The initiative on Religions and the Practice of Peace (RPP), led by Dean David N. Hempton, seeks to stimulate reflection, conversation, and scholarship to explore how individuals and communities worldwide have drawn on religious and spiritual resources to foster mutual understanding, harmonious relations, cooperation, well-being, justice, and peace across differences of religion, sect, nationality, ethnicity, and culture.
Dean David Hempton addressed the Harvard Alumni Association in Cambridge on May 1, 2014. His talk, "Religion and the Promotion of Peace in the 21st Century," attended by over 200 alumni leaders from across the University, focused on the ways that “religious resources—from members of religious communities to institutions and networks; and from theological and ethical ideas to spiritual practices—can play powerful roles in inspiring and sustaining efforts for peace."
While religious conflict features prominently in news and public discourse, much less attention has been dedicated to the roles of religion in fostering peace. Understanding the positive role of religion in preventing violence and building sustainable peace is essential to religious and cultural literacy. Advancing knowledge in this vital yet understudied area will benefit scholars, educators, policymakers, peace practitioners, religious communities, and the general public around the world.
Religion inspires, informs, enables, and sustains peace efforts in many ways. Members of religious traditions have been major theoreticians of theologies and ethics of peace, architects of practical approaches to peace, and leading implementers of conflict prevention, conflict transformation, peacebuilding, and reconciliation processes in conflicts past and present. They have often been at the forefront of addressing problems such as poverty that pose challenges to sustainable peace.
Religious resources for peace include people, ideas, values, virtues, practices, institutions, and, for many, experience of a divine, transcendent, or all-encompassing reality. Religious approaches to peace tend to be holistic, engaging all dimensions of human “being”—spiritual, ethical, intellectual, physical, psychological, emotional, aesthetic, creative, and social. They are deployed and developed in particular historical and cultural circumstances. They therefore invite multidisciplinary, contextualized study as well as theoretical and theological reflection.
Three guiding questions of the Initiative on Religions and the Practice of Peace are:
- In what ways can study of Religions and the Practice of Peace, past and present, advance our understanding of religion?
- What can be learned from the ideas, methods, and experiences of individuals and communities who have utilized religious resources for peace in particular cultural and historical contexts?
- How might these understandings inform contemporary efforts, by religious and non-religious alike, to create a world of sustainable peace for all?
- Religious voices for peace
- Theologies and ethics of peace
- Scriptures, stories, and wisdom teachings
- Modes of interpretation and reasoning
- Prayer, meditation, devotional expression, and ritual
- Virtues such as compassion, benevolence, humility, and forgiveness
- Traditions of neighborliness, service, charity, and impartial justice
- Positive relationship-building approaches
- Conflict prevention and transformation methods
- Indigenous and wisdom traditions
- Cultivation of peace at individual, interpersonal, intracommunity, and intercommunity levels and their interrelationship
- Spiritual-ethical transformation
- Roles of religious leaders, women, youth, the family, and grassroots actors
- Cultural, social, institutional, economic, political, and psychological factors
- Pastoral care dimensions
- Transmission and development of resources for peace across time and place
- Research on prosocial aspects of religion
- Peacebuilding inspired, informed, enabled, or sustained by religious resources
- Positive intra- and interreligious engagement and ecumenism
- Multireligious collaboration to address shared problems
- Education and outreach for peace within and across religious communities
- Spiritual lives and journeys of bridge-builders and peacebuilders
- Relevance to contemporary efforts to address human and global challenges
- Potential contributions to theory on peacebuilding, positive social change, and human ethical development
- Roles for universities and divinity schools worldwide