Religion, conflict & peacebuilding: An introductory programming guide
May 12, 2010
from the introduction to the toolkit by USAID:
Connecting religion and violent conflict is easy to do. Many of the world’s violent outbreaks, both present and past, are couched in religious terms, ranging from the 1st century Jewish-Roman War, to the 11th century Crusades, to 17th century Thirty Years War to the 20th century Irish civil war to contemporary conflicts in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Iraq, and Israel/West Bank/Gaza.
Connecting religion and peacebuilding is equally easy to do. Human history includes many examples where the religiously motivated acted in extraordinary ways to bridge divides, promote reconciliation, or advocate peaceful coexistence. It thus becomes clear that understanding the dynamics of conflict—both the sources of discord and the forces of resilience—requires an understanding of the connections between conflict, religion and peacebuilding. And yet sensitivities and uncertainties surrounding the mere mention of religion frequently stand in the way of that understanding.
This general discomfort with examining the religious dimensions of conflict dynamics poses problems for development practitioners at several levels. At the most basic, a lack of awareness of the religious context may adversely affect interventions or provoke active resistance, even when large scale violence is not a significant risk. Where the risk of instability is higher, inattention to religious identities or to the views and aspirations of religious leaders may result in mischaracterizations about what the conflict is actually about or how likely it is to become violent. And where violence is a reality, discounting the religious dimension or resisting engagement with religious actors may result in overlooking the many opportunities to tap into religion as a force for compassion and promoting peace.
The aim of this Toolkit is to help lower the discomfort of USAID staff in making the analytical and programmatic connections between conflict, religion and peacebuilding.
- The Key Issues section provides additional arguments for why development practitioners should—and can—address religion more directly.
- Special attention is given to clarifying the legal provisions governing engagement with religious organizations and detailing a nine-step process of due diligence to ensure that programming is both sensitive and effective.
- The Program Options section provides in-depth summaries of four USAID-funded programs that engage both religiously-grounded grievances and religious actors. Such an approach is a departure from other Toolkits, but given the agency’s limited experience with this type of programming, in-depth treatments detailing objectives, activities, partners, and lessons learned seem more helpful and more likely to overcome the discomfort by demonstrating the possible.
- The Toolkit also includes valuable lessons learned and a list of organizations active in the nexus of religion and conflict that offer various resources to conflict analysts or development programmers.
The Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM) recognizes that we are at an early stage understanding and addressing the nexus of conflict, religion and peacebuilding. Thus this Toolkit is a more of a starting than an ending point. To help advance this work, CMM has established a Religion and Conflict resource page on the USAID Intranet (inside.usaid.gov/dcha/cmm) that will be regularly updated with new project summaries and new resources. We also encourage questions, comments and suggestions by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.