Religion and Conflict: Responding to the Challenges

Foundation Update

Religion and Conflict: Responding to the Challenges

10 Jun 2015

Religion and Conflict: Responding to the Challenges is the first volume in our Global Perspectives Series. The ideas and experiences that are set out in this collection of essays aim to provide practical support for policy-makers as they attempt to navigate the complexity of religion, conflict and extremism. For governments and the international community, this means engaging with, and developing, long-term strategies in addition to short-term responses: policies and programmes that are not undermined by changes of government or immediate distractions and which have sustained funding. International and regional collaboration is required to build resilience amongst the next generation in order to ensure these narratives are countered indigenously, as well as within broader global contexts.

You can read the articles below or download the pdf here.

Foreword: An Urgent Need to Recognise the Role of Religion

By Tony Blair  |  The world faces a scourge that has seen innocent lives taken, communities scarred and nations destabilised in an arc that stretches from the Far East through the Middle East to North America. This fanaticism abuses faith to justify violence against innocent civilians. We need to urgently recognise the global nature of this problem and from that analysis contrive the set of policies that will resolve it.

Read " An Urgent Need to Recognise the Role of Religion"

A Critical Time for Recognising the Role of Religion

By Charlotte Keenan  |  The resurgence of religion has transformed the international sphere. Across the globe, religious extremism is feeding conflicts and perpetrating acts of horrific violence in the name of faith. In illustrating key policy concerns and their implications, the contents of this volume can help policy makers to map their path forwards. This will not be an easy journey and will require long-term commitment, but it has never been more urgent that we embark sooner rather than later.

Read " A Critical Time for Recognising the Role of Religion"

Religion and Conflict in Global Perspective

By Mark Juergensmeyer  |  The resurgence of religion in the latter days of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st has seen religion increasingly used as a form of symbolic empowerment to justify violent resistance and give meaning to protest groups. Despite the persistence of religious terror and extreme violence, the popular protests of Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa have instigated a significant paradigm shift that not only has implications for violent religious extremists, but also for how governments should engage with religious actors in the pursuit of counter-terror and democratisation policies.

Read " Religion and Conflict in Global Perspective"

Why Religious Freedom is Good Foreign Policy

By Daniel Philpott  |  The incorporation of religious freedom into foreign policy is both a matter of principle and pragmatism. The empowerment of religious actors is a direct route towards the promotion of democracy and the prevention and reconciliation of conflict. Many countries have already moved in this direction, but improvements need to be made in their strategy both in terms of mainstreaming and multilateralism.

Read "Why Religious Freedom is Good Foreign Policy"

From Negative to Positive Narratives: Values and Strategies in Negotiating Difference

By Lori G. Beaman  |  The export of religious freedom from the West has serious consequences for religious communities around the world. The impact of such policies can serve to only further divide societies already torn by conflict. Perhaps the greatest problem is the Western, and even Christian, bias these policies contain. A better understanding of local sensibilities and contexts combined with an appreciation for local practices of negotiating religion would provide a more viable building block for the achievement of equality.

Read " From Negative to Positive Narratives: Values and Strategies in Negotiating Difference"

Avoiding Pitfalls in Responding to Religious Conflict

By Daniel Cere  |  The political engagement of religion in a globalising world poses numerous dilemmas for academics, practitioners and public policy professionals. Global societies are now experiencing enhanced threats to religious freedom through the rise of politicised religions and hard-line forms of secularism. Philpott and Beaman illustrate a growing polarisation in academic debates over religious freedom advocacy. In designing policy, civil society and governmental sectors seeking to foster religious freedom need to carefully consider the concerns brought to light by these diverse accounts.

Read "Avoiding Pitfalls in Responding to Religious Conflict"

Case Study: Iran – Building Consensus Against Intolerance

By Nazila Ghanea  |  When it is reference to religion that is used to violate human rights, it might seem that religion itself should be the last recourse in the search for common ground upon which reconciliation can be based. But the stance of an Islamic Cleric in Iran towards the Bahá'í community offers an example of how, in countries where universal human rights standards have little local resonance, appeals for tolerance based on religion can help break the deadlock. The domestication of rights and rights language, particularly in reference to religion, can help to curb intolerance and sectarianism.

Read "Case Study: Iran – Building Consensus Against Intolerance"

Peace Through Knowledge: Responding to Conflict Involving Religion

By Akbar Ahmed  |  A simplistic, deterministic narrative of conflict between religions and global civilisations dominates our world. To respond to conflict between these great actors we must develop a new formula for the way in which the world deals with religion, especially with Islam. Dialogue between these civilisations to foster mutual understanding is an imperative we can no longer ignore.

Read "Peace Through Knowledge: Responding to Conflict Involving Religion"

Case Study: Nigeria – An Opportunity for Faith-Based Conflict Resolution

By John Campbell  | Religious conflict in Nigeria is only one challenge facing a polity that is divided into approximately 250 ethnic groups, a political order characterised by weak government and in which there is little regard for the rule of law. Under both military and civilian governments, fierce and bloody competitions between elites, often appealing to ethnic and religious identities, have resulted in a country run for their own benefit with little reference to the needs of the Nigerian people. There is a wide remit for faith groups to be involved in reconciliation and conflict resolution, however, such initiatives need to carefully negotiate around local circumstances.

Read "Case Study: Nigeria – An Opportunity for Faith-Based Conflict Resolution"

Building a Consensus for Reconciliation

By Christopher Rider | A core component of current conflicts is the growing polarisation between identities, particularly religious identities. To overcome this polarisation, heal divisions and build a consensus for reconciliation, we must develop patterns of dialogue and collaboration that build shared understanding, experience and trust. This will not be easy, but there can be no doubt that faith communities must take a leading role.

Read "Building a Consensus for Reconciliation"

The Counter Terrorist Classroom: Countering Extremism through (Religious) Education?

By Liam Gearon  |  The problem of modern religious education remains how to ground the subject when it is no longer grounded in the religious life, in the life of the holy. Contemporary efforts to use religious education for the countering of extremism are a subset of the wider grounding of religious education in political life and concerns. When religious education is harnessed to secular purposes and no longer provides any meaningful pathways to pursue the holy, we leave that vital space empty for the extremists to fill. If we do not recognise this, any attempt to use education to counter extremism is bound to fail.

Read "The Counter Terrorist Classroom: Countering Extremism through (Religious) Education?"

Addressing Religious Extremism: A Positive Approach for Policy Makers and Practitioners

By Robert Jackson  |  Extreme violence in the name of religion has become a feature of our society. However, there is a risk that hasty policy reactions to such violence can confuse extremism with conservative views that are legitimate in a liberal democracy that supports freedom of religion and belief. This can damage social cohesion by associating these events with a generalised picture of a religion. National policy needs to be integrated, including a positive educational approach. Better understanding of religions and engagement with people of other faiths, while not a solution on its own, is an important factor in countering extremism and building tolerance and respect among different groups. This can only help to foster democratic citizenship in national and global society.

Read " Addressing Religious Extremism: A Positive Approach for Policy Makers and Practitioners"

Case Study: Pakistan – Education, Religion and Conflict

By Raza Rumi  |  Pakistan is in the midst of crisis. It is threatened by virulent extremist groups and is suffering from a failing education system that is poorly funded, politically manipulated and which promulgates an undefined Islamo-nationalist ideology that lays the foundations for widespread acceptance of ideologically motivated violence. Reforms to the curriculum have been legislated, but are badly implemented by the country's politicians and the international community has largely turned a blind eye to these shortcomings. Unless aid and advocacy is specifically focused on far-reaching educational reform that directly tackles extremism, the long-term consequences will be extremely severe.

Read " Case Study: Pakistan – Education, Religion and Conflict"

Education as a Security Issue

By Ian Jamison  |  The use of education as both tool and target of religious extremists globally is perhaps one of the most important generational challenges we face today. To ensure that the next generation is open to a more pluralistic world we must ensure that their education equips them to safely encounter the 'Other'. This not only means improving knowledge, understanding and interaction, but also critically requires investment in developing essential soft skills that can ensure these are properly employed.

Read " Education as a Security Issue"

Action for Peace and Progress: ‘Tin Ears’ on Religion and Development

By Katherine Marshall  |  The role of religion and of religious actors is far too often ignored or dismissed by international development officials and organisations. Religious actors have a wealth of experience, access and capacity to offer in tackling and achieving global goals, and the separation of secular and religious efforts is wasting precious time and resources. Yet there is hope, as the experiences of the World Faiths Development Dialogue proves.

Read " Action for Peace and Progress: 'Tin Ears' on Religion and Development"

Supporting Communities for Action

By Ian Linden  |  Despite great progress in recognising religious communities as partners in development work, it is an illusion to think that the argument that they should be is won. A lack of trust on both sides remains and serious work is needed to overcome this. Not least because when resources are at a premium there is no alternative to coordinated action, but also that the benefits of collaborative work and dialogue go far beyond development, building resources for conflict resolution and countering extremist narratives.

Read " Supporting Communities for Action"

Islam versus Secularism: Muslim Democrats and a Third Way

By Ed Husain  |  Too often we assume that secularism is a monolith, an oft-imagined separation of church and state, an avoidance of overt religion in public life. But this aspiration was born out of a particular history and place. Today, public expressions of religion around the globe can no longer be contained by Western European-style secularism. But alternatives do exist. The West must take stock of its position and realign its policies to ensure that they reflect the public's religious sentiments.

Read " Islam versus Secularism: Muslim Democrats and a Third Way"

Dealing with Violent Extremism: Mainstreaming Understanding of Religion

By Matthew Lawrence and William Neal  |  A pervasive lack of knowledge and understanding about the role of religion in the modern world is increasingly putting Western policy makers at a disadvantage in a world dominated by religious narratives. A clear choice lies ahead. Mainstream this understanding in order to convene the consensus and strategy needed to prevent and counter violent religious extremism, or repeatedly face groups such as ISIS and its possible successors and the huge financial burden of militarily defeating them, write.

Read " Dealing with Violent Extremism: Mainstreaming Understanding of Religion"

With the exception of Tony Blair Faith Foundation staff, the views expressed by authors remain solely their own and may not necessarily be the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
Copyright © December 2014 by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Edited by Daniel Cere and Thomas Thorp.
All rights reserved. Citation, reproduction and or translation of this publication, in whole or in part, for educational or other noncommercial purposes is authorised provided the source is fully acknowledged.