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EducationThe Interfaith Peacebuilding Guide by the United Religions Initiative

The Interfaith Peacebuilding Guide by the United Religions Initiative

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Guide in the Context of Peacebuilding

Peacebuilding is a relatively new term. It was coined about a decade ago by the then-Secretary General of the United Nations Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali to refer to a set of activities devised to promote peaceful relations among conflicting parties, especially after a peace agreement has been signed. Many scholars and practitioners now use the term to refer to activities carried out at any stage of a peace process. We adopt that broader view of peacebuilding in this guide, using it as an umbrella term that assumes a nonviolent approach and refers to all attitudes and activities aimed to assist people in resolving conflicts and building sustainable relationships.

It its broadest sense, peacebuilding is about building peaceful, stable communities, and societies.1 Peacebuilding recognizes that peace is “an active process in which people may, in some cases, promote conflict [through nonviolent action] in order to improve the conditions and relationships of others or themselves.”2 Ultimately, peacebuilding aims to prevent further violence and destructive conflict; heal individuals and societies from the effects of violence; and reconcile individuals and communities, “so that a shared future might be possible.”3

Peacebuilding is oriented to transforming the system as a whole, not just individual parts of it. It relates to the individual, community, society, and the international system. It has an impact on assumptions, values, attitudes, issues, and relationships. Peacebuilding is made up of countless small and large actions, some that are in response to immediate needs such as relief of suffering or the calming of tensions and others designed for longer-term impact. Some peacebuilding strategies may require sustained action over decades to yield results, particularly those designed to bring about changes in social, political, and economic structures and systems.

Peacebuilding is both a field of practice and of scholarly study. It builds on decades of peace research and developing theories and practice of conflict resolution, nonviolent activism, and work in related fields such as human rights and socioeconomic development. It is a dynamic field in which the focus has expanded from preventing and ending violent social conflict to the study of systemic and other causes of conflict to the study of post-conflict processes of restoration and reconstruction. It spans many different disciplines such as history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, political science, education, communication, public policy, among others.

The role of ordinary citizens in peacebuilding cannot be underestimated. As the veteran American peacebuilder Louise Diamond has said, “the power for peacebuilding resides with the many and not just the few.”4 To build an effective and sustainable peace we need to develop leadership and participation in at every level of a society, from citizens working locally at the “grassroots” to create a foundation of trust between people on different sides of a conflict, to people active in many different capacities at the national, regional, and international levels.

The Interfaith Contribution to Peacebuilding

Groups and individuals working for interfaith understanding hold powerful keys for unlocking conflict, wherever it is found. Inherently, most faiths aim to bring peace to their followers and to humanity. At the same time, religious differences are often easily manipulated and used to mobilize communities and individuals for violence. Thus, learning to understand the meaning of religious differences — and becoming comfortable with the many diverse “voices” of religious and spiritual expression — reduces the possibility of religious radicalism and the intolerance, hatred, and violence that so often accompany it. It can also motivate people to actively engage in building connections and relationship across religious divides and act to correct injustice.

Every longstanding faith group has an historic reservoir of meanings that give shape to identity. They have powerful symbols and rituals that give expression to collective needs and desires. They also have a wealth of principles, values, and practices that can build peace and cooperative relationships among enemies.

Religious peacebuilding — which includes interfaith peacebuilding — is now a recognized area of practice and study in the larger peacebuilding field. It brings into play distinctive sets of meanings and interpretations, motivations, causes and effects, and strategies. Its contributions include the prophetic and moral voice and authority of faith, the institutional resources of many faith groups and communities, the intermediary and advocacy roles often played by religious and spiritual adherents, and also a focus on the restoration of relationships and community.

The discipline and transformative power of religious and spiritual teachings and practices are a special ingredient that interfaith groups bring to peacebuilding as a whole. These include the vital qualities of empathy and compassion, courage and self-sacrifice, self-awareness and self-control; a belief in the transformative power of love and positive regard; faith in the face of seemingly impassible obstacles; and a predisposition toward healing and reconciliation.

Interfaith peacebuilding is a way to access these reservoirs of meaning and practice for the benefit of all. It is also a way of including a segment of society that often is excluded from power politics and formal peace processes.

Interfaith peacebuilding includes many types of initiatives and activities aimed at building understanding, respect, and joint action among people of faith. Examples include interfaith dialogue and the sharing of rituals and practices of faith; interfaith action on social welfare and economic development; and active peacemaking designed to bring parties in conflict together, to name just a few key categories of action.

Given that most people active in interfaith groups are private citizens with no special training but who are concerned about the situations in their communities and country and have a deep commitment to working for peace, activities at the grassroots are often most appropriate.

Peacebuilding activities that are especially suited to grassroots interfaith efforts are those that help build understanding and cooperation across lines of division in a society, and which develop new ways for dealing with differences peacefully and productively. Interfaith groups create spaces for safety, acceptance, understanding, insight, and transformation to occur. Simply coming together to work collaboratively in an interfaith setting is a peacebuilding action. It develops cultures of peace

Grassroots interfaith peacebuilders make a difference by:

bringing diverse groups together

listening with openness to others

educating and breaking down stereotypes

inspiring hope

building trust for dealing with tough issues

creating an inclusive sense of community that embraces those who are “other”

being models of constructive ways of dealing with differences

supporting a willingness to change unjust systems and structures that cause pain to others

1 Peacebuilding: A Caritas Training Manual (Vatican City: Caritas Internationalis, 2002), 4.

2 Susan L. Carpenter, A Repertoire of Peacemaking Skills (Consortium on Peace Research, Education, and Development, 1977), 4.

3 Paula Green, “Contact: Training a New Generation of Peacebuilders,” Peace and Change 27:1 (January 2002), 101.

4 “Building Peace: Who’s Responsible?” Pathways Journal (Fall 1996), https://www.pathwaysmag.com/9-96diamond.html.

United Religions Initiative ~ Interfaith Peacebuilding Guide, August 2004 Introduction, pp. 12-15.

Web: www.uri.org

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