Chapter 16: Religion, conflict and peacebuilding in development
A considerable amount of development work takes place in contexts of conflict, both current or past, often with the goal of facilitating recovery from the devastating effects of war. In these settings religion can prove to be a problematic source of tension and a criterion for exclusion, as well as a tool for promoting peace and service. Referred to by Little and Appleby (2004) as ‘the ambivalence of the sacred’ (p. 2), religion has the ability to stimulate militancy on behalf of the other, as well as militancy aimed against the other. In other words, religion may promote intolerance and hatred, but also may encourage tolerance, non-violence and a readiness to appreciate and respect difference (Little and Appleby, 2004). As Coward and Smith (2004) note, ‘Whether upholding universal human rights or denying them to “heretics” or “infidels”, religious actors, of course, always believe that they are doing God’s will and thus serving the common good of humanity, properly understood’ (p. 2). This chapter gives a broad overview of a variety of roles religious actors may play in conflict and peacebuilding. I will begin by briefly discussing the role of religion in sowing or intensifying conflict, as well as how faith promotes peace in a variety of world religions. I will then examine various roles religious actors may play in the peacebuilding context, followed by a discussion of the ways religious identity can create conflict in the practice of service provision by organizations engaged in development work.
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