Diplomats and peace practitioners often cite lack of familiarity with the religious landscape as a barrier to their engagement of religious actors. In 2013, USIP launched an initiative to address this need by developing a methodology for systematically mapping and assessing the religious sector’s influence on conflict and peace dynamics in discrete conflict settings. These mappings, which have been done or are underway in Libya, South Sudan, Iraq and Burma, help illuminate recommendations for effective partnerships within the religious sector for peacebuilding.

audience at an event on Religious Landscape Mapping

While the peacebuilding field now recognizes the importance of engaging religious ideas, practices, actors, and institutions to manage violent conflict and build peace, a great deal of uncertainty  remains about how to do so strategically and sensitively. Peacebuilding practitioners and diplomats are often unsure how to tailor their trainings and/or engagement to fully tap into the influence of religious actors in peacebuilding, or they are anxious about navigating what can seem a complex, dynamic, and confusing religious landscape. These uncertainties and discomfort lead many to fail to engage the religious sector, or to do less strategically or counter-productively, eliciting unintended negative consequences.

USIP’s Religious Landscape Mapping in Conflict-Affected States initiative responds to this need. The initiative seeks to ensure peace practitioners feel greater comfort navigating and engaging within the religious landscape in efforts to build peace. The objectives of each mapping are as follows:

  1. Identify the religious sector’s current and potential impact on conflict and peace dynamics in a country setting, with particular attention to mapping key religious actors, institutions, and narratives and their influence on broader political, social, and economic drivers of conflict, intra- and inter-religious dynamics, as well as the relationships between religious and state actors and institutions.
  2. Analyze the lessons learned from current religious engagement in peacebuilding and formulate detailed policy and practice recommendations for the design and implementation of future peace programming.

USIP’s mapping and assessment methodology tool enables USIP’s country teams and our peacebuilding partners to produce policy and practice reports that help policy makers and practitioners better understand the opportunities, best methods and potential challenges to navigating and partnering within the religious landscape in specific conflict contexts. Each report makes recommendations of ways that encourage the effective integration of religious actors into current and new field programming, while also producing research findings that can inform the wider field of policymaking, peacebuilding and scholarship. Significant portions of our mappings are shared publicly in USIP reports, blog posts and events.

To date, the religious landscape has been mapped in Libya using USIP’s methodology. USIP is currently undertaking mappings in Burma and Iraq.

USIP’s Religion & Peacebuilding Center held a public event on March 16, 2015 featuring Zahra Langhi from the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace. At the event, USIP Senior Program Officer Palwasha Kakar and Ms. Langhi offered an overview of the assessment/mapping of Libyan religious actors’ and institutions’ impact on conflict and peace dynamics in Libya.

Featured Reports

The Religious Landscape in Myanmar’s Rakhine State report cover

The Religious Landscape in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

This Peaceworks report maps the religious landscape of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, focusing in particular on the current and potential influence of religion in peace and reconciliation efforts. Part of a broader USIP initiative to map the religious landscape in conflict-affected environments, it presents key findings and offers recommendations to enable policymakers and peacebuilding practitioners to better navigate and engage within Rakhine’s religious landscape.

report cover, The Religious Landscape in South Sudan: Challenges and Opportunities for Engagement

The Religious Landscape in South Sudan: Challenges and Opportunities for Engagement

Since the beginning of South Sudan's civil war in 2013, the country's religious actors have sought to play an active role in turning the tide from war and violence to peace and reconciliation. Drawing on interviews, focus groups, and consultations, this report maps the religious landscape of South Sudan and showcases the legitimate and influential religious actors and institutions, highlights challenges impeding their peace work, and provides recommendations for policymakers and practitioners to better engage with religious actors for peace.

report cover for Libya’s Religious Sector and Peacebuilding Efforts

Libya’s Religious Sector and Peacebuilding Efforts

Derived from two surveys conducted in Libya in 2014 and 2016, this report strives to heighten understanding of the country’s religious sector and its impact on governance and society. The findings—which are bolstered by the local knowledge of Libyan researchers—map the major religious trends, institutions, and actors in the country to describe how Libyans perceive the contribution of the religious sector to building peace and fostering justice and democracy.

Related Publications

The Religious Landscape in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

The Religious Landscape in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Thursday, August 29, 2019

By: Melyn McKay

This Peaceworks report maps the religious landscape of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, focusing in particular on the current and potential influence of religion in peace and reconciliation efforts. Part of a broader USIP initiative to map the religious landscape in conflict-affected environments, it presents key findings and offers recommendations to enable policymakers and peacebuilding practitioners to better navigate and engage within Rakhine’s religious landscape.

Type: Peaceworks

Religion

The Religious Landscape in South Sudan: Challenges and Opportunities for Engagement

The Religious Landscape in South Sudan: Challenges and Opportunities for Engagement

Thursday, June 20, 2019

By: Jacqueline Wilson

Since the beginning of South Sudan's civil war in 2013, the country's religious actors have sought to play an active role in turning the tide from war and violence to peace and reconciliation. Drawing on interviews, focus groups, and consultations, this report maps the religious landscape of South Sudan and showcases the legitimate and influential religious actors and institutions, highlights challenges impeding their peace work, and provides recommendations for policymakers and practitioners to better engage with religious actors for peace.

Type: Peaceworks

Religion

View All

Latest Publications

A Formula to Resolve the South Korea-Japan Wartime Forced Labor Issue

A Formula to Resolve the South Korea-Japan Wartime Forced Labor Issue

Thursday, August 18, 2022

By: Timothy Webster

As the United States revitalizes its alliances in East Asia, World War II reparations issues loom large. The United States’ two closest allies in the region — Japan and South Korea — remain at odds on issues ranging from forced labor that Koreans performed for Japanese corporations to the comfort women system of sexual enslavement. The failure to redress these issues has stretched the bilateral relationship to its thinnest point in 50 years. Although the new administration in Seoul promises a more “forward-looking” approach to Japan, resolution of various historical issues seems unlikely in the near term.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global PolicyReconciliation

Three Early Lessons from Kenya’s Elections

Three Early Lessons from Kenya’s Elections

Thursday, August 18, 2022

By: Aly Verjee

On August 15, William Ruto was declared president-elect of Kenya, following a vote last week. His chief competitor, Raila Odinga, rejected the results and says he will go to court to seek their invalidation. So far, little evidence of electoral misconduct has been presented, with most observers suggesting the conduct of the polls improved compared to the last vote in 2017. As the country waits for the judicial process to unfold, here are three takeaways from this year’s Kenyan experience.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

A Year into Taliban Rule, Afghans Face Spiraling Economic, Humanitarian Crises

A Year into Taliban Rule, Afghans Face Spiraling Economic, Humanitarian Crises

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

By: Dhabie Brown;  Yasmin Faruki;  Ashley Igwe;  Allyson Neville;  Becky Roby

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan last year — followed by economic sanctions and other restrictions from the international community — precipitated a dire humanitarian crisis. Afghan women and children, particularly girls, have been hit the hardest. After two decades of hard-won gains, Afghan women have seen their rights evaporate before their eyes and young girls’ dreams for their futures have been squashed. Meanwhile, the country’s economic crisis has left nearly the entire population in hunger, with limited access to health care and other basic needs.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

EconomicsHuman Rights

In Senegal’s War-Torn Casamance, a Dialogue Builds Stability

In Senegal’s War-Torn Casamance, a Dialogue Builds Stability

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

By: Boucar Baba Ndiaye

Senegal, one of West Africa’s most stable countries, is a key partner in countering extremism, military coups and other violence in the Sahel and in coastal states. Yet Senegal’s democracy and stability face challenges, notably the 40-year insurgency in the Casamance region. As Senegal attempts political and security reforms to build peace there, a community dialogue process in one Casamance town is helping improve security. Local dialogues—among communities, government officials and security forces—offer an efficient method for Senegal and its partners to heal conflict, bolster Senegal’s stability and counter West Africa’s slippage toward violence.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & GovernanceFragility & Resilience

One Year Later: Taliban Reprise Repressive Rule, but Struggle to Build a State

One Year Later: Taliban Reprise Repressive Rule, but Struggle to Build a State

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

By: Andrew Watkins

When the Taliban swept into power last August, many expected they would reprise the draconian governance of their 1990s emirate. Despite pledges of moderation and reform from some Taliban factions, one year later those predictions have largely turned out to be prescient. The group has yet to establish a formal governance structure, with the interim cabinet appointed early in their tenure still intact. But the Taliban have swiftly reinstated many of their harshest policies, pushing women out of public life and brooking no dissent. USIP’s Andrew Watkins explains how the Taliban government functions, who’s really in charge and how the Taliban have dealt with challenges to their authority.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

View All Publications