Thursday, April 13, 2006

When Religion Brings Peace, Not War

Religious Contributions to Peacemaking: When Religion Brings Peace, Not War
Edited by David R. Smock, United States Institute of Peace, Peaceworks No.55
The post-September 11 world is seized with the dangers of religious extremism and conflict between religious communities, particularly between two or more of the Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The threat of religious extremism is real and well documented. The connection between religion and conflict is in the process of being thoroughly explored, however, to the extent that hyperbole and exaggeration are commonplace. In the popular mind, to discuss religion in the context of international affairs automatically raises the specter of religious-based conflict. The many other dimensions and impacts of religion tend to be downplayed or even neglected entirely.

The contribution that religion can make to peacemaking--as the flip side of religious conflict--is only beginning to be explored and explicated. All three of the Abrahamic faiths contain strong warrants for peacemaking. There are past 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. The most dramatic and most frequently cited case is the successful mediation the Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio achieved to help end the civil war in Mozambique in 1992.

Repeatedly citing these cases as the main points of reference distorts the reality of religious peacemaking. Most of the cases of religious or faith-based peacemaking are less dramatic in their outcomes. Also, religious peacemaking is becoming much more common, and the number of cases cited is growing at an increasing pace.

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