Religions and the Practice of Peace

“While the media, policymakers, and academics dedicate a great deal of attention to the role of religion in inciting conflict, it certainly is equally critical for us as scholars to examine how the energies and ethics of religion inspire efforts for peace and what can be learned from these efforts.”

 - Dean David N. Hempton

The Initiative on Religions and the Practice of Peace, led by Dean David N. Hempton, seeks to stimulate reflection, conversation, and scholarship to explore how members of religious communities worldwide draw on religious traditions to foster mutual understanding, harmonious relations, cooperation, peace, and well-being across differences of religion, sect, nationality, culture, and ethnicity.

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.

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, peace building, and reconciliation processes in conflicts past and present.

Religious resources for peace include people, ideas, practices, institutions, and, for many religious persons, 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—and therefore invite multidisciplinary study.

Three guiding questions of the Initiative on Religions and the Practice of Peace are:

1)  In what ways can study of Religions & the Practice of Peace, past and present, advance our understanding of religion?

2)  What can be learned from the ideas, methods, and experiences of religious communities that have worked for peace in particular cultural and historical contexts?

3)  How might these understandings inform contemporary efforts, by religious and non-religious alike, to create a world of sustainable peace for all?

We are far more aware of the forces of violence that tear communities apart than we are of those practices and movements that knit them together.” - Diana Eck

Topics to explore include:

  • Specific cases of religious and interreligious peace building, historical and contemporary

  • Cultivation of peace at the individual, interpersonal, intracommunity, and intercommunity levels and their interaction

  • Theologies and ethics; scriptures, narratives, and wisdom teachings; modes of discourse and reasoning and methods of interpretation; prayer, meditation, and other spiritual practices; traditions of charity and service; dispute resolution and relationship-building approaches; and other religious resources

  • Virtues and their cultivation, character development, and spiritual-ethical transformation

  • The pedagogies, methods, and modalities by which teachings and practices of peace have been transmitted, adapted, and developed across time and place

  • Instances of positive interreligious engagement, collaboration, and ecumenism, historical and contemporary, in varied cultural contexts and their relevance to peace

  • Cultural, social, and institutional factors

  • The roles of women, youth, the family, and grassroots actors

  • The relevance of the above to contemporary efforts to address human and global challenges

Events and Resources

Here is a partial list of events and resources relating to religions and the practice of peace. To submit events or other information, please email Elizabeth Lee-Hood.

Upcoming Events

“Women, Religion, and Peace-building in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” The Harvard Club of New York City, 35 West 44th Street, New York. Zilka Spahic Siljak, Research Associate in the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Harvard Divinity School, will speak about her new book, Shining Humanity: Life Stories of Women Peace-builders in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Past Events

“Religions & Peace: Do Universities Have a Role? Public Panel and Faculty Roundtable on Multifaith Collaboration, Peacemaking, and Higher Education,” Harvard Divinity School, Sperry Room, December 2, 2013. Hosted by Dean David Hempton. Moderated by Diana Eck. Panelists: Dean Martha Minow, Harvard Law School; Shaun Casey, U.S. Secretary of State’s special advisor for faith-based community initiatives; Matthew Hodes, director of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations; Jonathan Granoff, president of Global Security Institute and special representative of United Religions Initiative; and Jocelyne Cesari, Harvard research associate and lecturer on Islamic studies.

Harvard Gazette coverage

Dean David Hempton, Harvard Divinity School, Convocation Address 2012, “The Fog of Religious Conflict”

Full text

“Bridging Global Religious Divides,” 2014 Slomoff Symposium, John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston, April 7-8, 2014. Topics: Religion, Conflict Resolution, and US Foreign Policy. Religious Peacebuilding through Personal Narrative: The IMC Model from Nigeria. Lessons from US Efforts to Engage Muslim Communities for Interreligious Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution. Reaching Across Religious Divides in the US: The BRIDGES Model and Effort to Improve Dialogue between Muslim and Sikh Communities and US Law Enforcement. Fostering Interreligious Peace amid Power Disparities: Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam and Transforming Israeli-Palestinian Relationships. Supporting and Learning from Interfaith Peace Efforts.

Program and video links (pdf)

“Faith-Based Community Organizing: How Working With the Religious Other Can Save the World,” Harvard Divinity School, Braun Room, February 19, 2014. Panelists: Marshall Ganz, Harvard Kennedy School and Graduate School of Education; Erica Rothschild, Boston’s Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action: and Yusufi Vali, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Part of the Center for the Study of World Religions junior fellow Usra Ghazi’s conversation series: “Interfaith as Antidote: Models of Faith-Based Civic Engagement.”

Harvard Gazette coverage

“Women and Peace-Building in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Harvard Divinity School, Women’s Studies in Religion Program, February 28, 2013. Zilka Spahic Siljak, deputy director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies at the University of Sarajevo and Visiting Lecturer on Women’s Studies and Islamic Studies at Harvard Divinity School.

Resources

  • Brief bibliography of selected works on religions and the practice of peace
  • “Recommitting to Principles of Peace,” Harvard Divinity Bulletin Issue Autumn 2007 (Vol. 35, No. 4), featuring articles on religions and contemporary peacemaking in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam from the Center for the Study of World Religion’s 2006-2007 lecture series and symposium on this topic:
  • US Institute of Peace, searchable publications on religion and peacemaking.
  • Religions for Peace and El-Hibri Foundation, “Best of Interfaith” webinar series (recorded Feb 2014)

Documentaries

Programs

Religious Peace Groups

  • Peace and justice  from Harvard Divinity School
  • Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), an interfaith and international movement for nonviolence, reconciliation, and compassionate action for justice and peace
  • Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist peace fellowships affiliated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation
  • Religions for Peace, advancing multireligious cooperation for peace at global, regional, national, and local levels
  • United Religions Initiative (URI), a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world”

Interfaith

“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” - Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.