Religion for Peace: Identifying Conditions and Mechanisms of Interfaith Peace

  • The influence of religion on societies worldwide continues to be very significant. Religion seems to unite and divide people at the same time: There has been an increase in religiously motivated discrimination and violence, but religious ideas are also commonly used to propagate peace. Even where conditions seem less favorable, peaceful coexistence continues. Applying a nested research design, this project aims to identify conditions and underlying mechanisms of peaceful interfaith relations.


    Dr. Lisa Hoffmann

    Research Fellow

    Julia Köbrich

    Doctoral Researcher


    Prof. Dr. Matthias Basedau

    Direktor des GIGA Instituts für Afrika-Studien / Redaktion GIGA Focus Afrika


    This project asks: What are the conditions and mechanisms of peaceful interfaith relations, and what policies are promising for promoting interfaith peace?

    Specific questions are:
    1.What are the conditions for peaceful interfaith relations worldwide?
    2.What institutional, ideational, and other variables work in favor of peace when certain other conditions are not favorable to it?
    3.What are the underlying mechanisms that link religion and peace?
    4.What policies are hence promising for creating interfaith peace?

    Beitrag zu internationaler Forschung

    In recent years, religion has become an increasingly contentious phenomenon, with religious violence and discrimination on the rise worldwide (e.g. Toft et al. 2011; Grim & Finke 2011; Fox 2016). However, according to the “ambivalence of the sacred” (Appleby 2000; Philpott 2007), religion is also connected to peace: interfaith peace is, in fact, the norm rather than the exception. Even where conditions seem less favourable, such as in religiously diverse and rather poor countries like Benin, Ghana, Mauritius, or Tanzania, peaceful coexistence occurs. Theoretically, religion is also a source of positive peace beyond neutralizing conflict risks (e.g. Hasenclever & Rittberger 2000). Religious ideas such as norms and values of nonviolence, universal love, tolerance, and forgiveness increase trust, prevent violence, inspire peace efforts during conflict, and foster reconciliation after it. Regarding the demography of religious identity groups, crosscutting cleavages and high diversity are favourable to peace (e.g. Gubler & Selway 2011). If structural conditions are unfavourable, inclusive institutions can accommodate the interests of religious communities; interreligious networks can reduce prejudice between them. However, while a growing body of empirical works has investigated the link between religion and violence (e.g. Svensson 2007, 2012; Toft 2007; Bormann et al. 2015; Basedau et al. 2016), interfaith peace has scarcely been studied empirically in a rigorous manner—especially the positive aspects of faith.
    We contribute to the rigorous empirical study of the link between religion and peace, especially regarding positive peace. Using several cutting edge methodologies, we expect substantial results that are also very useful for policy.

    Forschungsdesign und Methoden

    The project studies these questions in a nested research design (e.g. Lieberman 2005; Poteete et al. 2010) that connects different levels of analysis in order to make optimal use of the strengths of qualitative and quantitative strategies. In Step 1, the project will refine the theorizing, including explicitly positive aspects of interfaith peace. We then use unique global data—already compiled by the applicant and his collaborators—that provides information on religion and peace to identify global conditions of interfaith peace. A special emphasis will be on conditions such as interreligious networks, or peace norms that can offset unfavourable structural and historical conditions. The cross-country analysis will be the basis for the selection of country cases that are “unlikely success stories” of interfaith peace despite an unfavourable demography or previous conflict experience. We explore additional reasons and the causal mechanisms through qualitative fieldwork (Step 2) and via experiments that can establish causal relationships at the micro level (Step 3). The micro-level results will serve to identify, compile data on, and test additional variables that were not considered in the initial quantitative analysis (Step 4). The last step (Step 5) comprises dissemination activities, including publication endeavours and policy advice in societies at risk of interreligious conflict.

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