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.

Rabbi in Chania.
Rabbi Gabriel Negrin places a candle in the Holocaust memorial at Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Policymakers and peace practitioners remain unsure of how best to respond to the global decline of religious freedom. A considerable amount of new data on religious restrictions and discrimination has been collected over the past decade.

However, uncertainty remains about the causal relationship between freedom of religion, political stability, and socioeconomic development, as well as how these connections vary across different contexts and when they complement or counteract one another. In addition, government officials and grassroots actors are increasingly asking what role, if any, interfaith peacebuilding and faith-based development activities play in the expansion of religious freedom in divided societies.

The Connection Between Religious Freedom, Political Stability, and Development

The Closing the Gap project aims to shed light on these and other questions surrounding the global rise in religious restrictions in order to inform more effective policy and programming. The inititiative consists of two complementary strands of research:

  • Quantitative cross-national analysis that will identify broad trends in the relationship between freedom of religion, political stability, and socioeconomic development. This research will also interrogate widely held and highly influential assumptions about the causal relationship between religious freedom and the above-mentioned structural factors.
  • Country case studies to explore the causal processes that link religious freedom, peace, and development outcomes in particular contexts. This qualitative analysis will also examine the impact of interfaith peacebuilding and faith-based development in the promotion of religious freedom.

The findings from each strand of research will be summarized and disseminated in a series of publications, internal policy guidance, and training resources for USG policymakers and peace practitioners. Such information is all the more important today, as the prevalence and consequences of religious discrimination continues to grow.

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 Une ville du Sahel conçoit un moyen d'améliorer les réformes – et l'aide internationale

Une ville du Sahel conçoit un moyen d'améliorer les réformes – et l'aide internationale

Friday, October 15, 2021

By: Jasmine Dehghan ; Sandrine Nama

La recrudescence cette année des troubles violents dans le Sahel en Afrique – des attaques djihadistes élargies, des coups d'État ou des tentatives militaires dans quatre pays, ainsi que le nombre constamment élevé de victimes civiles – souligne que des années de travail pour renforcer les forces militaires et policières n'ont pas réussi à réduire l'instabilité. Pour réduire l'extrémisme et la violence, les pays doivent améliorer la gouvernance, et des analyses récentes soulignent le besoin particulier de renforcer le sentiment des gens que leurs gouvernements peuvent assurer la justice et trouver des résolutions équitables aux griefs populaires. Un tel changement est une tâche extrêmement complexe et une ville du Burkina Faso a élaboré un plan de réformes locales avec un processus pour gérer cette complexité.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue; Democracy & Governance

A Sahel Town Builds a Way to Improve Reforms—and Foreign Aid

A Sahel Town Builds a Way to Improve Reforms—and Foreign Aid

Thursday, October 14, 2021

By: Jasmine Dehghan; Sandrine Nama

This year’s escalation of violent turmoil in Africa’s Sahel—widened jihadist attacks, military coups or attempts in four nations, and continued high civilian casualties—underscores that years of work to reinforce military and police forces have failed to reduce instability. To undercut extremism and violence, countries must improve governance, and recent analyses underscore the particular need to build people’s confidence that their governments can provide justice and fair resolutions of popular grievances. Such change is an immensely complex task—and one town in Burkina Faso has shaped a plan for local reforms with a process to manage that complexity.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue; Democracy & Governance

In Africa, U.S. Should Focus More on Democracy, Less on China

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Thursday, October 14, 2021

By: Thomas P. Sheehy; Paul Nantulya; Gustavo de Carvalho

Even as the United States draws lessons from its unsuccessful, 20-year effort to build a sustainable peace in Afghanistan, it is shaping policies to engage the political and economic rise of Africa. Both the shortcomings in Afghanistan and the opportunities of Africa underscore the imperative of building policy on a full appreciation of local conditions. Yet on Africa, China’s growing presence has seized Americans’ political attention, and scholars of African politics say this risks distracting near-term U.S. policymaking. A requisite for U.S. success in Africa will be to focus on Africans’ desires—which include an ambition to build their futures by democratic means.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy; Democracy & Governance

Afghanistan’s Economic and Humanitarian Crises Turn Dire

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Thursday, October 14, 2021

By: William Byrd, Ph.D.

Two months after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the country is grappling with twin economic and humanitarian crises the response to which has been complicated by international aid cutoffs, the freezing of Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves and sanctions on the militants. USIP’s William Byrd discusses the implications of these crises and the challenges to alleviating them.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

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