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.

 

Global map of religious and non-religious nonviolent campaigns for major political change, 1945 - 2013.
(Source: Religion and Nonviolent Action dataset 1.0.)

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? 

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 includes:

  • The Religion and Nonviolent Action (RNVA) dataset 1.0, which consists of 183 nonviolent action campaigns for major political change between 1945 and 2013. The RNVA data set is compatible with version 2.1 of the Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes (NAVCO) dataset. It is suitable for analyzing the prevalence, dynamics, drivers, and outcomes of nonviolent action campaigns that draw on religion. The RNVA dataset can be found here.
  • A global map presenting the 183 nonviolent action campaigns included in the RNVA dataset. The interactive map, available at the top of this page, shows nonviolent action campaigns by country and includes information on the religious dynamics for relevant 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

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Japan-Pacific Islands Summit: Contending with Nuclear and Colonial Legacies

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As Russia Builds Influence in Africa, its Church Takes a Role

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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Vladimir Putin’s campaign to make the world safe for violent authoritarianism visibly exploits conflicts and bolsters military rule in Africa with mercenary armies, internet-borne disinformation and weaponized corruption. A less recognized Russian effort to build influence in Africa is an expansion across the continent of the Russian Orthodox Church. As the Russian church’s overt support for Putin’s war on Ukraine has corroded its influence in the traditionally Orthodox Christian world, the Moscow Patriarchate is opening parishes and hiring priests away from the established African church.

Type: Analysis

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Cómo Puede Contribuir EE.UU. a la Resolución del Conflicto en Venezuela

Cómo Puede Contribuir EE.UU. a la Resolución del Conflicto en Venezuela

Tuesday, July 23, 2024

El reciente anuncio de negociaciones directas entre Venezuela y Estados Unidos fue recibido con agrado por muchos venezolanos como una oportunidad para aumentar las posibilidades de que las elecciones del 28 de julio se desarrollen pacíficamente y conduzcan a un futuro de coexistencia democrática. Sin embargo, la clave de este resultado dependerá menos de las cuestiones tácticas electorales —como los incentivos para no anular la candidatura de la oposición— y más de la cuestión más amplia de asegurar que no habrá persecución del perdedor y que ambas partes puedan volver a la alternancia del poder en lugar de un régimen de partido único. EE.UU. está en una posición clave tanto para influir en el ambiente general de las elecciones como para tomar acciones específicas que faciliten un resultado democrático, que se desarrollará a lo largo de un período post-electoral extendido.

Type: Analysis

Global Elections & ConflictGlobal Policy

What the Houthi-Israel Exchange Might Mean for Escalation in the Middle East

What the Houthi-Israel Exchange Might Mean for Escalation in the Middle East

Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Type: Question and Answer

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How the U.S. Can Contribute to Resolving the Venezuelan Conflict

How the U.S. Can Contribute to Resolving the Venezuelan Conflict

Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The recent announcement of direct negotiations between Venezuela and the United States was welcomed by many Venezuelans as an opportunity to bolster the chances of the July 28 election playing out peacefully and leading to a future of democratic co-existence. The key to this outcome, however, will hinge less on the tactical electoral questions — such as incentives for not annulling the opposition’s electoral ticket — and more on the larger question of ensuring there will be no persecution of the loser and that the two sides can return to the alternation of power rather than single party rule. The U.S. is in key a position to both influence the general ambiance of the election and to take specific actions that will facilitate a democratic outcome, which will play out over an extended post-electoral period.

Type: Analysis

Global Elections & ConflictGlobal Policy

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