 The many other dimensions and contributions of religion, in particular in relation to peacemaking and peacebuilding processes, are less known, or maybe misunderstood, if not entirely neglected. This section explores the different ways the contribution of religion to peacebuilding can be conceived. It is important to note, however, that it is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all religious activities in the field, nor to highlight or promote the activities of any particular religion.

Religion and conflict

Religion can be used or mobilized to promote either conflict or peacebuilding. Religion may not be the principal cause of conflict, even when the opposing groups, such as Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, are differentiated by religious identities.2 Religion has long been, however, and will probably continue to be, a contributing factor in some violent conflicts, whether in its own right or as a proxy for political battles, in places as widely scattered as Northern Ireland, the Middle East, the Balkans, Sudan, Indonesia, and Kashmir.3 Religious activists engaged in interfaith dialogue have stressed the fact that "religion, unfortunately, is often the most visible difference between contesting groups and, as a result, frequently is blamed for conflicts."4 Religion may, indeed, be instrumentalized or become a mask for violence.5 Research has shown, however, that many recent violent conflicts also have involved religious beliefs themselves.6

As scholar Daniel Philpott notes, "Analysts often debate whether a war between religious communities in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, or Kashmir is 'really' religious or rather about something else-- land, oil, ethnicity, or historical memories."7 He suggests that religion fuels conflict in two broad ways: first, religion "shapes the identities and loyalties of warring," and, second, "religion fuels conflict more directly by defining not only the identities and loyalties of communities, but also their very political goals, which then become casus belli. In some conflicts, religion even defines ends but not communities-- intra-Muslim disputes in Iran and Algeria, for example."8 The first dimension--religion shaping identities and loyalties--also explains that religious actors may assist in mobilizing the population, acting as allies of political entrepreneurs. The second dimension--religion defining political goals--relates to the role religion has historically played in social and political change. The role of religion in democratization processes, for instance, is relatively more documented than the literature on violence.9

At times, religious actors and movements that have been active in promoting such political change have accepted violence as a necessary cost.10 Philpott notes, "In some conflicts, religious ends and identities mingle."11 Indeed, economic, political, cultural, and social frustrations can also be "converted" into grievances of an identity-based nature, in which religious allegiance may be given a renewed importance. This identity-based register may be used by politico-military entrepreneurs for a precise purpose and is often exacerbated by large-scale violence.12

The output, according to some authors, is that "the most fanatical and cruelest political struggles are those that have been colored, inspired and legitimized by religion."13 Indeed, "when conflicts are couched in religious terms, they become transformed in value conflicts. Unlike other issues, such as resource conflicts, which can be resolved by pragmatic and distributive means, value conflicts have a tendency to become mutually conclusive or zero-sum issues. They entail strong judgments of what is right and wrong, and parties believe that there cannot be a common ground to resolve their differences."14

In such circumstances, religious actors themselves appear in a very ambivalent position at the peacebuilding phase. While they may be part of the problem because they have made alliances with or were manipulated by war entrepreneurs, they are also a local resource, which must be taken into account.

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Religious actors' contribution to the peacemaking phase

The contribution that religious actors can make to peacemaking"as the flip side of religious conflict"has been increasingly explored and analyzed. History presents cases of mediation and peacemaking by religious leaders and institutions. For example, the World Council of Churches and the All Africa Conference of Churches mediated the short-lived 1972 peace agreement in Sudan. In South Africa, various churches were at the vanguard of the struggle against apartheid and the peaceful transition. Among the most dramatic and most frequently cited cases is the successful mediation that the Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio achieved to help end the civil war in Mozambique in 1992.15

Other less well-known but critical examples exist of religious leaders and faith-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) playing prominent roles as mediators in track II diplomacy efforts. Multiple efforts have been deployed, for instance, to support an interreligious "track" parallel to political diplomacy in the Middle East.

It is important to note that the social location of the religious actors varies. According to R. Scott Appleby, "In helping resolve conflicts in Nicaragua and Nigeria, peacemakers worked within the political process, while in the Philippines, South Africa, and Israel/Palestine they remained external to it. In East Germany at the end of the cold war, Christians operated on the margins during the initial stages of the revolution but later assumed key roles in the political transition. Multiple religious actors participated in Rhodesia where the Quakers and the religious NGO Moral Re-Armament worked within the political process, while the Roman Catholic Church exerted influence from the outside."16 Advocates of including religious actors in peacemaking processes have stressed that political, military, and economic arrangements may be doomed to fail if leaders from all sides do not take into account the feelings, attitudes, yearnings, and symbolic images that the people harbor.17

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Conceptualizing the role of religion and religious actors in peacebuilding

A three-fold analysis can help practitioners capture and analyze the multiple ways religion and religious actors can contribute in peacebuilding processes:

  • Religious beliefs may offer crucial intangible components of peacebuilding;
  • Religious actors traditionally preform a certain number of social functions in the society that can be all the more important at the peacebuilding phase; and
  • Religious actors play an important role as members of local civil society.

To understand the role that religious actors are likely to play, it is crucial to remember that "there is variety in all religion, in its forms, interpretations, practices, authorities; also in the existing religions in each country (which generally include both institutionalized churches and traditional religious actors). In fact, it is often in a connection between two religious registers that the role of those actors should be understood."18

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Religious beliefs as intangible components supporting peacebuilding processes

Peace in the main religious teachings

Religion is a powerful constituent of cultural norms and values. Because it addresses the most profound existential issues of human life (e.g., freedom and inevitability, fear and faith, security and insecurity, right and wrong, and sacred and profane), religion is deeply implicated in individual and social conceptions of peace.19Religion has also developed "laws and ideas that have provided civilization with cultural commitments to critical peace-related values, including empathy, an openness to and even love for strangers, the suppression of unbridled ego and acquisitiveness, human rights, unilateral gestures of forgiveness and humility, interpersonal repentance and the acceptance of responsibility for past errors as a means of reconciliation, and the drive for social justice."20

The teachings and practices of major world religions reveal spiritual and moral formulations that support peace, social justice, reconciliation, and harmony within and between humanity and divinity. Theologically, for instance, all three of the Abrahamic faiths set store in mercy and forgiveness, qualities that are indispensable in seeking resolution to long-standing and deeply entrenched conflicts.21 For all their differences, there is much that people of faith have in common, not the least of which, of course, is spirituality itself. Therefore, one can argue that "the recognition of a shared concern to develop 'honest, loving, and holistic relationships with God and neighbor' can form the basis for the rebuilding of constructive relationships destroyed by violence."22 On this basis, religious actors and faith-based NGOs advocate nonviolence and train others in the methodologies of nonviolence or promote reconciliation because of their religiously based pacifist conviction.23

These philosophical and theological bases can best be captured if one is acquainted with the scriptures and teachings of the major world religions. Theologians and scholars from different religions have elaborated the understanding of peace according to their religion and identified values and principles that constitute a peacebuilding framework that may guide scholars and practitioners who are interested in promoting such concepts in a contextualized manner, taking into account local communities frames of reference.24 Indeed, some analysts have stressed the fact that relying on these values may be more appealing to local communities than supposedly universal sets of guidelines that may seem at odds with their own vocabularies.25

Peace and Reconciliation in the Worlds Most Prevalent Religious Teachings


Hinduism followers constantly reflect inward and make a commitment to achieve subjugation of desire, renunciation of petty desires and personal motives, upholding of practical interests, tranquility, self-control, patience, peace of mind, and movement towards liberation from the concerns of this world. Hinduism teaches its followers to practice truthseeking, and upholds moral purification as a constant practice in renewing ones conduct and behaviour. Reconciliation starts with individuals who analyse themselves, reach out to others, and then build a community or society in which they can live harmoniously.


Buddhism exhorts followers to seek enlightenment. Enlightenment is found through exercising right view, right aspiration, right speech, right conduct, right endeavor, right sound-fullness, and right contemplation. This calls upon a persons decisions to emanate from informed judgment and deep reflection. Extremism is discouraged in Buddhism; instead, Buddhists strive to find the middle way in conflict resolution. As part of moral living, Buddhists are prohibited from taking life, from what is not given, from misconduct, from false speech and from intoxicants that lead to clouding the mind. They are exhorted to maintain good relations, behaviour and conduct within the community.


Judaism emphasises a covenant relationship between God and His Chosen people. Pertaining to relations between people, Judaism emphasises justice, love, kindness and a humble walk with your God. Living harmoniously with God requires harmonious relations with fellow humans. Furthermore, every member of the faith should be responsible for the moral conduct of those neighbours one is able to influence. The words of Hillel summarise the profound teaching about relationships between man and man: What is hateful unto you do not do unto your neighbour. The rest is commentary, now go and study. Reconciliation can be taken to mean: taking responsibility for harmonious living with God and neighbours.


According to Christianity, reconciliation is an act of God and was initiated by Him through the death of Jesus Christ. God is reconciling the world to Himself. All Christians are children of God. God has written the law in their hearts and they are commanded to love God and their fellow humans. Where disputes arise, the offended is commanded to take initiatives to reach out to the offender and sort out the differences.26 If no agreement is reached, the next step is to involve a third party, and if this does not work, seek support from the whole community. Christians are not to keep anger for the entire day; instead, they should seek reconciliation. The offended party is therefore commanded to forgive an indefinite number of times. Christians should love God and their neighbour as God loved them by saving them through Jesus Christ.


Islam connotes the attainment of peace through submission to Allah or through conformity of his Will. Perhaps one of the most important observations to make is that God or Allah in Islam is often referred to as Merciful. He is also compassionate. The Quran teaches order, orderliness, morality and human betterment. This can be achieved through the guidance of God the Most Merciful and Compassionate who has the power to lead men into the straight path. The power for people to reconcile comes from God and can thus be achieved. Muslims should keep and promote peace and justice with all, including enemy, keep the greeting peace be unto you, and exercise tolerance.

African Traditional Religions

In African Traditional Religions (ATR), people have deep and firm faith in the existence of a creator God who is unseen and is the nodal point of peace, social justice, and harmony. People have responsibility to God, other members of society, the living, the dead, the unborn, and nature. People should contribute to the welfare of the community rather than considering their own rights and self-interests. In ATR, good morality is living in appropriate relationships, with other people, high and low, young and old. The sanctions to uphold morality include approval and disapproval of the social group expressed in rewards and punishments. Wrongdoing is a contravention of moral codes and could consequently attract afflictions. In case of conflict and strife, reconciliation is considered necessary to restore peace and harmony. Everyone is expected to be a peacemaker. People are discouraged from showing anger, pride, practising injustice. The process of reconciling broken relations often involves the ritual slaughter of animals and offers to the ancestors and the community.

African Independent Churches

African Independent Churches (AIC) manifest a response of Africans to Christianity as they understand it in their own cultures and perspectives. In doing so, AICs have embraced values that are meant to keep good relationships and order. Life, relationships, participation and community are the larger important realities. Social, spiritual and environmental dimensions are interrelated. Solidarity, harmony, fellowship, sharing, and mutual caring are important aspects in maintaining good relations. The community of believers are the People of God, who is their Father.

Bahai faith

Bahai believe in the oneness of God, the oneness of religion and in the oneness of humanity. The Bahai faith teaches that the well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. Justice is the basis upon which the unity of the human family is preserved. Individuals are enjoined to promote harmonious relations by upholding a high rectitude of conduct, with its implications of justice, equity, truthfulness, fair-mindedness, reliability and trustworthiness. On the collective level, Bahai promote reconciliation through a distinctive method of non-adversarial decision making, known as consultation, as one means through which unity and harmony may be restored among individuals divided through conflict.

Source: Naber, Jonneke M.M., and Rob Watson, eds. Traditional African and Religious Approaches to Reconciliation. In African Faith-Based Communities: Advancing Justice and Reconciliation in Relation to the ICC. New York: World Conference of Religions for Peace, 2006.

The contribution of religious practitioners to peacebuilding theory

A few religious practitioners have deeply affected the development of peacebuilding theory at large. According to Cynthia Sampson, "In an early conceptual work, Quaker conciliator Adam Curle identified 'peacemaking approaches appropriate for different sorts or stages of conflict.' A key variable in determining the approach, according to Curle, is the distribution of power between advisers."27 In that perspective, building peace requires restructuring the parties' relationship to empowering the weaker party and addressing structural sources of inequality. Sampson states, "Mennonite peacebuilder John Paul Lederach builds on Curle's work in describing conflict as a progression and elaborating the roles that emerge in the transformation of conflict from violent and destructive to constructive and peaceful manifestations."28

Beyond these two key practitioners and scholars, religious advocates in peacebuilding generally base their action on nonviolence and the promotion of empowerment and human rights. Religious peacemakers also tend to focus on building relationships and community. All those elements have been decisive in the gradual conceptualization of peacebuilding theory.

Religious belief systems in identity transformation processes

Religious belief systems have a particular identity-forming potential. According to Kristian Berg Harpviken and Hanne Eggen Roislien, "Religion is not just individual; it is also social, offering each believer a sense of belonging to a community of fellow believers. With its reference to a transcendent source of truth and codification of shared norms, religion serves as a compass for the individual and the religious community alike, locating all believers within an extended ontological setting. An identity with a religious source may, therefore, be exceptionally robust: religion tells you where you belong and where to proceed."29 Of course, religion constitutes only one of several identity elements, with others being citizenship, ethnicity, language, social and economic status, gender, age, and so on.

Religious identities also interact with socio-cultural and political settings, which may contribute to emphasizing some identity levels while downplaying others. "For instance," write Harpviken and Roislien, "most Muslim members of Hamas view their primary identity as 'Palestinian,' which unites them with Christian Palestinians. Conversely, most Muslim Tamils in Sri Lanka maintain that 'Muslim' is their primary identity, which in consequence separates them from other Tamils."30 Therefore, considering the role religions play in the transformation of identities in a peacebuilding process may be particularly important. Go to Constitutions - citizenship and ethnicity

Spirituality as a general support to peacebuilding

Religion can bring social, moral, and spiritual resources to the peacebuilding process. In particular, the transformative approach to peace holds that "personal transformation--often through spiritual work--radiates outward and affects peace on every level from the intrapersonal to the international world of peacebuilding and conflict resolution."31

For instance, the Yogic and Buddhist spiritual traditions provide tools such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and the cultivation of equanimity and compassion for becoming more centered peacebuilders who can embody peacefulness in personal and work contexts. This has manifold benefits, not least of which is an increased sense of centeredness and inner peace for individuals who work in the field of peacebuilding. It also allows peacebuilders to better facilitate the processes of peace and reconciliation in areas of conflict.32 Some organizations specifically train peacebuilders in this area, in particular to support trauma recovery.33 Some experiences in Kashmir have shown how important it can be to "pray and fast during seminars, diplomatic meetings, and public forums," as well as to perform rituals that support powerful personal transformation processes.34
Go to
Trauma, Mental Health and Psycho-Social Recovery

Religious values supporting rituals, healing, and reintegration processes

Last but not least, religious values often support rituals"healing and reintegration processes that play key roles in the broader psycho-social recovery of local communities. Indeed, "in the narratives of victims and survivors [of violence] the religious, cultural and symbolic dimensions of the violence form an integral part of the violation of their rights and of their emotional experiences."35 It is therefore important that those elements form part of the resources accessed in the rebuilding phase. Faith-based organizations help provide emotional and spiritual support to war-affected communities.36 Many of them have developed trauma healing programs.

Religious actors and faith-based organizations can also help support rituals that symbolically communicate a sense of transformation. Ritual helps to transform worldviews and enables people to make sense of the larger conflict. It can allow parties to create and affirm a shared view of the world and develop new ways of living and solving difficult problems. Peacebuilders can use ritual to build worldviews supportive of peace and justice. At times when worldviews are crumbling, ritual can create new ways of thinking and dramatically alter the ways people see the world. It can also make conflict less destructive by reframing the issues at stake and allowing people to approach problems in new ways. Some believe that ritual may actually change the physical structure of the brain, prompting it to process information differently. Symbolic forms of communication such as ritual are thought to have the power to penetrate and allow integration and communication between different parts of the body and brain.37

It is important to note that rituals are not necessarily religious; however, they can provide resources from different traditions that make sense for local actors and communities. Many peacebuilders have stressed the importance of supplementing discussions, conferences, declarations, and peace agreements with "symbolic or ritualized gestures of rectification and reconciliation, grounded in the wisdom of different traditions."38  Go to Trauma, mental health and psycho-social recovery

In various recent conflicts, symbolic rituals have been developed, for instance in the form of peace walks. Examples include the Israel Walk Project, in which, "people of various religious orientations walk in single file through Arab villages and kibbutz or moshav Jewish communities, through city neighborhoods, and along highways to demonstrate a witness for peace through walking meditation. The group has organized several walks, with both local and national media coverage. . . . It is the contemplative practice and peaceful intentions of the walkers that make an impression on those who engage them in discussions along their way. The basic message conveyed is that sharing disciplines that foster inner peace can also promote interreligious conversation and solidarity, which, in turn, are resources for the social and political process of peacemaking."39 In Cambodia, the Dhammayietra peace walk (literally, a "Pilgrimage of Truth") follows a similar model.

Two additional assets of religion for peacebuilding highlighted by scholar Daniel Philpott explain the potential for reintegration processes: "connectivity," or the ability of religious actors to extend their reach into a very wide range of sectors of society, and "holism," or an ability to conceive of transformation as a project for the whole of a society and its members. This last dimension would, for instance, constitute a distinct feature of religious approaches to transitional justice, contrasting with the prevailing "liberal peace" approach.40 Go to Transitional justice - Key Debates and Implementation Challenges

Among the limits of these initiatives is the response of more traditional religious actors, who are generally less open to integrating different mystical dimensions and teachings from different religious backgrounds into their own to offer rituals that can be meaningful across communities and faiths.41

In all these dimensions, religion and spirituality can provide an important basis to intangible components of peacebuilding processes that are not easy to grasp but are all the more crucial in the lasting success of a peace process.

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Social functions traditionally performed by religious actors

Social scientists have highlighted a variety of modes of intervention of religion in a society and functions it is able to carry out:

  • A function of mobilization (in a conflict, but also for peace). Religious actors contribute, in particular, to shaping people's views of the world and their basic values.
  • A function of socialization through education and training, both at the level of the elites, in particular for well-established religions, and the poor.
  • A function of integration of those excluded by the society, in particular through humanitarian aid and socio-economic development projects"something that directly contributes to the rebuilding of the socio-economic fabric of a post-war society.
  • A function of substitution for political and partisan-type organizations, in particular in times of crisis or closure of the political space. This function is often allied to a role of popular forum and/or political advocate (in particular on topics related to the respect of human rights).42

In a peacebuilding process, this means that religions can contribute "by empowering the weak, by influencing the moral-political climate, by developing cooperation and providing humanitarian aid."43

Religious actors and faith-based organizations are now present at every stage of the conflict transformation cycle. They work in peace education and conflict prevention, in mediation and conflict resolution, in interreligious dialogue, in building networks of local leaders for peace, in post-settlement social reconstruction and trauma work, and in the academies and courts where human rights, including religious freedom, are given theoretical depth and cross-cultural grounding.44 Their agendas are therefore diverse and range from high-level mediation to grassroots level projects. Peacebuilding projects of faith-based organizations may very closely resemble peacebuilding by secular NGOs. However, in most instances, the various religious orientations of these faith-based organizations shape the activities they undertake, including when they introduce peacebuilding components into more traditional relief and development activities.

An extension of more traditional relief and development aid

Many of the faith-based NGOs now engaged in peacebuilding activities came to these efforts by way of their earlier and continuing involvement with relief and development work, which had been one of their well-established roles. Their traditional programs constitute an important contribution to peace, as they help in tasks as diverse as promoting poverty reduction, addressing economic inequality, reintegrating and developing communities, or reuniting families.

Many faith-based NGOs have also begun in recent years to introduce elements of conflict prevention and peacebuilding into their relief and development projects, viewing "peacebuilding as an extension of a continuum"45 often grounded in a mutual socio-economic need. They recognize that "relief and development work must be continued [and indicate that] in fact, it is through the framework of relief and development that important contributions can be made to peace. This usually happens because those previously in conflict have to work cooperatively to advance their economic well-being."46

Organizations such as American Jewish World Service, World Vision, and Catholic Relief Services first built peacebuilding components into their humanitarian assistance and development programs. An increasing number of their programs (focused on peace-training, for instance) have acquired a more explicit and direct purpose related to peacebuilding.47 As a consequence, some of these organizations have had to rethink their organizational philosophy, focusing more on the promotion of peace and justice and particularly on addressing the root causes of religious and ethnic conflict.

A traditional role in education and training

Religious actors have always performed an important function as educators in societies. Nowadays, many faith-based NGOs support peace education programs comprising specific training in conflict resolution, democracy, or human rights, as well as the development of peace curricula for schools or the training of educators on issues such as justice and reconciliation. Different religious organizations and networks are also engaged in training programs to educate religious leaders on issues relevant to peacebuilding.48

An extension of the substitution function: Religious actors as political and human rights advocates

The relationships between the religious and the political spheres are complex and vary a lot from context to context and time to time. It seems fair to say that members of all religions have, at some point in history, in different political contexts, played roles as advocates, intermediaries, or engaged observers in society.

The following classifications have been suggested by scholar Cynthia Sampson. They may help the practitioner understand the different sorts of intervention roles religious actors may fulfill with regard to peacebuilding (she also adds the above-mentioned position of educator).

  • "Religiously motivated advocates are primarily concerned with empowering the weaker party(ies) in a conflict situation, restructuring relationships, and transforming unjust social structures.
  • Intermediaries devote themselves to the task of peacemaking, focusing their efforts on bringing the parties together to resolve their differences and reach a settlement.
  • Observers offer themselves as a physical and moral presence in a conflict setting, in hopes of preventing violence and transforming the conflict dynamics."49
In these different capacities, religious actors have often taken the lead for political change. Building on their reputation for integrity and their long-term commitment to society, religious actors have sometimes contributed to the processes of structural reform necessary for the restoration of productive social relations and political stability after a period of conflict and human rights abuses.50 As David Smock notes, "Clergymen Desmond Tutu, Frank Chikane, and Beyers Naude in South Africa worked to break the bonds of apartheid. This effort entailed not only civil disobedience and advocacy for international sanctions against South Africa, but also shaming white South African Christians into recognizing that their effort to justify apartheid contradicted biblical teachings. The Dutch Reformed Church--'sometimes called the Nationalist Party at prayer'--did not fully accept that argument until after the government abandoned apartheid, but many whites did become uncomfortable with the structures they had devised and imposed."51

In such contexts, religious actors also often play an important role of mobilization, drafting people from a wide pool because of their wide presence in society and broad community base, "connecting, via international faith-based networks, like-minded faith-based communities in other countries, as well as not-like-minded faith-based actors for support."52 In a parallel effort, many faith-based NGOs are involved in supporting the development of civil society organizations that can help the agenda progress.

Another subset of actors is composed of the "truth-tellers," who identify and speak out against injustices, monitoring human rights and assisting victims in specific countries. The Catholic Church played a truth-telling role in Rhodesia's war of independence. It also helped lead the nonviolent opposition to the Marcos regime in the Philippines, monitored elections, and ultimately declared that the Marcos regime had lost its mandate to govern. In Vietnam and Burma, Buddhist monks have been active opponents to repressive regimes. In addition to this advocate role, their intermediary roles "included fact finding, good offices, peace-process advocacy, facilitation, conciliation and mediation, usually in some combination."53 In northern Uganda, Acholi religious leaders organize peace campaigns, train community leaders in conflict resolution, and press for amnesty and rehabilitation for former child combatants.54
Go to Case Study: Northern Uganda

Religious leaders have also supported truth telling by advocating and implementing appropriate instruments of transitional justice. Beyond the famous example of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa is the case of Guatemala. In Guatemala, the Catholic Church has been in the lead in demanding a truth commission and accountability for war crimes on the part of government officials. Proposals for reform of the army and the judiciary in Guatemala were also among the outcomes of the Church-sponsored Project for the Recovery of Historical Memory, which produced Guatemala: Never Again, the detailed report on government and rebel atrocities during the war, for which Bishop Gerardi gave his life.55   Go to Case study: Guatemala

Leaders from different religions have been increasingly involved in lobbying work around the creation of the International Criminal Court.56 Beyond that role, scholar Daniel Philpott argues that religious voices have pushed forward a paradigm of reconciliation different from the human rights discourse.57

Go to Transitional justice

In a conflict situation, the observer provides a watchful, compelling physical presence that is intended to discourage violence, corruption, human rights violations, and other behavior deemed threatening and undesirable. Far from being passive, religiously motivated observers have, for example, actively monitored and verified"and even ensured"the legitimacy of elections. In the observer's more activist role of providing a presence, civilian peacekeeping groups, or peace teams, have positioned themselves between sides in active conflict situations, becoming a "living wall," as Ghandhi termed it, to stop violence and transform the conflict dynamics.58 Church organizations are often engaged in monitoring elections and, sometimes, as in Zambia in 1991, host meetings between political opponents that result in a new national constitution. The ecumenical group Witnesses for Peace and Mennonite Christian Peacemaker Teams are examples of active observers in Central America.59

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Religious actors as key members of local civil societies

An increasing number of religious organizations and faith-based NGOs are intervening in post-conflict programs and are mobilized by international organizations and donors as partners, much in the same way as other members of international civil society. Local religious actors and faith-based NGOs are seen as important members of local civil society, and their contribution may be valued as such. Local religious leaders, in particular, usually carry great authority and are present at all levels of society, which provides them with what some have called "a kind of logistical advantage."60 As a result, their advice and collaboration are often looked for by outsiders. Providing an inside perspective and the ability to follow through locally is often thought to give them "a non-partisan status, affording them trust among communities and enabling them to access people and places that the UN [United Nations] cannot normally reach."61

Their longevity at the ground level and long-term commitment are also particularly valued, in particular in comparison to the frequent high turnover in newly established local NGOs. Analysts also praise their credibility, as well as their moral and spiritual legitimacy.62 This explains why they may be considered alternatives to discredited and corrupted political leaders, sometimes without recognition of the multiple connections between the two spheres and the fact that some of them may have been compromised by war. Go to Civil society

Internationally, the fact that more than two-thirds of the world population is considered to belong to a religion shows the potential of religions and religious actors in international civil society. As Marie Fitzduff notes, "All of these religions have huge infrastructures of power, together with communications networks that reach all corners of the world. Religious organizations therefore have the capacity to motivate and to mobilize people for a more peaceful world."63

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The specificity and evolution of the role of religious actors in peacebuilding

A greater resistance to wars and state collapse

Many observers note that "religious institutions often survive wars or state collapse when other social and government structures break down. Faith networks, churches, temples, and mosques are often the first to begin picking up the pieces after violence and will remain as part of the communities long after humanitarian workers and international aid have moved on."64 This may, of course, vary greatly according to context, but religious actors are often among the first interlocutors that outsiders would seek out in a post-war society. Indeed, in cases where the central government is in disarray, religious organizations may be the only institutions with some degree of popular credibility, trust, and moral authority.

Analysts also note that "while these initiatives may often seem relatively small and disconnected from the higher-level diplomatic negotiating and policy-making that is necessary in post-conflict situations, such local-level peacebuilding initiatives help reweave a society and create the social structures that allow economic and political rebuilding to take place. Within these more local contexts, the faith beliefs and institutions of a community often take on an important role and can be positive factors in peacebuilding."65

The preexistence of direct field contacts through sister organizations

In some cases, the faith identity of an NGO may create obstacles to its involvement in zones of religious conflict (for instance, a Christian NGO working in Muslim-dominated northern Sudan). However, an NGO's religious orientation is more often thought to open doors because of sister religious organizations with which it may collaborate.66 Most religions are also organized at national and international levels, and so offer existing channels for communication and organization. This can constitute a key comparative advantage in situations where other outsiders may face challenges in building successful and positive collaboration with local organizations.

A role beyond religious conflicts

Whereas many analysts argue that faith-based NGOs have a special role to play in zones of religious conflict, their peacebuilding programs are generally not confined to addressing religious conflict.67 Some authors have stressed the fact that issues that have traditionally been in the domain of religion are central to many modern conflicts. Quoting John Paul Lederach, Cynthia Sampson notes "the primary arena of church activity and faith--that of the spiritual, emotional, and relational well-being of people--lies at the heart of contemporary conflict."68

An increasingly active role in international peacebuilding

Religious groups and faith-based NGOs have been increasingly active in international peacebuilding in recent decades. Sampson, a scholar who has worked on symbolic dimensions of peacebuilding, has noted a number of future trends in religious peacebuilding: "Religious communities are taking an increasingly systematic, intentional approach to peacemaking. Religious universities have developed conflict and peace programs, and churches are incorporating more explicit peacebuilding efforts into their outreach and development activities. Interreligious organizations are also following that trend. Non-religious peacebuilding groups are targeting religious groups as ripe for training and mobilization. Religious relief and development NGOs are expanding their mandates and training to include peacebuilding activities. Indigenous religious groups are being called upon to provide spiritual, emotional and psychological support to people who have suffered from violent, protracted conflict. There is also an increased number of religion based citizen's groups focused on bringing about peace, justice, and reconciliation. The Internet has allowed people from across the globe to hold dialogues within and across denominations and religions."69

1. Smock, Religious Contributions to Peacemaking.
2. David R. Smock, "Introduction," in Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2002), 3.
3. Ibid.
4. Arthur Schneier, "Religion and Interfaith Conflict: Appeal of Conscience Foundation," in Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding, ed. David R. Smock (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2002), 112.
5. Beatrice Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below: UN Missions and Local People (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2006), 86.
6. Monica Duffy Toft, "Getting Religion? The Puzzling Case of Islam and Civil War," International Security 31, no. 4 (2007): 97-131.
7. Daniel Philpott, "Explaining the Political Ambivalence of Religion," American Political Science Review 103, no. 3 (2007): 518.
8. Ibid., 518.
9. Ibid., 521.
10. Chr. Michelsen Institute Research Group, "Peace, Conflict and the State."
11. Philpott, "Explaining the Political Ambivalence of Religion," 519.
12. Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below, 24-25.
13. Hans Küng, Christianity and the World Religions: Paths of Dialogue with Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1986), 442.
14. Luc Reychler, "Religion and Conflict: Introduction: Towards a Religion of World Politics?" International Journal of Peace Studies 2, no. 1 (1997).
15. Smock, Religious Contributions to Peacemaking.
16. R. Scott Appleby, "Religion and Global Affairs: Religious Militants for Peace," SAIS Review 18, no. 2 (1998): 38-44.
17. See, for instance, on the Israel/Palestine conflict, Yehezkel Landau, Healing the Holy Land: Interreligious Peacebuilding in Israel/Palestine (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, August 2003), 3.
18. Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below, 81-82.
19. Abdul Aziz Said and Nathan C. Funk, "The Role of Faith in Cross-Cultural Conflict Resolution" (paper presented at the European Parliament for the European Centre for Common Ground, Brussels, Belgium, September 2001).
20. Marc Gopin, Between Eden and Armageddon: The Future of World Religions, Violence, and Peacemaking (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 13.
21. Richard H. Solomon, "Forward," in Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding, ed. David R. Smoch (Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2002), viii.
22. Ibid., viii.
23. David R. Smock, Faith-Based NGOs and International Peacebuilding (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, October 2001).
24. For the Catholic's "Theology of Just Peace," see, for instance, the summary by Mark Fetzko, relying on writings by Andrea Bartoli and Robert J. Schreiter: Mark Fetzko, "Strategic Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation: The Catholic Contribution to Peace," Beyond Intractability (April 2006). For Islamic values and principles supporting peace, see, Mohammed Abu-Nimer, A Framework for Nonviolence and Peacebuilding in Islam, Journal of Law and Religion 15, no. 1/2 (2000-01): 217-65; Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Nonviolence and Peace Building in Islam: Theory and Practice (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2003); Tsjeard Bouta, S. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana, and Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Faith-Based Peace-Building: Mapping and Analysis of Christian, Muslim and Multi-Faith Actors (The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Relations "Clingendael," in cooperation with the Salam Institute for Peace and Justice, November 2005), 11-12. For a Buddhist conception of a culture of peace, see, Sulak Sivaraksa, Conflict, Culture, Change: Engaged Buddhism in a Globalizing World (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005).
25. Bouta, Kadayifci-Orellana, and Abu-Nimer, Faith-Based Peace-Building.
26. However, it is important to note that theologians dispute whether the victim ought to forgive before the offender apologizes and repents. Comment by Daniel Philpott (November 14, 2008).
27. Cynthia Sampson, "Religion and Peacebuilding," in Peacemaking in International Conflict: Methods and Techniques, ed. I. William Zartman and J. Lewis Rasmussen (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997), 277.
28. Ibid., 277.
29. Kristian Berg Harpviken and Hanne Eggen Roislien, "Faithful Brokers? Potentials and Pitfalls of Religion in Peacemaking," Conflict Resolution Quarterly 25, no. 3 (2008): 354-55.
30. Ibid., 354-55.
31. Susan Allen Nan and Danielle Brand-LeMond, "Spirituality and Peacebuilding" (course syllabus, George Mason University, Spring 2008). See also, Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Conflict Resolution, Culture, and Religion: Toward a Training Model of Inter-religious Peacebuilding, Journal of Peace Research 38, no. 6 (2001): 685-704.
32. Nan and Brand-LeMond, "Spirituality and Peacebuilding."
33. See, for instance, Anahata international, whose goal is to facilitate advanced training for certified yoga teachers wishing to specialize in trauma recovery and peacebuilding.
34. Brian Cox and Daniel Philpott, "Faith-Based Diplomacy: An Ancient Idea Newly Emergent," Review of Faith and International Affairs 1, no. 2 (2003): 31-40.
35. Roberta Culbertson and Beatrice Pouligny, "Re-Imagining Peace After Mass Crime: A Dialogical Exchange Between Insider and Outsider Knowledge," in After Mass Crime: Rebuilding States and Communities (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2007), 277.
36. Bouta, Kadayifci-Orellana, and Abu-Nimer, Faith-Based Peace-Building.
37. Schirch, Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding.
38. Landau, Healing the Holy Land, 47.
39. Ibid., 35-36.
40. Daniel Philpott, "Religion, Reconciliation, and Transitional Justice: The State of the Field," Social Science Research Council Working Paper (October 2007); comment by Daniel Philpott (November 14, 2008).
41. Ibid.
42. Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below, 82.
43. Reychler, "Religion and Conflict."
44. R. Scott Appleby, "Disciples of the Prince of Peace? Christian Resources for Nonviolent Peacebuilding," in Beyond Violence: Religious Sources of Social Transformation in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, ed. James L. Heft (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 137.
45. Smock, Faith-Based NGOs and International Peacebuilding, 7.
46. Ibid.
47. Ibid.
48. Sampson, "Religion and Peacebuilding," 273-316.
49. Ibid., 280. Emphasis added.
50. Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred, 220.
51. David Smock, Religion in World Affairs: Its Role in Conflict and Peace (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, February 2008), 3-4.
52. Bouta, Kadayifci-Orellana, and Abu-Nimer, Faith-Based Peace-Building,  35-36.
53. Sampson, "Religion and Peacebuilding," 284.
54. Bridget Moix, "Faith and Conflict," Foreign Policy in Focus Commentary (October 4, 2007).
55.Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred, 220. See also, David Little and Scott Appleby, "A Moment of Opportunity? The Promise of Religious Peacebuilding in an Era of Religious and Ethnic Conflict," in Religion and Peacebuilding, ed. Howard G. Coward and Gordon S. Smith (New York: State University of New York 2005), 6.
56. Jonneke M.M. Naber and Rob Watson, eds., "Traditional African and Religious Approaches to Reconciliation," in African Faith-Based Communities: Advancing Justice and Reconciliation in Relation to the ICC (New York: World Conference of Religions for Peace, 2006), 95.
57. Daniel Philpott, What Religion Brings to the Politics of Transitional Justice, Journal of International Affairs 61, no. 1 (2007): 93-110.
58. Sampson, Religion and Peacebuilding, 290-91.
59. Ibid.
60. Bouta, Kadayifci-Orellana, and Abu-Nimer, Faith-Based Peace-Building, 39-40; David R. Smock, ed., Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2002), viii.
61. Conflict Transformation Working Group, Building Peace from the Ground Up: A Call to the UN for Stronger Collaboration with Civil Society (August 2002), 6.

62. Bouta, Kadayifci-Orellana, and Abu-Nimer, Faith-Based Peace-Building,39­-40.

63. Marie Fitzduff, "Civil Society and Peacebuilding: The New Fifth Estate?" (presentation for the seminar, Civil Society-UN Interaction for Conflict Prevention, February 2004), 12.
64. Moix, "Faith and Conflict."
65. Ibid.
66. Smock, Faith-Based NGOs and International Peacebuilding.
67. Ibid.
68. Sampson, "Religion and Peacebuilding," 275.
69. Ibid., 275.

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