Religion & Peacebuilding

In the post-9/11 world, religions and religious actors are more associated than before with extremism and conflict between religious communities, in particular in the popular mind. 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. However, the mere 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. Religion and spirituality can also provide an important basis for intangible components of peacebuilding processes and, as such, are crucial dimensions of psycho-social recovery processes. This sub-section explores those different elements.
Although there is no universally agreed upon definition of religion and religious actors, a few definitional references may help lend understanding to the range of actors and topics covered by this sub-section.
Religion can be used or mobilized to promote either conflict or peacebuilding. The different ways the contribution of religion to peacebuilding can be conceived are detailed at some length, including: religious actors contribution to the peacemaking phase; religious beliefs as intangible components supporting peacebuilding processes; social functions traditionally performed by religious actors; religious actors as key members of local civil societies; and the specificity and evolution of the role of religious actors in peacebuilding.
A vast range of actors are engaged in religious peacebuilding. Religious actors"religious authorities, traditional spiritual leaders, and members of religious communities"and a large number of faith-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have a religious or faith core to their philosophy, membership, or programmatic approach, although they are not simply missionaries. Interreligious and transnational religious movements are another type of contributor to religious peacebuilding, along with non-religious actors. These different actors have been developing four main types of activities that are specifically aimed at supporting religion and religious actors contribution in peacebuilding: education and training programs; support to local faith-based NGOs; interfaith dialogues and programs; and international conferences.
The role of religion and religious actors in peacebuilding processes brings up a number of key debates and challenges. Among them are: the risks of pressure toward extremism; balancing missionary objectives and peace requisites; the need to respect diverse religious beliefs and spiritual resources; the challenges and limits specifically associated with interfaith dialogue; the importance of complementing faith-based initiatives with other peacebuilding efforts; the ambiguity of the relations to the political sphere; and the importance of evaluating and accumulating knowledge.
A series of case studies are presented in this sub-section. They give concrete illustrations of how religion and religious actors have been involved in peacebuilding processes in different contexts. Useful resources and references to additional information are provided.

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