Since 2020, USIP’s programs on religion and inclusive societies and nonviolent action have been conducting research to better understand the role of religion in nonviolent action campaigns. Many of the most prominent activists and nonviolent movements in history have drawn on religion as they worked to build peace and advance justice. Historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi often come to mind. But religious leaders, beliefs, symbols and practices have featured just as prominently in more recent nonviolent campaigns, including the Arab Uprisings, the Spring Revolution in Myanmar and Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.

Despite its prevalent and persistent role, many questions remain about the impact of religion on nonviolent action. To what extent do religious beliefs influence activists’ decisions to start or join nonviolent campaigns? What role do religious actors and institutions play during times of nonviolent uprising, whether through direct participation in a movement or in providing mediation to support conflict resolution efforts? How do religious actors, ideas and practices shape a movement’s strategic choices? Can spiritual dimensions play a role in determining the tactics (e.g., protests, boycotts and civil disobedience) used by nonviolent movements? Might they even influence the success or failure of such efforts? And under what conditions are religious dimensions most likely to exert these influences? 

Protesters share a moment of Muslim and Christian unity as they sit nearby makeshift encampments during anti-government protests at Tahrir Square in Cairo. Feb. 6, 2011. (Scott Nelson/The New York Times)
Protesters share a moment of Muslim and Christian unity as they sit nearby makeshift encampments during anti-government protests at Tahrir Square in Cairo. Feb. 6, 2011. (Scott Nelson/The New York Times)

The Religion and Nonviolent Action Project explores these and related questions through:

A meta-synthesis of past studies in order to capture their common themes, concepts and theories. This qualitative review also identifies a broad series of questions to guide future analysis.

Original data collection on the religious dimensions of nonviolent action campaigns from 1945-2013. This data maps onto the University of Denver’s NAVCO 2.1 dataset and includes new measures of the religious actors, ideas, institutions and symbols of more than 150 nonviolent action campaigns.

Quantitative cross-national analysis that identifies broad trends in the role of religion in nonviolent action campaigns over the past few decades and across geographic regions. Attention is paid to both the general role of religion and the impact of particular religious dimensions, with a focus on how religion influences the outcome of nonviolent action campaigns. In-depth case studies may also explore these trends in particular contexts.

Our findings will be summarized and disseminated through scholarly publications, policy briefs and action guides for grassroots activists and peacebuilding practitioners. Ultimately, we hope this project will:

Encourage more systematic study of the relationship between religion and nonviolent action. For too long, the majority of attention has remained on how religion does or does not contribute to forms of violent resistance. And while peace scholars and practitioners often acknowledge the role of religion, their focus has largely been on peacemaking and peacebuilding rather than nonviolent action.

Support inclusive engagement in peace processes by underscoring the role of religious actors in nonviolent movements. Even when not the cause of a conflict, religious ideas, practices, leaders and institutions can shape the form and consequences of movements seeking to address injustices and initiate economic, political and social reforms.

Featured Resources

Latest Publications

Sameer Lalwani on the Future of U.S.-India Relations

Sameer Lalwani on the Future of U.S.-India Relations

Monday, January 30, 2023

By: Sameer P. Lalwani, Ph.D.

The United States and India have a common cause in their tensions with China, as well as a “natural partnership” on technology investments, says USIP’s Sameer Lalwani. But India remains noncommittal when it comes to Russia’s war on Ukraine: “They’ve concluded that they need Russia to stick around.”

Type: Podcast

Ukraine: A Real Peace Will Require Change from Russia

Ukraine: A Real Peace Will Require Change from Russia

Thursday, January 26, 2023

By: Mary Glantz, Ph.D.

The United States and its allies are seeking ways to promote a sustainable peace in Europe — one that ends Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine and strengthens a global prohibition on such wars of aggrandizement. Tragically but realistically, Russia, like most historic imperial powers, will need to be defeated militarily before it abandons war as a means to dominate its neighbors. Any negotiated peace before such a defeat will simply let Russia rebuild its forces and renew its assault. Yet even as the West should maintain full support for Ukraine’s defense, such as the tanks much discussed this month, it should encourage negotiation toward specific goals.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Thomas Hill on the U.N. Mission in Libya

Thomas Hill on the U.N. Mission in Libya

Thursday, January 26, 2023

By: Thomas M. Hill

Twelve years since the fall of Qaddafi, the United Nations' Libya mission carries the same mandate as it did in 2011. With the country still experiencing various degrees of conflict and upheaval, it’s time to “re-envision what we want the U.N. to do” in Libya and create a “mandate [that] will reflect that,” says USIP’s Thomas Hill.

Type: Podcast

Beyond the Courts: History-Related Lawsuits and South Korea-Japan Relations

Beyond the Courts: History-Related Lawsuits and South Korea-Japan Relations

Thursday, January 26, 2023

By: Celeste L. Arrington

While the relationship between South Korea and Japan is fraught with a number of historical and territorial disputes, the current cycle of tensions focuses our attention on lawsuits related to the colonial era. Most notably, bilateral ties soured after 2018, when two landmark rulings from the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms to compensate Korean plaintiffs for their wartime forced labor.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Reconciliation

Wrestling with a Humanitarian Dilemma in Afghanistan

Wrestling with a Humanitarian Dilemma in Afghanistan

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

By: William Byrd, Ph.D.

Recent decrees by the Taliban barring Afghan women from attending university or working in NGOs are severely damaging the country both socially and economically, especially coming atop a ban on girls’ secondary education last year. The marginalization of half the population also highlights the “humanitarian dilemma” that aid donors and international agencies face: Afghanistan is highly dependent on humanitarian assistance, not only for saving lives and easing deprivation but also to stabilize its economy. The quandary for international donors is what to do when alleviating suffering benefits the Afghan economy and thereby the Taliban regime, even when that regime is harming its own people?

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics

View All Publications