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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South Sudan’s people have spoken on peace. Is anyone listening?

South Sudan’s people have spoken on peace. Is anyone listening?

Friday, April 16, 2021

By: Ola Mohajer; David Deng

The United States played a key role in the emergence of South Sudan as an independent state 10 years ago. Yet today, U.S. policy toward the country is insufficient to address the continued violence or promote sustainable peace. Even so, it is not too late for U.S. policymakers to embark upon a renewed push for peace. To move forward, they should listen to what South Sudan’s people said in the recently concluded National Dialogue and incorporate its recommendations in diplomatic, humanitarian and development strategies for the country.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan: End to an Endless War?

U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan: End to an Endless War?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

By: Scott Worden; Johnny Walsh; Belquis Ahmadi; Ambassador Richard Olson

President Joe Biden formally announced on Wednesday that the United States will withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11 of this year, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaida attacks that led to the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban. The decision comes a month after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken looked to jump-start the moribund intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, Qatar with a sweeping set of proposals. Although the withdrawal would mean an end to America’s longest war, the implications for Afghanistan’s hard-won progress are immense and many fear the possibility of a rejuvenated civil war after U.S. troops leave.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

The Intertwined Futures of Climate Action, Fragility and Peacebuilding

The Intertwined Futures of Climate Action, Fragility and Peacebuilding

Thursday, April 15, 2021

By: Anthony Navone

Crises are often described narrowly; clearly differentiated by the aspect of society they impact, such as the economy or national security. But the COVID pandemic and looming climate crisis have shown that lines distinguishing one crisis from another aren’t as distinct as they may seem, and that underlying issues like COVID can impact a number of sectors simultaneously. Navigating the intersection of health, economic, governance and humanitarian issues has become the defining challenge of the pandemic response...

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment; Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Fragility & Resilience

It Is Time to Rethink U.S. Strategy in the Sahel

It Is Time to Rethink U.S. Strategy in the Sahel

Thursday, April 15, 2021

By: Kamissa Camara

Close to 10 years after the French military intervention pushed al-Qaida affiliated fighters out of northern Mali, the Sahel region continues to make headlines with the world’s fastest growing Islamist insurgency and one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. Across the region, insecurity and socio-political instability continue to reach new heights. Yet, unrelenting setbacks in the fight against terrorism are undermining political support for international actors within a region where a donor “traffic jam” is currently at play. For these reasons, a change in international policy toward the Sahel is not only necessary, it has become inevitable.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Conflict and Crisis in South Sudan’s Equatoria

Conflict and Crisis in South Sudan’s Equatoria

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

By: Alan Boswell

South Sudan’s civil war expanded into Equatoria, the country’s southernmost region, in 2016, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee into neighboring Uganda in what has been called Africa’s largest refugee exodus since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Equatoria is now the last major hot spot in the civil war. If lasting peace is to come to South Sudan, writes Alan Boswell, it will require a peace effort that more fully reckons with the long-held grievances of Equatorians.

Type: Special Report

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

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