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. By understanding more precisely how religious actors influence the course of official peace processes, both negatively and positively, USIP and partners can more effectively shape the support provided to ensure maximum impact.

Nobel Peace Prize 2011, Tawakkul Karman, Leymah Gbowee, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Leymah Gbowee's engagement of Christian and Muslim women in nonviolent action was pivotal to the success of Liberia's peace process. Gbowee pictured with Tawakkul Karman and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 2011.

Religious actors and communities can greatly influence official negotiations, particularly where religious dynamics have shaped the conflict or religious issues are part of the agenda. In these conflicts, religious actors and communities often feel they have interests at stake in peace negotiations. In the worst case, their absence can disrupt or spoil the peace process, such as in Colombia where some religious actors mobilized against the negotiated agreement with the FARC in 2016.

But religious actors can also support peace processes by acting as inside mediators, shuttle diplomats, observers, and official facilitators—such as Bishop Carlos Belo, who raised global awareness to end Indonesia’s oppression of the East Timorese, and Leymeh Gbowee, who led Muslim and Christian women in nonviolent direct action to pressure parties in Liberia’s peace talks.

This project aims to build on the evolving dynamics in peace processes, particularly efforts to broaden participation among various constituencies to enhance legitimacy, develop buy-in, and mitigate the impact of spoilers as a means to achieve sustainable peace; as well as to build on the increased recognition of insider mediators—a role that can include religious actors. This collaborative initiative seeks to:

Conduct in-depth research by developing a categorization of how religious actors have engaged and impacted peace processes. This includes case study analysis and interviews, as well as convenings between experts and practitioners, to inform more knowledgeable engagement of religious actors for future peace processes. 

Inform experts and policymakers on how to effectively engage religious actors in future peace processes based on an analytical report and case studies. This will involve establishing a consortium of policymakers, practitioners, and scholars who contribute to research methodology and process, resource design and development, and policy recommendations through a series of workshops and consultations designed to analyze and exchange practices. This group will serve as a “community of practice.”

Support inclusive engagement in peace processes by developing a support mechanism which provides direct analysis, technical knowledge and insight, capacity building, and direct engagement of key religious actors and communities in 2-3 current contexts. Key resources, such as training materials and workshop design, will help to build the knowledge and skills of policymakers, track 1 actors, religious actors, and their communities as they engage in formal peace processes, agreements, and implementation. Technical advice will also be available from the community of practice, and can be further enhanced through peer-to-peer learning exchanges that can inform engagement in current and future peace processes .


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