Religion & Peacebuilding: Case Studies

This section presents a few suggestions for developing case studies. Comments and suggestions are welcome. We want in particular to show what has been implemented so far in different contexts, including why, how, what the main outputs and outcomes have been, what the different points of view are in each particular experience, where visitors can find more resources useful for their own context, and so on. By giving access to a vast array of perspectives and experiences, the portal should enable users to create the knowledge they need for their own context. As it is an evolving platform, we will continue to expand this database of experiences as the project progresses.

Cambodia: The Interfaith Initiative for Peace and the Dhammayietra peace walk

Cambodia suffered tremendous destruction under the Khmer Rouge regime from 197579, including the massacre of an estimated 1.7 million people as a result of policies of radical collectivism, nationalist isolation, and continuous internal purges. The Buddhist clergy was nearly annihilated, and the practice of religion was forbidden. Buddhist temples, the Islamic mosques of Cambodia's Cham people, Christian churches, and religious books and literature were destroyed or desecrated. According to Beatrice Pouligny, "After the defeat of the Khmer Rouges, the Vietnamese authorities who controlled the country sent bonzes to Vietnam for training and rapidly saw that it was in their interest to get the support of the clergy for rebuilding the country. In the refugee camps on the borders, the bonzes were similarly used by all parties in the conflict, essentially as a means of social control. It was in this context that there emerged in exile true leaders who advocated a bigger role for the bonzes and built up considerable political and financial support networks in Europe and the United States, most often connected with Cambodian political networks. They mobilized in favor of peace and were present at all the peace talks."1 They also played an important part in the civic education program preceding the general elections of 1993.

Some Buddhist leaders advocated the importance of "Buddhism as a possible bridge between the Western idea of human rights and Khmer values."2 After the peace agreements, several religious initiatives tried to help Cambodians find a way to peace, deal with a traumatic past, and cope with a daily life that continues to be characterized by poverty, economic and social inequality, corruption, violence, ethnic prejudice, and factionalism. Among the ongoing religion-based programs are the Interfaith Initiative for Peace in Cambodia and the Dhammayietra peace walk.

In 1992, a number of local and foreign peace activists initiated the first Dhammayietra Peace Walk (literally, "a Pilgrimage of Truth"). It has taken place around the time of the Cambodian New Year ever since. Villagers along the way see the walk and the gradual return of Buddhism and Buddhist monks as a sign that peace is real, despite the continued hardships that are a result of the war. In 2004, the walk included a group of 140 monks, lay people, and volunteers who persevered through a 6-km hike up a steep rocky trail and climbed the steps of Preah Vihear, a mountaintop temple in northern Cambodia. They completed a 21-day 375-km walk through the Cambodian countryside. 2

The walk is meant to promote the ideals of Buddhism: compassion, loving kindness, generosity, honesty, and tolerance. It also acts as a reminder of the absence of war. Pilgrims from all religions, nationalities, and backgrounds come to participate, united only by a commitment to peace and truth. Canadian anthropologist Monique Skidmore observes that the Dhammayietra is a "new cultural ritual of remembering" and that "through the creation of new collective memories it will allow some Cambodians to emerge from the culture of violence created by the last twenty years of war."3

For more information:


Morris, Catherine. "Peacebuilding in Cambodia: The Role of Religion." In Religion and Peacebuilding, edited by Harold Coward and Gordon S. Smith. New York: State University of New York Press, 2003.

Dhammayietra Centre for Peace and Nonviolence. "Step by Step on the Way to Peace: The Dhammayietra Walk in Cambodia."

Khemacaro, Yos Hut. "Steering the Middle Path: Buddhism, Non-Violence and Political Change in Cambodia." ACCORD 5 (November 1998): 7176.

Ngin, Chanrith, ed. "Minutes of Workshop on Strategies for Peace and Non-Violent Actions in Cambodia." Minutes from the workshop, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 2829, 1998.



Alliance for Conflict Transformation, Cambodia

World Faiths Development Dialogue, Santi Sena

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Ex-Yugoslavia: Conflict resolution seminars for religious groups

David Steele, formerly of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, and now senior reconciliation facilitator with the United States Institute of Peace's Baghdad office in Iraq, has conducted more than 35 conflict resolution seminars for religious groups in various parts of the former Yugoslavia.

Steele started his work by utilizing the more-or-less standard problem-solving approach to conflict resolution, but found that he needed to give greater attention to building relationships, particularly across lines of religious division. Steele enables participants to work through their suffering, largely through storytelling and then by asking how participants' religious faith has helped them cope with this suffering. This is done in small groups to enable the "other" to be humanized. The participants then share their fears and needs with each other by trying to put themselves in the shoes of those on the other side. Next, there is confession of personal sin and acknowledgment of wrongdoing on the part of ones group. This is done by preparing a list of wrongs that one's own group has committed and by sharing this list with those in the opposing group.

The participants then face the challenge of forgiving those on the other side and making decisions to move beyond hatred and revenge. Finally, the participants are asked to work together for justice by addressing high-priority needs. This entails identifying concrete projects to be undertaken collaboratively, that is, on an interethnic/interreligious basis. The purpose of this process is to achieve reconciliation and restore positive relationships.

Beyond this effort to advance interpersonal and inter-group reconciliation, Steele is promoting local institutional development by helping to create new non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia dedicated to expanding this work of interreligious reconciliation. According to Steele, the critical elements in the reconciliation process include empathic identification with all sufferers and the opportunity to express acceptance of one's own suffering and that of others. Individuals need a chance to tell their stories and to know that their pasts are acknowledged. Empathetic listening is essential. But, injustices cannot be overlooked or belittled in the process. Central to the reconciliation process is the acknowledgment of the terrible wrongs that have been committed, and an effective grief process that enables one to move beyond victimization to a true spirit of forgiveness. While individual reconciliation is critical, reconciliation must also involve whole communities and the nation.

For more information:


Steele, David. "Christianity in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo: From Ethnic Captive to Agent of Reconciliation." In Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik, edited by Douglas Johnston. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Steele, David. "Conflict Resolution among Religious People in Bosnia and Croatia." In Religion and the War inBosnia, edited by Paul Mojzes. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1998.

Steele, David. "Contributions of Interfaith Dialogue to Peace-Building in the Former Yugoslavia." In Interfaith Dialogue and Peace-Building, edited by David R. Smock. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2002.

Steele David. "Ecumenical Community Building and Conflict Resolution Training in the Balkans." United States Institute for Peace Occasional Paper, 1998.

Steele, David. "Interfaith Dialogue as a Means of Healing and Empowerment of Religious Communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina." In Conducting Dialogues for Peace, edited by George Ward. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2003.

Steele, David. "Practical Approaches to Inter-Religious Dialogue and the Empowerment of Religious Communities as Agents of Reconciliation." In Inter-Religious Dialogue as a Way of Reconciliation in South Eastern Europe, edited by Milan Vukomanovic and Marinko Vucini. Belgrade: Belgrade Open School Center for Publishing, 2001.


United States Institute of Peace Religion and Peacemaking Program

David Steele, United States Institute of Peace

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Guatemala: The Project for the Reconstruction of a Historical Memory of the Office of Human Rights of the Archbishop of Guatemala

From the 1960s until 1996, Guatemala endured a civil war that pitted left-wing guerrillas against a right-wing elite. During the early 1980s, Guatemalas security forces engaged in a campaign of terror and intimidation against agrarian, mostly indigenous Mayan peasants, who were viewed as sympathetic to the leftist insurgency. Starting in the early 1990s, the warring parties began a dialogue that led, ultimately, to the formal end of the war on December 29, 1996, but the horrors of the previous decades left many scars. In 1994, both sides agreed to the establishment of the Commission for Historical Clarification (Comisin para el Esclarecimiento Histrico, or CEH). In 1995, the Office of Human Rights of the Archbishop of Guatemala (ODHAG) launched a parallel project: the Project for the Reconstruction of a Historical Memory in Guatemala (Proyecto de Recuperacin de la Memoria Histrica, or REMHI). REHMI aimed to help the population heal and to account for its past in an effort to move forward toward meaningful reconciliation and peacebuilding in Guatemala. The Catholic Church relied on its ability to reach a widespread constituency. Its efforts led to the presentation of the report, Guatemala: Nunca Ms (Guatemala: Never Again), to the public on April 24, 1998, by Bishop Juan Jos Gerardi Conedera, who was murdered two days later.

A case study of Guatemala would contain the following elements: (1) a brief overview of the conflict and the peacebuilding efforts of the Catholic Church, with a particular focus on REHMI; (2) an evaluation of REHMI and its effects; and (3) a discussion on the role of the Catholic Church with respect to peacebuilding in Guatemala, with a particular focus on its ability to reach a widespread audience and its interaction and effect in working with non-Catholic Guatemalan people who honor different beliefs and follow different rituals.

For more information:


People Building Peace. "Restoring the Power of Speech: The REHMI Initiative in Guatemala."

Lindstrom, Dave. Putting the Pieces Back Together. Chicago: Foundation for Human Rights in Guatemala.

Reilly, Charles A. "Peace-Building and Development in Guatemala and Northern Ireland." Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Occasional Paper No. 25, October 2004.


Human Rights Office of the Archbishopric of Guatemala (La Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala)

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Nigeria: Interfaith activities to support peacebuilding efforts

The population of Nigeria includes nearly the same number of Muslims and Christians, most of whom identify themselves by their religion first, even before their identities as Africans, Nigerians, or members of an ethnic group.4 Religious identities have become increasingly important over the last 20 years, as the function of the state has weakened and tensions between the groups have mounted. Tensions turned to violence in the wake of the 1999 election of Christian Yoruba Olusegun Obasanjo, who also reorganized the military whose corps had previously represented the Islamic northern states. In the northern part of the country, the economy weakened and sharia (Islamic law) was put into place. With internal migration bringing the two groups closer together, Christian and Islamic militias have sprung up and tens of thousands have died since 1999. A number of efforts to implement religion-based peacebuilding efforts have been established. In particular, James Wuye and Muhammed Ashafa, respectively a pastor and an imam, co-founded the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum in Kaduna in 1995.

A case study of Nigeria would contain the following elements: (1) a brief overview of the current state of the religious divide and history of the conflict; (2) an overview of peacemaking efforts and an in-depth study of peacebuilding activities in Nigeria, including the interfaith mediation center, establishment of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, the Nigerian governments approach to working with religious leaders, involvement of major religious organizations in the area of education reform, good governance, and economic development, and the efforts of the Interfaith Coalition of Nigeria; and (3) an analysis, evaluation, and discussion of how these activities have contributed to peacebuilding in the country.

For more information:


Bouta, Tsjeard, 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 Salam Institute for Peace and Justice, November 2005.

Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement with Religion in Conflict Prone Settings. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007.

Channer, Alan, dir. "The Imam and the Pastor." London: FLT Films, 2007.

Crawley, Mike. "Two Men Create Bridge over Nigerias Troubled Waters." Christian Science Monitor, February 28, 2003.

Fieguth, Debra. "Peace Building in Nigeria." Canadian Christianity.

Smock, David R. "Divine Intervention: Regional Reconciliation Through Faith." Religion 25, no. 4 (2004).

Tapkida, Gopar. "MCC Nigeria Inter-Faith Peacebuilding: History and Learnings." Interfaith Bridge Building, Peace Office Newsletter 35, no. 4 (2005).

Wuye, James Movel, and Muhammad Nurayn Ashafa. The Pastor and the Imam: Responding to Conflict. Lagos: Ibrash Publications, 1999.


United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Nigeria

Nigeria Direct, Official Gateway of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

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The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative in northern Uganda

Though still to be developed, another potential case study could over the role of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI), a forum that brings together Christian and Muslim leaders, in the northern Ugandan peace process. Please see some references below for further information.

For more information:


Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI). Reconciliation Agenda and the Search for Peace in Northern Uganda. Kampala: ARLPI, 1999.
A call for action by ARLPI on a list of issues deemed critical for the attainment of peace.

Allen, Tim. War and Justice in Northern Uganda: An Assessment of the International Criminal Courts Intervention. London: Crisis States Research Centre, 2005.
A section of this report discusses the effectiveness of initiatives by local religious groups, such as healers and ARLPI, to facilitate reconciliation as compared to the International Criminal Court.

Beyna, Larry S., Michael Lund, Stacy S. Stacks, Janet Tuthill, and Patricia Vondal. "Case Study Two: The Role of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) in Peace Building in Northern Uganda." In The Effectiveness of Civil Society Initiatives in Controlling Violent Conflicts and Building Peace: A Study of Three Approaches in the Greater Horn of Africa. Washington, DC: Management Systems International, 2001.
This report analyzes the influence, effect, and outcomes of ARLPI in the northern Ugandan peace and reconciliation process.

Kasaija, Apuuli Phillip. "Civil Society and Conflict Resolution: The Role of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) in the Northern Uganda Conflict." Paper presented at the 7th Annual Conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR), Bangkok, Thailand, July 912, 2006.
After a broader discussion of the importance of civil society organizations in Uganda, the paper examines ARLPI's strategies in pursuing peace throughout the various stages of the northern Uganda conflict, including dialogue and advocacy initiatives, as well as partnerships with the International Criminal Court.

Ochola, Robert Lukwiya. "The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative in the Battlefield of Northern Uganda: An Example of an Integral, Inculturated and Ecumenical Approach to Pastoral Work in a War Situation." PhD diss., Leopold-Franzens-Universitt Innsbruck, 2006.
This report analyzes ARLPI's origins, role in the peace process, achievements to date, challenges ahead, and future prospects.

Rodriguez, Carlos. The Role of the Religious Leaders. London: Conciliation Resources, 2002.
This article discusses the formation of ARLPI, its role in the peace process, and its effectiveness given the support and trust it enjoys from local communities.

1. Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below, 8586.
2. Ibid., 8586.
3. Dhammayietra Centre for Peace and Nonviolence, "Step by Step on the Way to Peace: The Dhammayietra Walk in Cambodia."
4. Danan, Mixed Blessings, 29, citing Robert Ruby and Timothy Samuel Shah, "Nigeria's Presidential Election: The Christian-Muslim Divide," Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (March 21, 2007).

The news, reports, and analyses herein are selected due to there relevance to issues of peacebuilding, or their significance to policymakers and practitioners. The content prepared by HPCR International is meant to summarize main points of the current debates and does not necessarily reflect the views of HPCR International or the Program of Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. In addition, HPCR International and contributing partners are not responsible for the content of external publications and internet sites linked to this portal.