With 84 percent of people worldwide identifying with a religion, faith influences local, national, and international decision-making. Across the globe, violent extremism often is couched in religious terms, and religious discrimination is on the rise. At the same time, people of faith and religious organizations frequently are on the frontlines of peace efforts, assisting communities affected by violence. Although religious considerations have been marginal to peace efforts historically, governments and peacebuilding organizations increasingly recognize the importance of religion.

USIP’S Work

For 30 years, the U.S. Institute of Peace has been at the forefront of efforts to better understand religion’s role in conflict and peace, while harnessing the contributions of people of faith, religious leaders, practices, ideas, and institutions to promote inclusive societies and build sustainable peace. The Institute helps policymakers engage effectively with religious actors through its research, advising, and training. USIP also works directly with religious individuals and institutions during violent conflict to strengthen their peacebuilding skills and promote religious coexistence. Recent work includes:

Repairing Ruptures Within and Across Religions

USIP promotes appreciation for religious differences and fosters collaboration across divides within and between faith traditions. USIP’s interfaith and intrafaith work includes:

Colombia. The Institute helped establish the Ecumenical Women Peacebuilders Network, a nationally recognized group of Catholic and Protestant women church leaders who advocated locally for the 2016 peace accords. Now they help foster reconciliation as former combatants return home.

Iraq. USIP trained civil society facilitators in religious peacebuilding and supported them in implementing a series of local projects, including peace courses at sharia colleges and community discussions on religious violence and reconciliation.

Pakistan. USIP partnered with the Renaissance Foundation for Social Innovation to organize dialogues across 20 university campuses about interreligious and intrareligious violence and radicalization.

Sri Lanka. The Institute worked with the Centre for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation (CPBR) to form a coalition of 200 male and female faith leaders from Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam who mitigate local conflicts. Following the 2019 Easter bombing, CPBR is fostering local interfaith reconciliation with USIP support.

Researching Religion’s Influence and Shaping Policy

Through its on-the-ground research with local partners, USIP strengthens understanding of how religious ideas, practices, actors, and institutions influence both conflict and peace. Recent efforts include a global research project to examine the impact of religious actors in official peace processes.

USIP’s Mapping the Religious Landscape in Conflict-Affected States project is a unique methodology for peace practitioners to track and analyze the impact of religion. Mapping has been completed or is underway in Libya, South Sudan, Iraq, Rakhine State in Burma, and Ukraine. In addition to providing concrete data, this research helps policymakers determine the best approaches for establishing secure, sustainable peace.

Similarly, USIP’s Religion and Countering Violent Extremism Practitioners’ Exchange has explored the complex relationship between religion and violent extremist movements around the world. Convening policymakers, scholars, and practitioners from diverse settings, this series of global symposia has resulted in policy recommendations for those seeking to partner with religious actors in efforts to build resilience, promote reconcilation, and prevent and counter violent extremism.

Developing Practical Resources for Training and Educating

USIP, with partners, is developing a series of action guides focused on religion and conflict analysis, mediation, reconciliation, and gender-inclusive religious peacebuilding. USIP’s “Introduction to Religion and Peacebuilding” online micro-course offers an overview of the religious peacebuilding field; exploring the role religion plays in driving both peace and conflict and how best to engage the religious sector in peacebuilding activities.

The Institute also works with religious education centers to build knowledge, skills, and confidence in conflict prevention, mediation, and reconciliation. In Burma, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, and Pakistan, USIP has supported peace studies curricula that resonate with local cultural and religious practices to ensure that the next generation of religious leaders are prepared to build peace.

Examining Women’s Roles in Religious Peacebuilding

Religious peacebuilding efforts have too often focused on male clerics while marginalizing or ignoring religious women who are actively building peace, often at the front lines of violence.

USIP’s Women, Religion, and Peace Initiative—conducted with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the World Faiths Development Dialogue—highlights the peace efforts of women religious leaders and the role of religion in empowering women peacebuilders. In 2015, the initiative produced an anthology of case studies that highlight the challenges and contributions of women religious leaders to peace worldwide.

Building on this anthology, USIP’s Religious Women on the Frontlines of Violence project investigates how religious women leaders have successfully negotiated with armed groups in the midst of violent conflict. Some of their stories are documented in a blog series on USIP’s website.

 

Related Publications

Combatting Religious Discrimination in India and Beyond

Combatting Religious Discrimination in India and Beyond

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

By: Jason Klocek

Last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom listed India as a “country of particular concern” for the first time since 2004. The decision reflects increased religious hostility and sectarian conflict in India, which have been stoked further by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed last December. In the five months since, the CAA’s use of religious identity as a criteria for citizenship has sparked widespread opposition and protest both within India and abroad. But while controversial, it is far from an isolated policy. It connects to a steady increase in religious discrimination and violence within India, throughout South Asia, and across the globe—raising important questions for policymakers and activists alike.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Religion

Susan Hayward on Religion and Coronavirus

Susan Hayward on Religion and Coronavirus

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

By: Susan Hayward

While USIP’s Susan Hayward acknowledges that religion has, at times, hampered public health, she notes religion has also been invoked “in ways that have brought meaning, that have mobilized people to respond to the needs of the vulnerable.”

Type: Podcast

Religion

Religions Confront the Coronavirus

Religions Confront the Coronavirus

Thursday, April 9, 2020

By: Susan Hayward

This month sees the confluence of three major religious holidays—Christian Holy Week, Jewish Passover and the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan—observed by half of the world’s population. In normal times, these holidays provide opportunities for followers to gather in homes and places of worship for ancient practices: sharing meals, reading scripture, joining in prayer. These aren’t normal times, however, as the coronavirus pandemic has emptied usually crowded religious sites. Mecca in Saudi Arabia, St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar and the shrines of Jerusalem are among those emptied of visitors and pilgrims.

Type: Blog

Global Health; Religion

Engaging the Post-ISIS Iraqi Religious Landscape for Peace and Reconciliation (Arabic)

Engaging the Post-ISIS Iraqi Religious Landscape for Peace and Reconciliation (Arabic)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

By: Ann Wainscott

Religious actors in Iraq wield considerable influence, and Iraqis perceive them as playing an important role in moving the country toward peace. This report analyzes the influence of Iraq’s religious actors—who has it, why they have it, and how they exercise it—to illuminate their crucial role in supporting peace and reconciliation efforts and to help policymakers and practitioners understand how to engage them in efforts to advance peace.

Type: Peaceworks

Reconciliation; Religion

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