Religions and the Practice of Peace

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, 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, peacebuilding, and reconciliation processes in conflicts past and present.

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:

  1. In what ways can study of Religions and the Practice of Peace, past and present, advance our understanding of religion?
  2. 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?
  3. How might these understandings inform contemporary efforts, by religious and non-religious alike, to create a world of sustainable peace for all?

Religions and Peace: Do Universities Have a Role?"Religions & Peace: Do Universities Have a Role?," a panel on December 2, 2013, explored the ways that people of different religions can work together to end violence—and what universities can do to facilitate this process.

Topics

Perspectives

  • Religious voices for peace

Resources

  • 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

Dimensions

  • 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, and political factors
  • Transmission and adaptation of resources for peace across time and place
  • Research on prosocial aspects of religion

Case Studies

  • 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

Implications

  • 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

Fog of Religious Discontent video thumbnailIn his 2012 Convocation address, Dean David N. Hempton drew on the memory of violence he witnessed in Northern Ireland to offer hopeful visions for the future.