Given religion’s influence on conflict dynamics around the world, it is critical that practitioners and policymakers understand and partner with religious leaders and people of faith to build peace. For more than 25 years, the U.S. Institute of Peace has worked on the role of religion in violence and peace, advancing cutting-edge research and policy, and developing effective strategies to engage religious actors, institutions and ideas across traditions in support of peace. From enhancing the peacemaking capacities of individuals and faith-based organizations to fostering meaningful dialogue within and across faiths, USIP works with local partners to promote inclusive religious peacebuilding. Learn more in USIP’s fact sheet on Religious Engagement in Peacebuilding.
Persecution on account of religion or belief confronts every community somewhere around the world—and it is an increasing trend. Challenges range from terrorist violence against minorities, such as ISIS’ depravations against Yazidis, to persecution by authoritarian governments, with China’s targeting of all faiths a prime example. To organize a defense of freedom of conscience and belief, the United States convened the Ministerial to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2018 and 2019, bringing together a virtual congress of nations and civil society activists from around the world. The third ministerial, organized by Poland, was held virtually in mid-November. Discussions identified challenges but also solutions. One consistent answer to the vexing problem of persecution was proffered: educating youth about human rights and pluralism.
Accounts of global religious restrictions and hostilities have, unfortunately, become a regular feature of today’s news cycle. India’s passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, which uses religious identity as a criterion for citizenship, and its violent crackdown against protesters made headlines at the turn of year. The Chinese government’s detention of more than a million Uyghur Muslims, increased surveillance, and other religious regulations in Xinjiang continue to garner much attention. And, increasingly more concern has been given to the ongoing attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria. While these examples are, of course, worrying and must be addressed, a deeper dive into the data reveals that many of the assumptions we hold about the state of global religious freedom need further unpacking.
The question of how and where Islam should fit into future legal and political frameworks has emerged as a major sticking point in the talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Qatar. How this question is resolved will be closely watched by Afghans, who want to ensure their hard-won rights are not sacrificed for the sake of a deal with the Taliban—Afghan women in particular have much at stake. The international community will similarly scrutinize the outcome, and their engagement with Afghanistan after the talks is expected to be conditioned on the contours of any political settlement.
Since 2018, USIP, InclusivePeace, and the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy have been conducting research that explores the roles that religious actors play in track 1 dialogues and official peace processes. While distinct cases demonstrate the impact—both real and potential—that religious actors and communities have on formal peace processes, little research or analysis exists to show whether, when, how, and to what extent religious actors should be engaged as part of these processes.
Government restrictions on religion have risen steadily in recent years, raising questions about both their causes and consequences. In partnership with USAID’s Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives, USIP launched the Closing the Gap initiative earlier this year to more carefully examine these trends. The project, which will take place over the course of 2020, will explore the relationship between freedom of religion, peace, and development through statistical analysis and case studies. The findings will inform a more nuanced, strategic, and impactful policy and practice of advancing religious freedom.
The U.S. Institute of Peace’s Office of Strategic Stability and Security was established in 2020 to provide research and analysis on the growing impact of global powers on peace and stability. Housing USIP’s Russia program, and with plans to work closely with the Institute’s China program, the office convenes experts and local actors to develop an understanding of how the reemergence of major power competition is shaping the prospects for peace—with a special focus on Ukraine.