Religion and peacebuilding

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Religion often plays a critical role in global conflicts, but comparatively little public attention has been paid to the role of religion in peacemaking.

Foreign relations and diplomacy have been understood and practiced as secular activities. Yet with growing awareness of religion as a force influencing political and civil behavior, as well as recognition of the sheer number of believers in the world, more attention is now being paid to religion as a factor in foreign relations, as a way to understand social change and tensions, as a means of bringing about justice and as a key civil institution that can build, or rebuild, a culture. New analysis today looks at how people identify with their religion, and how that identification shapes their relations to other groups. Because religion influences behavior, it can be an element in social and cultural dynamics. Religious leaders are among society’s leaders, and what they say or do can influence those they lead.

To better acknowledge and harness the power of religion within cultures, programs are springing up to do research and training, faith-based relief agencies are doing peacebuilding, books are being written. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s 2006 book, The Mighty & The Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs, exemplifies this growing recognition of religion as a key institution in many cultures. One expert says peacebuilding is becoming a cottage industry in Washington. And just as diplomats and international relations specialists are giving the nod to religious peacebuilding, for their part religious leaders are becoming more visible in world affairs and, more commonly, in grass-roots social and political movements.


Why it matters

War today is often fought within rather than between countries, calling for new strategies for prevention and intervention. Peacebuilding can be a key to a culture’s development.

People of faith certainly know that the world’s religions teach and value peace, and those teachings are central to sacred texts. Yet a challenge to people of faith throughout history, and the subject of endless writing and debate, is how to apply religious teachings about peacemaking to group relations among peoples and nations. Ease of global communication and travel and the presence of ethnic or religious minorities in many countries make social stability and peaceful co-existence among diverse groups more important than ever.

Angles for reporters

Although this topic is connected to foreign affairs, here are some ways to bring the story home:

Many universities have programs in conflict resolution or peace studies, as well as international affairs. Check with your local institutions. Graduates and instructors may have interesting experiences to report or may be offering training to people of faith. What do international affairs specialists say about trends in their field? Are they seeing more emphasis on the role of religion in conflict and peacemaking?

Relief and development agencies are involved in peacebuilding in the foreign areas in which they work. If you have such an agency or chapter in your area, check whether it is involved in such efforts.

Peacebuilding is a way of working with groups with diverse and conflicting interests. Have local religious leaders taken part in peacebuilding or received training to do so?

Congregations that support mission work overseas may also have some experience with peacebuilding. Many sponsor youth or work groups doing building and development overseas. Check with them about their work.

Communities with immigrants from the world’s trouble spots have residents who can speak from experience about the cost of conflict, prospects for resolution or their experience with peacebuilding programs in their home countries.

Have any local congregations sent delegations to the Middle East?

National sources

Scholars of religion

  • R. Scott Appleby

    R. Scott Appleby is professor of religious history at the University of Notre Dame and John M. Regan Jr. director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He teaches courses in American religious history and comparative religious movements and is the co-editor of Being Right: Conservative Catholics in America (Indiana University Press, 1995).

  • Judith A. Berling

    Judith A. Berling is a professor of Chinese and comparative religions at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. She is interested in Chinese spiritualities and has written an article on “Confucianism and Peacebuilding,” in Religion and Peacebuilding.

  • Michael K. Duffey

    Michael K. Duffey is an associate professor of ethics at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He specializes in peace and justice issues, and his publications include Sowing Justice, Reaping Peace: Case Studies of Racial, Religious and Ethnic Healing Around the World.

  • Robert Eisen

    Robert Eisen is a religion professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and director of its Judaic studies program. He has served as a consultant on matters of religion and international conflict and is especially interested in bettering relations between the West and the Islamic world. Eisen helped arrange an unprecedented meeting in 2005 between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and 80 U.S. rabbis.

  • Khaled Abou El Fadl

    Khaled Abou El Fadl is an internationally recognized law professor and the Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Fellow in Islamic Law at the University of California, Los Angeles. He teaches a course on Islamic law and has also taught about Middle Eastern investment law, immigration law and human rights and terrorism. His books include Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women, and he wrote the entry on Shariah for The Oxford University Handbook of Islam and Politics.

  • John Esposito

    John Esposito is founding director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and professor of religion and international affairs and of Islamic studies at Georgetown. He is an expert on global terrorism, Islam and democracy, and international interfaith relations. His publications include Islamaphobia: The Challenges of Pluralism in the 21st Century and Islam: The Straight Path; The Oxford Dictionary of Islam; Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam; What Everyone Needs to Know About IslamWho Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think; and Women in Muslim Family Law.

  • Joseph J. Fahey

    Joseph J. Fahey was a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College in Riverdale, N.Y. He specializes in Christian social ethics and peace studies, and his publications include War and the Christian Conscience: Where Do You Stand?

  • Marc H. Gopin

    Marc H. Gopin is James H. Laue Professor of World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution and director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. He is frequently quoted on conflict resolution, and his publications include Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East.

  • David Hollenbach

    David Hollenbach is a professor of theology at Boston College as well as the University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice and director of the Center for Human Rights and International Justice. He has written widely on issues related to Christian ethics, religious freedom, church-state relations and the role of religion in promoting the common good. He is the author of The Global Face of Public Faith: Politics, Human Rights and Christian Ethics.

  • James T. Johnson

    James T. Johnson is a distinguished professor of religion at Rutgers University in New Jersey where he specializes in religious ethics, religion and society, and just war theory. He is considered one of the deans of contemporary just war theory and has written many articles and books on the topic.

  • John Kelsay

    John Kelsay is distinguished research professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee.  He specializes in comparative religious ethics, religion and war, and peace and has written extensively about Islam and war. His publications include Arguing the Just War in Islam. He can speak to Islamic law and warfare.

  • Sallie B. King

    Sallie B. King is a professor of philosophy and religion at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. A specialist in Buddhism, she has written extensively about engaged Buddhism, the activist and peacemaking branch of contemporary Buddhism. Major publications include Being Benevolence: The Social Ethics of Engaged Buddhism and Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia, which she co-edited with Christopher Queen.

  • Gayle Gerber Koontz

    Gayle Gerber Koontz is a professor of theology and ethics at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. She has written about women and peacemaking; her publications include “Peace Theology in Transition: North American Mennonite Peace Studies and Theology 1906-2006,” in the January 2007 Mennonite Quarterly Review.

  • Yehezkel Landau

    Yehezkel Landau is an associate professor of interfaith relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn., where he coordinated Building Abrahamic Partnerships, an interfaith training program for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Today, he is the founder of Landau Interfaith, where he consults with communities, organizations and groups on Jewish, Christian and Muslim relations.


  • John Paul Lederach

    John Paul Lederach is professor of international peacebuilding at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. He is known for his international work in conflict transformation, which includes work in Colombia, the Philippines, Nepal and Tajikistan, and in East and West Africa. His books include The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace.

  • Steve Nolt

    Steve Nolt is a history professor at Goshen College in Goshen, Ind., with formal training as a historian in the areas of U.S. immigration and ethnic history and American religious history. He also has significant personal and professional interest in Mennonite and Amish history and thought. An Anabaptist specialist, he has written extensively about Mennonites, Amish and peace. His publications include, as co-author, Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy.

  • Michelene E. Pesantubbee

    Michelene E. Pesantubbee is assistant professor of religious studies and of American Indian and Native studies at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. Her publications include “In Search of the White Path: American Indian Peacebuilding” in Religion and Peacebuilding.

  • Christopher S. Queen

    Christopher S. Queen is a lecturer on the study of religion and dean of students for continuing education at Harvard University in Boston, where he teaches courses on Buddhism in America and Buddhism and social change. Read a June 18, 2004, interview he did with the Echo Chamber Project, in which he discusses Buddhism, war, peace and violence in movies. He is editor of Engaged Buddhism in the West and co-editor of Action Dharma: New Studies in Engaged Buddhism.

  • Abdul Aziz Said

    Abdul Aziz Said is Mohammed Said Farsi Professor of Islamic Peace at American University in Washington, D.C. His publications include Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam: Precept and Practice (as co-editor), Cultural Diversity and Islam (also as co-editor) and Islam and Peacemaking in the Middle East.

  • Lisa Schirch

    Lisa Schirch is a professor of peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. She is program director of the university’s 3D Security Initiative. The university hosted a summer Peacebuilding Institute with representatives from the U.S. military and a wide variety of civil groups interested in peacemaking.

  • Gary M. Simpson

    Gary M. Simpson is a professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and director of the seminary’s God-in-Global-Civil-Society Project. He wrote the 2007 book War, Peace and God: Rethinking the Just-War Tradition.

  • Glen H. Stassen

    Glen H. Stassen is the Lewis Smeades Professor of Christian Ethics at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. He is an expert on religion and social justice and specializes in war, peace and ethics. He wrote Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War.

  • J. Dudley Woodberry

    J. Dudley Woodberry is professor of Islamic studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. He co-edited Muslim and Christian Reflections on Peace: Divine and Human Dimensions.

Scholars--other disciplines

  • Mohammed Abu-Nimer

    Mohammed Abu-Nimer is a professor at the American University’s School of International Service in Washington, D.C., where he directs the Peacebuilding and Development Institute. He has researched, intervened and conducted conflict resolution workshops around the world, including in the Palestinian territories, Israel, Egypt, Northern Ireland, the Philippines (Mindanao) and Sri Lanka. Abu-Nimer is also a senior adviser to KAICIID, the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue.

  • Kevin Avruch

    Kevin Avruch is professor of conflict resolution and anthropology at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. He is an expert on culture and conflict, and his publications include (as co-author) Information Campaigns for Peace Operations.

  • Andrea Bartoli

    Andrea Bartoli holds the Drucie French Cumbie Chair of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. His publications include “Christianity and Peacebuilding” in Religion and Peacebuilding. He has been involved in many conflict resolution activities as a member of the Community of Sant’Egidio.

  • Mark Juergensmeyer

    Mark Juergensmeyer is director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies and a professor of sociology and affiliate professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, and his most recent book is Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State, From Christian Militias to al Qaeda (2008).

  • David L. Perry

    David L. Perry is a professor of ethics and holds the Gen. Maxwell Taylor Chair of the Profession of Arms at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. He teaches courses on ethics and warfare and on world religions in strategic context, and he writes core-course lessons on ethical reasoning and ethics of the military profession. His publications include “Why Hearts and Minds Matter: Chivalry and Humanity, Even in Counterinsurgency, Are Not Obsolete,” in the September 2006 Armed Forces Journal, and “Ethics and War in Comparative Religious Perspective,” in U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues, 2008. His book Partly Cloudy: Ethics in War, Espionage and Covert Action was published in 2009.

  • Daniel Philpott

    Daniel Philpott is an associate professor in the political science department and the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is involved in a major Harvard University-based study on religion and global politics and wrote a forthcoming book on reconciliation in global politics, Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation.

  • Mark Tessler

    Mark Tessler is the Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He also directs the university’s International Institute. He has done extensive research on public opinion in the Arab world and is the author of A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, among other publications.

Others of note

  • Madeleine Albright

    Madeleine Albright, former U.S. secretary of state, is the author of The Mighty and the AlmightyReflections on America, God, and World Affairs (HarperCollins, 2006). She founded the Albright Group LLC, chairs the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and teaches at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.

  • David Cortright

    David Cortright is president of the Fourth Freedom Forum and a research fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He has served as a consultant or adviser to agencies of the United Nations, international think tanks and the foreign ministries of Canada, Japan and several European countries. Cortright has written widely on nuclear disarmament, multilateral counterterrorism, the use of incentives and sanctions as tools of international peacemaking, and nonviolent social change. He is the author or editor of 16 books, including Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas.

  • Susan Hayward

    Susan Hayward is associate director of the Religious Literacy and the Professions Initiative at Harvard University, teaching quarterly workshops to all incoming foreign service officers at the U.S. State Department on religious literacy for diplomacy and development. Formerly, she was the program officer of the Religion and Peacemaking program at the United States Institute of Peace, an independent and nonpartisan institution funded by Congress. She also worked as a religious peacemaking consultant in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

  • Douglas Johnston

    Douglas Johnston is president and founder of the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy in Washington, D.C. His books include Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft (as co-editor) and Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik.


U.S. based organizations/programs

  • Alliance for Peacebuilding

    The Alliance for Peacebuilding coalition in Washington, D.C., includes many faith-based members.

  • Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs

    The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of religion, ethics, and public life.

  • Catholic Peacebuilding Network

    The Catholic Peacebuilding Network connects practitioners and scholars to strengthen Catholic peacebuilding in areas of conflict.

  • Christian Peacemaker Teams

    Christian Peacemaker Teams send groups of people trained in nonviolence to the world’s trouble spots. Members of a CPT team were kidnapped in Iraq in late 2005, and one of them was subsequently murdered. The group has offices in Chicago and Canada.

  • Fellowship of Reconciliation

    Fellowship of Reconciliation is an interfaith organization that promotes nonviolence, peace and justice, partly through forgiveness. It was formed in 1915 in response to World War I and has programs in many countries. It’s based in Nyack , N.Y. Rev. Kristin Gill Stoneking is executive director.

  • Interfaith Peace-Builders

    Interfaith Peace-Builders was begun by the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 2000 in response to the second Palestinian intifada. It has organized 28 delegations to the Middle East to observe conditions in Israel and Palestine. Delegation members can be made available to speak to the press.

  • Religions for Peace–USA

    Religions for Peace – USA includes more than 60 religious communities and promotes multireligious cooperation toward peace.

  • Salam Institute for Peace and Justice

    The Salam Institute for Peace and Justice in Washington, D.C., seeks to bridge differences between Muslims and non-Muslims, both in the West and elsewhere. Its activities include a peacebuilding intervention and training program. Mohammed Abu-Nimer is director and co-founder.

  • United States Institute of Peace

    The United States Institute of Peace, an independent and nonpartisan institution funded by Congress, offers religion and peacemaking resources.

  • U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute

    The U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., does research and training on peacekeeping.

    Contact: 717-245-4223.
  • The Religious Society of Friends

    A comprehensive portal to information about Quakers.

  • National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom

    The National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom advocates for the religious rights of the Amish and Mennonites in America.

  • Mennonite Mission Network

    Mennonite Mission Network is the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA that supports ministries in more than 50 countries. The organization works to provide existing congregations and ministries the resources they need to lead, mobilize and equip its followers for the religious lifestyle of the mennonite communities.

  • Third Way Café

    Third Way Café, produced by Mennonite Media on behalf of the Mennonite Churches of the U.S. and Canada, is an organization dedicated to providing educational resources on the history and present day news on Mennonites. The organization has over over 3,000 pages of information and resources on its website. Contact through the website.

Programs based elsewhere

  • African Great Lakes Initiative–Friends Peace Teams

    The African Great Lakes Initiative–Friends Peace Teams — a Quaker program – supports and promotes grass-roots peace activities in the Great Lakes region of Africa. One effort brings together genocide survivors and perpetrators in Rwanda and Burundi for reconciliation and healing. The program is based in the Great Lakes region of Africa, with an office in St. Louis.

  • Carnegie Middle East Center

    The Carnegie Middle East Center, which is in Beirut, is part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Meshal DeSantis is the media director in Washington.

  • Community of Sant’Egidio

    The Community of Sant’Egidio is an international Catholic organization that has been involved in peacebuilding.

  • International Peace Research Association

    The International Peace Research Association is an international nongovernmental organization of scholars and practitioners studying issues related to sustainable peace.

  • Life & Peace Institute

    The Life & Peace Institute, based in Uppsala, Sweden, is an international ecumenical research and practice institute focused on conflict transformation. Contact through the website.

Relief and development agencies

  • Catholic Relief Services

    Catholic Relief Services, based in Baltimore, has a peacebuilding unit that has been working worldwide since the mid-1990s through development, education, advocacy, diplomacy and a variety of other means. Nikki Gamer is the senior public affairs manager.

  • World Vision

    World Vision is a Christian relief and development agency working on poverty reduction worldwide. World Vision president Richard Stearns’ book The Hole in Our Gospel won the 2010 Christian Book of the Year award. One focus of its work is sustainable development, including microfinance — it opened a microlending website this spring and has already attracted $385,000 and made more than 1,250 loans — and women’s and girls’ issues.

    World Vision’s peacebuilding work focuses on strengthening civil society to stabilize areas of conflict.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Georgette F. Bennett

    Georgette F. Bennett is president and founder of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in New York. Conflict resolution is one focus of the center, which published Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution.

  • Raymond G. Helmick

    The Rev. Raymond G. Helmick is an adjunct faculty member in the theology department of Boston College and co-editor of Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religion, Public Policy and Conflict Transformation. He specializes in studying and mediating international conflicts, including those in the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

  • Kenneth R. Himes

    Kenneth R. Himes is a professor of theology at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. His specialties include the ethics of warfare, and he has written extensively on just war and peace.

In the South

  • Lewis V. Baldwin

    The Rev. Lewis V. Baldwin is a professor emeritus of religious studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He edited the book The Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.: The Boundaries of Law, Politics and Religion.


  • G. Scott Davis

    G. Scott Davis is Lewis T. Booker Professor of Religion and Ethics, and he chairs the religion department at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. He has written about justice, war and peace, and his publications include Religion and Justice

  • Jim Deitrick

    Jim Deitrick is an associate professor and director of the Humanities and World Cultures Institute at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. His specialties include religion and social ethics and comparative religions.

  • Lester R. Kurtz

    Lester R. Kurtz is a professor of sociology and anthropology at George Mason University. He is an expert in Gandhian thought and  editor of the Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace & Conflict and lectures around the world on violence, politics and peacemaking.

  • Charles Mathewes

    Charles Mathewes, University of Virginia associate professor of religious studies, has written about evil and the Augustinian tradition and on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hannah Arendt. He says that since 9/11, there has been a “rehabilitation” of the idea that evil is a workable part of a healthy moral and religious worldview. His publications include (as co-editor) Religion, Law and the Role of Force: A Study of Their Influence on Conflict and on Conflict Resolution.

  • Michael J. Nojeim

    Michael J. Nojeim is an associate professor of political science at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas. His publications include Gandhi and King: The Power of Nonviolent Resistance.

In the Midwest

  • Patrick G. Coy

    Patrick G. Coy is a professor of political science and director of the Center for Applied Conflict Management at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. His specialties include religion and politics. Among his research projects are the philosophy of nonviolence of the Catholic monk Thomas Merton and a comparative analysis of the religious rhetoric used by President George W. Bush to support war and the religious rhetoric of the U.S. peace movement to oppose war. Coy has served on the council of the International Peace Research Association.

  • Richard B. Miller

    Richard B. Miller is a professor of religious studies and director of the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions at Indiana University in Bloomington. He has written extensively about the ethics of war and peace, and his publications include 9/11, Radical Islam and the Disquiet of Equal Liberty.

  • Tobias Lee Winright

    Tobias Lee Winright is an assistant professor of theology at St. Louis University. His interests include just war, just peacemaking, just policing and the responsibility to protect (R2P), and he has written extensively about the topics.

In the West

  • Ira R. Chernus

    Ira R. Chernus is a professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is interested in religion, war and peace and the connection between politics and faith. Among his publications are “Religion, War and Peace” in the Columbia Guide to Religion in American History; American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea; and Monsters to Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin.

  • Sharon Erickson Nepstad

    Sharon Erickson Nepstad is a professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico. Her research interests include religion and peace studies, and she chaired the Peace, War and Social Conflict section of the American Sociological Association.

  • Joseph Prabhu

    Joseph Prabhu is a philosophy professor at California State University, Los Angeles. His interests include comparative religion and social and political theory. He is the author of Liberating Gandhi: Community, Empire and a Culture of Peace.

  • Daniel Smith-Christopher

    Daniel Smith-Christopher is professor of theological studies and director of peace studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He served for two years in volunteer peace research in Israel/Palestine in the late 1980s. His publications include Subverting Hatred: The Challenge of Nonviolence in Religious Traditions and Jonah, Jesus and Other Good Coyotes: Speaking Peace to Power in the Bible.

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