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

New Talks Could Help Iraq Find Room to Stabilize Amid Crises

New Talks Could Help Iraq Find Room to Stabilize Amid Crises

Thursday, April 8, 2021

By: James Rupert

As Iraq’s government struggles to build stability in the face of economic decline, COVID, political protest and periodic violence, it may see new hope for some maneuvering room in its narrow political space between the United States and Iran. One day after U.S. and Iranian officials agreed through intermediaries to work toward restoring the 2015 accord over Iran’s nuclear program, American and Iraqi diplomats announced an intent to remove U.S. combat forces from Iraq. Both initiatives face deep uncertainties. But if successful they could widen Iraq’s difficult path toward peace.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Getting to the Source: The Importance of Field Research

Getting to the Source: The Importance of Field Research

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

By: Alastair Reed; Boglarka Bozsogi

Travel restrictions and social distancing practices put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have largely ground field research to a halt. Fieldwork plays an essential but often underappreciated role in both understanding violent extremism and developing policy responses to it. It is vital, therefore, that funders and policymakers support the return of such important work in a post-pandemic world.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Education & Training

How Military Chaplains Are Key Agents for Peace for the U.S. Armed Forces

How Military Chaplains Are Key Agents for Peace for the U.S. Armed Forces

Monday, April 5, 2021

By: Knox Thames; Melissa Nozell

Over the past few decades, U.S. military chaplains have increasingly played a key role in promoting peaceful resolutions in conflict environments. While their primary mission across the service branches is pastoral care — leading religious services, providing counsel and offering spiritual guidance, for example — military chaplains have also, at times, served as liaisons and bridge-builders with local religious leaders.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Religion

China’s High-Stakes Calculations in Myanmar

China’s High-Stakes Calculations in Myanmar

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

By: Jason Tower

The ultimate outcome of Myanmar’s nine-week-old coup will affect a range of international actors — but none more than China. As Asia’s greatest power, China has strategic and economic stakes in its neighbor to the south that leave little space for genuine neutrality behind a façade of non-interference. Since February 1, Beijing has profoundly shaped the trajectory of post-coup violence and blocked international efforts to restore stability.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy

Extending Constitutional Rights to Pakistan’s Tribal Areas

Extending Constitutional Rights to Pakistan’s Tribal Areas

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

By: Umar Mahmood Khan; Rana Hamza Ijaz; Sevim Saadat

When Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas were officially merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in May 2018, the five million residents of the former tribal areas acquired the same constitutional rights and protections—including access to a formal judicial system—as Pakistan’s other citizens. This report, based on field research carried out by the authors, explores the status of the formal justice system’s expansion, finding both positive trends and severe administrative and capacity challenges, and offers recommendations to address these issues.

Type: Special Report

Justice, Security & Rule of Law

View All Publications