A Leap of Faith: Religious Actors in Peacemaking and Peacebuilding 

Many peace processes in recent years have demonstrated the important influence of religious actors and communities on official negotiations to reach political settlement to conflict. This is particularly the case for conflicts in which religious dynamics have shaped and driven the course of conflict, or in which particular religious issues, such as access to sacred space, are being addressed as part of the negotiated solution. In such conflicts, religious actors and communities often feel that they have interests at stake in peace negotiations. 

 

Religious actors can be involved across all phases of a peace process, playing a number of roles, including as insider mediators, shuttle diplomats, advocates for peace, observers, and official facilitators. However, the limited engagement of religious actors in certain peace processes represents a large untapped potential. Certain examples also suggest that a lack of engagement can even spur religious actors to disrupt or become spoilers of a negotiation or implementation process. Overall, religious actors are highly influential in peacemaking and can be a major asset for track 1 processes, provided that they mobilize for peace.

Image by Sebastian Dumitru

Despite the clear impact—both real and potential—that religious actors and communities have on formal peace processes, there has been little research or analysis to show when, whether, how, and to what extent religious actors should be engaged as part of these processes.

 

Our Religious Actors in Formal Peace Processes project aims to fill this gap of knowledge and provide practical information to inform and support the effective engagement of religious actors in formal, track 1 peace processes. 

In this digital story  you will meet religious actors involved in some of the peace processes we examined as case studies in our research.

OUR TEAM

This project involved the collaboration among three peacebuilding and conflict transformation organizations.

Learn more about our organizations work by visiting our websites!

 

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Women & Faith

2016 Peace Agreement

Bogotá, Colombia

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Image by Dan Gold

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In Colombia, churches are incredibly influential within their communities and, through them, individuals from both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds have been advocating for peace amidst the internal conflict.  Although a peace agreement was reached between the Colombian Government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016, tensions over the inclusivity of the peace agreement have been rising steadily, with women and traditional faith practitioners feeling particularly excluded.  

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Women from Protestant and Catholic communities, through organizations such as GemPaz, have been working with marginalized, demobilized communities, including women, traditional faith believers, and residents of rural areas, to work towards a culture that supports human rights for all, and through processes like psycho-social healing, are breaking the cycles of violence and hatred that allow violent conflict to take root.

Context

Meet Monica Guerrero

Monica Guerrero, GemPaz: Steering Committee Member/Field Organizer

Monica Guerrero is a Colombian national who works with GemPaz as a peacebuilder, advocating for restorative justice. Monica believes in the healing power of recognition, rather than traditional punishments like imprisonment, and uses conversation to reach members of her community, empowering individuals to have the conversations necessary in order to move forward from psychosocial trauma.

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“As Colombian women of  faith, we are trying to rebuild peace from the inside.  If we start with our inner peace, we are going to transform not only ourselves, but society as well.”

Hear from Monica Guerrero

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HOW ARE RELIGIOUS
ACTORS INVOLVED
IN THE PEACE PROCESS?

Religious actors are predominantly involved in working directly with communities and cultivating dialogue among different religious groups in an effort to heal societal wounds and promote a culture of peace. 

Religious Actors in the Colombian Peace Process

THEMES

Self-Inclusion

The women working with GemPaz have created a space for their voices to be heard in the peacebuilding landscape. By recognizing their unique social capacity as women and Christians, while empowering others to do the same, they have ensured that their concerns and propositions for peace will be heard by political decision-makers. 

Strong organizational structures and a large constituency mean religious actors can reach segments of the population - particularly in rural areas - that other actors cannot. In Colombia, the Catholic Church has undertaken thousands of faith-based peacebuilding initiatives throughout the country, most prominently at the regional and local levels. Religious civil society organizations have also been actively involved in the protection of citizens, such as the protection of women against gender-based violence, and have issued statements against kidnappings, murders, and other forms of violence in communities.

Reach and Organizational Capacity of Religious Institutions

Image by Ricardo Arce

Takeaways

The Colombian peace process underlines the importance of continued meaningful inclusion, even after a peace agreement is reached. In order to promote social cohesion and prevent a culture of violence from developing again, all groups need to have a voice that is heard and respected. Without input from all groups who have been affected by violence, peace agreements will remain solely symbolic, but ultimately ineffective at fostering peaceful, just, and inclusive societies. 

Faith in Conversation

A Child of Conflict

Belfast, Northern Ireland

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Between approximately 1968 and 1998, Northern Ireland experienced a violent paramilitary and military conflict known as the Troubles, opposing loyalist (unionist) and republican (nationalist) factions. Between 1969 and 2001, an estimated 3,531 people were killed and an estimated 50,000 injured, predominantly civilians. While the conflict was essentially political, revolving around Northern Ireland’s constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom and ethno-social discrimination, the strong correlation between religious identity and national identity led the faut-lines in the conflict to be identified around religious and ethno-religious lines. Paramilitary groups on both sides of the conflict in particular often used religious labels as identifiable markers for which side they supported. 

Northern Ireland

In spite of the sectarian divide, throughout the conflict, Protestant and Catholic religious leaders mobilized for peace. This included organizing large scale Peace Marches, acting as mediators between militants, and advocating for and facilitating ceasefires. They also worked to build trust and understanding within and between different sectarian groups through hosting meetings between paramilitary leaders on both sides of the conflict. Religious actors have been involved in the implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and have continued peacebuilding efforts in Northern Ireland, attempting to prevent further violence through fostering social reconciliation and healing.  

Context

Meet Reverend Gary Mason

Reverend Gary Mason, Rethinking Conflict: Founder

Reverend Gary Mason, a Protestant Methodist minister is one of the religious actors engaged in the peace process that ultimately led to the Good Friday Agreement.  Reverend Gary engaged with members of Sinn Féin in the 1980’s, then the political arm of the Provisional IRA (Sinn Féin is no longer associated with any paramilitary action and is fully institutionalized).  He also worked with Catholic ministers and facilitated community dialogues between the two sides at the violent peak of the Troubles. Reverend Gary has continued his work in Northern Ireland through his work with Rethinking Conflict, a non-profit organization that he founded in an effort to maintain peace and work towards sectarian reconciliation. 

Image by Kristel Hayes
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“Sometimes politicians assume naively that once the deal is done, the societal healing automatically follows and in reality nothing could be further from the truth.  You need civic society, you need academics, you need universities, you need women’s groups and you need religious leaders to really be the social glue that holds that peace process together”

Hear from  Reverend Gary Mason

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HOW ARE RELIGIOUS
ACTORS INVOLVED
IN THE PEACE PROCESS?

In the preparations for the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, religious actors laid the groundwork for individuals with opposing ideals to communicate with one another. Religious actors were active in both sides of the referendum campaign which ultimately ratified the Good Friday Agreement. Subsequently, religious leaders have helped to oversee the demilitarization of the Provisional IRA, supervising their surrender of arms. Religious actors from Protestant and Catholic faiths continue to create spaces where people who identify as unionist or loyalist can come together and have uncomfortable, but necessary conversations to humanize one another.  

Religious Actors in the Northern Ireland Peace Process

THEMES

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Religion as a

Powerful Narrative

Motivator 

The conflict in Northern Ireland shows the power of religion as a mobilization technique, and how political and ethnic leaders can manifest grievances through a religious lens as a means of generating support or stoking conflict and tensions. The memory work that is done by both communities, like murals and annual parades, have ingrained religion as an ethnic marker for different groups. Church attendance is a strong indicator of community separation, and many popular organizations on both sides of the sectarian divide have a clear religious and political affiliation. But this in turn increases the social and moral capital and legitimacy of religious actors to serve as peacemakers and peacebuilders.

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Legitimacy as both an Enabling and Constraining force

The Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI) played an important role in the peace process. But while ECONI used their legitimacy as evangelicals to appeal to the wider Protestant community, contributing to changes in identity and attitudes towards reconciliation, they actively avoided participating in the track one negotiations, fearing that aligning themselves too closely with political power would compromise their ability to critique other Protestant actors’ religious nationalism. The maintenance of their legitimacy thus potentially constrained their ability to take risks for peace, demonstrating the dilemmas and trade-offs facing religious actors.

Image by K. Mitch Hodge

Takeaways

The peacemaking and peacebuilding work of religious actors during the Troubles and across all phases of the Northern Ireland peace process underline the many different ways - as mediators, negotiators, facilitators, observers, monitors, community reconcilers, and peace advocates - that religious actors can foster peace and social cohesion, even amidst a conflict who political, social, and ethnic fault lines are defined in religious terms.  

Meaningful Inclusion

National Dialogue Conference

Taiz, Yemen

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Yemen

Yemen has been ensnared in civil conflict since 2015. Tensions between North and South, between the country’s youth and traditional power-holders, and between the former government and both the Northern Huthi movement and al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, had simmered for years, and the country is now profoundly divided. The peace process in the country appears to have stalled. Yemen can be considered to be an Islamic society although religion does not solely define the state and its diverse people. Nearly all Yemenis are Muslims and the constitution declares Islam to be the state religion. According to a 2010 estimate, 65% of Yemenis belong to the Sunni branch while 35% are Shiites, the majority of whom follow Zaydi Shi’ism. However, the intricacy of the conflict, with its array of intersecting dynamics, means that reductive narratives surrounding sectarianism and religious drivers of war must be scrutinised and challenged. 

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A number of political parties in Yemen possess religious identities and platforms, and these parties were included in the National Dialogue Conference and thus contributed to peacemaking during this period of the peace process. Furthermore, religious leaders hold authority and resonance within many Yemeni communities, and they can therefore play a role in managing and resolving more localised disputes.

Context

Meet Moaz al-Faqih

Moaz al-Faqih, President of Yemen Conflict Organization

Moaz al-Faqih is a Yemeni peacebuilder who currently works as the head of the Yemen Conflict Organization and serves as an executive judge assistant in a commercial court. Moaz is also one of the founders of Yemen Without Conflict (YWC), and has experience in conflict resolution, CVE, and deradicalization.  Al-Faqih has worked to include religion in dialogues about peacebuilding and has paved the way for the inclusion of clergy members in training workshops focused on deradicalization and peacebuilding.

Image by Saif Albadni

“[Peacebuilding] Projects need to provide social awareness and include religious leaders and community influencers who play a significant role in society even if they have other opinions or doubts. Because, if [religious leaders] are positively motivated, they will motivate their constituencies in return, which will increase the project's impact and effect on society.”

Hear From  Moaz al-Faqih

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HOW ARE RELIGIOUS
ACTORS INVOLVED
IN THE PEACE PROCESS?

Political parties with religious platforms, and support bases within particular religious communities, were included within the lengthy and broadly participatory National Dialogue Conference which was convened between 2013 and 2014. While the official peace process has dramatically narrowed since 2015, religious actors have led and supported peacebuilding efforts at the community-level.

Religious Actors in the Yemen Peace Process

Image by Timothy Kassis

THEMES

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Peace Processes

need to be

Meaningfully Inclusive

The NDC, despite its attempts at broadening participation in the peace process, nevertheless served to generate resentment and feelings of exclusion. The NDC delegates have been criticised for their perceived separation from the diverse communities of Yemen; as the negotiations progressed, the view was increasingly held that the NDC represented an elite, disconnected process, divorced from the realities of the state. This suggests that meaningful community engagement during National Dialogues – including with religious actors – could prove crucial for genuinely inclusive peace talks.  

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Taking a Holistic View of Peace 

In the absence of progress at high-level peace talks, a diversity of individuals and organisations - including religious actors - may continue to work towards peace. While their initiatives and approaches could be viewed as being unconventional, or subtle, we need to take a holistic, non-hierarchical view of peace in Yemen and elsewhere. Such ‘local’ peacebuilding could even build momentum towards more comprehensive, or more official, peacemaking. 

Image by Juli Kosolapova

Takeaways

In designing home-grown peace processes, it could prove crucial to integrate the skills of religious actors and their networks and relationships, within negotiations. Religious actors with experience in nurturing peace within their communities bring knowledge, expertise and legitimacy, and safeguarding their inclusion - within National Dialogues, and across the peacebuilding ‘tracks’ - could help set societies along pathways towards peace.