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An Introduction to Peacebuilding and Religion

Religious peacebuilding is generally defined as “community-oriented processes that are relationship-centered and participatory” [1]. Religious peacebuilding has also been defined as peacebuilding done by religious actors [2]. A key notion to understand when to incorporate religion into peacebuilding or vice-versa, is that the peacebuilding methodologies are the same whether religion is included or not. Religion has the potential to break apart society or to manifest nonviolent methods to breach factors that contribute to the tensions of conflict.

Although religion can be used to demonize and emphasize ‘an other’ within ‘us versus them conflicts,’ spiritual innovators have been crucial to peacemaking efforts in various moments of history [3]. The social and cultural weight that religion may have in various societies imply that religious institutions may be better equipped to motivate communal action [4]. Peacebuilding efforts are emphasized and enhanced by religious institutions that function at a communal level [5].

2014 Annual International Conference on Ethnic and Religious Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding,

Here are three ways to break down how religion can contribute to peacebuilding and when:

1. Conditions needed to foster faith-based peacebuilding

Smock, the director of the United States Institute of Peace Religion and Peacemaking Initiative, has developed the following list of conditions that help foster better faith-based intervention in conflict situations [6]. If one of the following conditions is met, then there is a higher probability of having a successful nonviolent intervention from faith-based institutions, leaders, or ideals within the society in conflict.

  • When religion is a significant factor in the identity of one or both parts to the conflict [7]

  • If religious leaders on both sides of the dispute can be mobilized to facilitate peace [8]

  • When protracted struggles between two major religious traditions transcend national borders [9]

  • When forces of realpolitik--a system of politic or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations [10]--have lead to an extended paralysis of action [11]

Ideally, multiple types of religions should come together from the society in conflict, because there are probably multiple types of cultural significances for diverse religions.

2. Contributions by religious actors to peacebuilding

Religious actors are highly important in peacebuilding because they have “a variety of social and political implications” [12]. Religious actors are also main community figures and leaders. They have a widespread and systematic link to reach many people and involve them in nonviolent peace. Some ways in which religious actors can contribute to peacebuilding are [13]:

  • To input their ideas to peacebuilding theory

  • Be advocates that empower weaker party(ies)

  • Function as intermediaries using peacemaking to resolve differences

  • Act as observers through their physical and moral presence in a conflict setting in hopes of preventing violence

3. Contributions of religious beliefs to peacebuilding

Many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, African Independent Churches (AICs), Baha’i Faith, and many others, contain teachings of peace in their main texts [14]. Religious beliefs generally incorporate motions of peace, but these teachings should enforce nonviolent peace. Spirituality in general can also be a great supporting system for peacebuilding [15]. Belief systems can help with the following aspects of peacebuilding [16]:

  • Helping people through an identity transformation process

  • Support rituals of healing and reintegration processes

Religious Peace Circle,

Below are four general peacebuilding contributions that institutions, organizations, and

individuals, religious or not, can actively participate in.

1. Mobilization - the shaping of people’s views of the world and their basic values [17]

Mobilization can be used to introduce concepts of peacebuilding and nonviolent actions to people. Mobilization is a great factor that institutions and organizations can develop for people that follow them. Individuals can also shape their own views and discuss their developing understandings of peace to others to influence their view of the world.

2. Socialization - bring people together through activities to socialize (talk and interact among persons) [18]

Socialization is a great method to lead into the integration of people. It can begin taking place particularly through education and trainings (bystander intervention, nonviolent action training, active listening training) [19].

3. Integration - the integration of those excluded from society [20]

Integration can be useful in implementing the culture of peace in general. Within a society in conflict, however, integration might be that of internally displaced people, refugees, or other migrants. In this case, integration can be achieved through humanitarian aid and socio-economic development projects. Religious (and other) institutions or actors can also reach out to partner organizations and international aid to help promote existing projects or create their own.

4. Substitution - the function of an institution in place of political and partisan-type organizations [21]

Substitution is specifically geared towards institutions because it is very hard to take the place of a giant politicized body and reach a decent amount of influence for individuals. Substitution can be very useful in conflict areas because many times politicized institutions can be bipartisan and fuel conflict dialogue rather than constructive peacebuilding dialogue.

Using peacebuilding methods through religious actors and/or institutions can have a widespread impact on societies in conflict. Although there might be hesitation to use these methods in certain conflicts (and with dues reason at times), it is still beneficial to understand the full impact that religion and peacebuilding can have. Religious leaders can also benefit from having a symbiotic interaction with peacebuilding ideologies and actions. Nonetheless, there are multiple ways that someone can contribute to peacebuilding in general.


[1] Heather Dubois, “Religion and Peacebuilding,” Journal of Religion, Conflict, and Peace 1, no. 2, (Spring 2008),

[2] Dubois, “Religion and Peacebuilding.”

[3] David Creamer and Christopher Hrynkow, “Religion, Peace and Violence: Tensions and Promises,” in Peace on earth: the role of religion in peace and conflict studies, (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014), 13.

[4] Dubois, “Religion and Peacebuilding.”

[5] David R. Smock, ed., “Religious Contributions to Peacemaking: When Religion Brings Peace, Not War,” Peaceworks, no. 55 (January 1, 2006), United States Institute of Peace,

[6] David R. smock, ed., “Religious Contributions to Peacemaking: When Religion Brings Peace, Not War.”

[7] David R. smock, ed., “Religious Contributions to Peacemaking: When Religion Brings Peace, Not War.”

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “realpolitik,” English: Oxford Living Dictionaries,

[11] David R. smock, ed., “Religious Contributions to Peacemaking: When Religion Brings Peace, Not War.”

[12] Dubois, “Religion and Peacebuilding.”

[13] “Religion & Peacebuilding Processes,” Peacebuilding Initiative, last modified April 7, 2009,

[14] Peacebuilding Initiative, “Religion & Peacebuilding Processes.”

[15] Peacebuilding Initiative, “Religion & Peacebuilding Processes.”

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

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