Exploring the Role of Religion in Reconciliation

Last month, the Secretariat of the Network convened representatives from the UN, governments, academic institutions, religious communities and NGOs for a two-day workshop to discuss these questions. The workshop took place on 22-23 May in New York and was co-hosted by Union Theological Seminary (UTS) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). During the workshop, participants explored the complexities of community healing and forgiveness with the aid of case studies and lessons learned from the field.

Heading picture: Rebecca Adda-Dontoh sharing insights from UNDP Malawi on day one of the Reconciliation Workshop at Union Theological Seminary. 

Healing Community Relationships

What is reconciliation? While peace agreements may be written and signed by government leaders, reconciliation is the process of adversaries working towards good relationships after a conflict has taken place.  Engaging in this process involves listening, understanding and humanizing “the other”.  During the workshop, participants recognized the complex nature of reconciliation and the need for context specific approaches. It was highlighted that effective reconciliation processes focus on the deeper healing of community relationships across a wide spectrum of society, rather than relying on top-down policies.

Imam Sayed speaking at panel discussion on “Religious Community’s perspective on reconciliation and healing”.

Religious Communities and the United Nations

Where does the process of healing community relationships take place? For years, religious communities have provided this space.  Motivated by common values and scriptures, religious communities have often been the place where opposing groups are brought together to be reconciled.  As Gerard Powers (Chair of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network) said, “Many have been doing it for decades as pastoral work and didn’t call it ‘peacebuilding'”. During the workshop, it was noted that the United Nations has often lacked the integration of religious actors and initiatives into their peace processes. To ensure that UN engagement is context specific, the importance of understanding and consulting with local religious and traditional actors was stressed.

Teresa Whitfield gives opening remarks on second day at United Nations Development Program. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

The second day of the workshop provided the opportunity for participants to share case studies from around the world. Their experiences from places such as Northern Ireland, Malawi and South Sudan highlighted the impact that religious actors have had in leading their communities towards peace. Finding a balanced approach to engaging religious actors was presented as a challenging but significant opportunity for increasing the sustainability of peace processes. At the end of the workshop, many participants recommended that a framework for engaging religious actors in reconciliation be established within the international community.


Annalisa Jackson
New York Office Coordinator
The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers