The Role of Religion in Conflict and Peacebulding

Silvestri, Sara & Mayall, James (2015)
The British Academy

The role of religion in conflict and peacebuilding has often been depicted in binary terms: it is seen as a source either of violence or of reconciliation. As this simplification obscures the complexity of the subject, the British Academy report aims to find a workable definition of ‘religion’ as a starting point for a more meaningful analysis.

By observing how religion operates and interacts with aspects of human experience at the global, institutional, group and individual levels, the study intends to provide a more nuanced understanding of its role, or potential role, in both conflict and peacebuilding.

Three conflicts that have shown some religious dimension are examined as case studies, namely those in Israel-Palestine, Mali and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The study identifies the concepts, actors and arguments at play in each instance, and shows in what ways and to what extent different aspects of religion were implicated either in the violence or in the building of peace, or both.

The findings of the study show that religious factors and motivations vary in each case, supporting the contention that when it comes to understanding their role in conflicts, context is crucial. Religion is never a static or isolated entity, but should be understood as contingent upon a large number of contextual and historical factors.

Putting forward several recommendations for policymakers and scholars in the field, the study argues that they should strive to discern the complex ways in which religion permeates a conflict, whilst bearing in mind that it is not a major factor in every conflict.