Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsAppreciating the multifaceted nature of peace is an important underlying principle of prevailing approaches to dealing with conflict, particularly the aftermath of violent conflict in contemporary global politics. This is known as peacebuilding. Peacebuilding has been a relatively recent addition to established approaches to conflict resolution and peace, yet it has quickly become one of the most prominent. Its appeal stems from the fact that it strives for a holistic approach to the pursuit of peace, consistent with the definition of positive peace, combining many of the previously well-established techniques, such as mediation, negotiation, peacekeeping, justice, and reconciliation processes, amongst numerous others. Most peace and conflict scholars concur that a holistic approach is necessary in the post-Cold War world.

Skip to 1 minute and 1 secondThe nature of international conflict has altered dramatically, as we saw in Week 3 of this course. Greater interconnectedness across borders through trade and financial flows and advances in technology, especially communication technology, have significantly impacted the way individuals, communities, and nation states interact with one another, and, consequently, has also affected how conflicts occur, and how we should approach resolving them. After several decades of neglect, there have been substantial advancements in knowledge of and approaches to religion's role in conflict and peacebuilding since the 1990s. Douglas Johnston, founder of the International Centre for Religion and Diplomacy, and Cynthia Sampson, as early as 1994, explored the significance of spirituality as a motivating factor in violence and peace across a number of different conflict settings.

Skip to 1 minute and 57 secondsScott Appleby, in 2000, examined religion's ambivalent relationship with conflict and violence, asking how religion could incite violence, and yet, at the same time, be such a powerful force in promoting peace. Other studies, such as those by Jeffrey Searle, John Paul Lederach, and numerous others, all added to our knowledge and understanding of religion and its relationship with conflict, violence, and peace. One of the most recent and comprehensive studies on religion's role in peacebuilding has been developed by Megan Shore. In her study on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, Shore outlined several concrete ways in which religion-- and, in particular, religious leaders-- can positively contribute to the pursuit of peace.

Skip to 2 minutes and 48 secondsFirstly, religious leaders have the power to understand the ambivalence of the sacred-- the phrase coined by Scott Appleby-- and to navigate the at times tricky and dangerous territory that may exist between violence and peace amongst religiously-inspired actors. Secondly, religious leaders have access to strong ethical and moral arguments and justifications, able to point to important scriptures and heroes of faith who championed nonviolence and the pursuit of peace. Thirdly, religious leaders have a ready-made communication network through the churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and the members of their faith communities that can provide logistical assistance in conflict resolution. And finally, religious leaders often play a strong role in civil society, promoting civic engagement, shared responsibility, and participation.

Skip to 3 minutes and 44 secondsThey can be a crucial asset, not only in the resolution of violent conflict, but in promoting the development of an active and politically-engaged citizenry. Involving religious leaders in peacebuilding initiatives also has its limitations, depending on how entrenched the animosity between religious groups involved in the conflict may be, and how willing religious leaders may be to negotiate and step beyond the boundaries of their own at times highly dogmatic views. Nonetheless, in many cases religious leaders are such significant figures in that community that even if they are seemingly rigid and unwavering in their views, there is little chance of establishing lasting peace in a community if religious leaders are not part of exploring solutions.

Skip to 4 minutes and 32 secondsSurprisingly, given the apparently increasing prevalence of so-called religious conflict in the post-Cold War era, and the significance scholarly advancements on religion and its relationship with conflict and peacebuilding, contemporary peacebuilding approaches frequently neglect religion as an element requiring consideration. Or if they do consider it, they treat it in a highly simplistic way.

Skip to 4 minutes and 58 secondsAs Megan Shore notes, while eminent scholars on religion, conflict, and violence, such as those mentioned earlier, have paved the way for greater consideration of religion in conflict and peace, these studies have still, in some ways, reflected influences from secularist assumptions, focusing particularly on bringing religion in to existing state-centric conflict resolution mechanisms, emphasising the role of religious institutions, and implicitly positioning religions as either good or bad, when the reality is far more complex.

Skip to 5 minutes and 32 secondsUnderstandings of religion within both conflict resolution and peacebuilding-- and international relations more broadly-- still tend to operate with fixed assumptions about the nature of religion-- that it is something that can be easily labelled and identified, that it is static and unchanging, rather than considering religion as a fluid category that shifts and changes depending on context, that may have no relevance at all in some cultural contexts, and may not even resemble the dominant features that we associate with it from our Western perspective.

Skip to 6 minutes and 6 secondsSuch assumptions are often associated with what is referred to as a secular bias, meaning that these fields hold mainly secular views on the world, influenced by the secularisation thesis, which we examined in Week 2-- that religion is a private matter and is, therefore, irrelevant to such public issues as conflict and peacebuilding, that it is irrational, and will only contribute to exacerbating conflict and violence, rather than providing a resource for resolving conflict, or a means for understanding alternative perspectives and approaches to both conflict and peacebuilding.

Religion and peacebuilding - part 2

This video addresses the process of peacebuilding as a preventative measure for conflict, as well as in the aftermath of violence and upheaval.

Since the 90’s there have a number of different studies that have looked at ways that religion can and has contributed to the process of peacebuilding, and new strategies for the inclusion of all levels of society and culture in order to build lasting peace.


Up for debate

  • Why do you think there has been a neglect of involving religious leaders in peacebuilding?
  • Do you think this may have something to do with the understanding of conflict as well as religion; you may want to reflect on Week 1’s definitions as well as secularism?

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Religion and Conflict

University of Groningen

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