III:Alternative perspectives

10 Religion and reconciliation

Religion and reconciliation: Power, practice and rejections ofthe truth and reconciliation project in South African andBosnian contexts

George R. Wilkes

A wide international public identifies reconciliation with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In the experience of that Commission, the role of religion was striking. The Commission Chair, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, made use of his position to urge forgiveness in ways that were recognisably Christian. The Commission’s approach to forgiveness and reconciliation is the subject of an ongoing critique, and particularly because this approach was seen to be cast in very particular religious terms. The TRC also continues to be influential, a source of inspiration globally, a blueprint for a successful non-violent transition, and its influence is often demonstrated through the adoption of its religious forms, acknowledging the significance of this religious dimension.

The link between churches and formal TRCs elsewhere - notably in Africa and in more defined ways in Latin America - is also commonly visible in the design and leadership of the processes. Because the power of the South African model is felt internationally, in very different, non-Chris-tian post-conflict contexts, an interested public has had to reflect on the challenges of transferring the model from its South African context. In this chapter, the religious discourse associated with the South African experience is placed in the context of prior developments in Latin America - where religious involvement in truth commissions was initially quite different - and then contrasted with Bosnia and Hercegovina. In Bosnia and Hercegovina, the distinctive form through which truth was exchanged for forgiveness in South Africa has gained limited traction, and critiques have included the assertion that the TRC rests on distinctively Christian theological premises. This critique is made elsewhere in non-Western and particularly Islamic societies.

In polemics for and against the TRC model, this religious factor may be taken for granted, in a decontextualised fashion, as if it has a prescribed form and power in its essence that is absolute and unconditional. Much of this polemical literature has been written by scholars whose primary discipline is philosophy, sociology, political science and international relations. This chapter uses a closer examination of the different Bosnian and South African cases to suggest that more historically contextual scholarship is needed in order to grasp the multivalent roles of religion in reconciliation processes. The ways in which religion and secularity have featured in commissions before and after the South African TRC are tied to critiques of the power that frames formal processes, and to frustrations with the limits to the agency of ordinary people to affect the process. The Bosnian case shows that a broader range of religious understandings and impulses coexists with the critique of formal reconciliation processes, and that the significance of religion in understanding reconciliation processes is more fully captured by encompassing the narratives of activists committed to a reconciliation that implies a long-term social transformation rather than by focusing solely on the political institutions on which the model of a formal TRC has come to depend.

Before the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Religious and secular framings of the Latin American commissions

The most immediate precedents for the South African TRC were a series of commissions held in Latin American states in the 1980s and 1990s.1 The influence of Western Christian theology and the influence of Church leaders in these contexts are less easy to represent in a summary form than has been true for the South African case2; but the impact of Christianity in the population was no less important than in South Africa. Across Latin America at this time, the population, and the clergy who sought to represent or guide that population religiously, were mostly Catholic with an increasing Protestant minority, which constituted an important contrast to the South African case.

The Latin American commissions were held after the fall of brutal dictatorships with which the Catholic hierarchy had an often-delicate relationship. On the one hand, a number of courageous church leaders had denounced both the military coups and also the abuses committed by the regimes which followed. On the other, many in the Church shared the forms of anti-communist ideology that fed these dictatorships, many defenders of the military-backed regimes justified their support in reference to their understanding of Catholic values, and the pull felt by Church leaders to find accommodation with their national governments was made all the stronger by this. In the wake of the fall of these dictatorships, the Church remained a natural ally for those seeking tools and symbols to rebuild civil society. This availability, and the recognised authority of the clergy, has been of natural interest for interpreters of the causes of religious involvement in reconciliation processes for whom the religious content of Church activity is of secondary interest. The involvement of religious figures in a reconciliation process is not necessarily an indication that religion plays a role in that process.

A driving motivation for the Latin American commissions was the secrecy with which regimes had conducted crimes against their citizens. A first National Commission of Inquiry into Disappearances was held in Bolivia in 198184; a second was quickly convened at the fall of the Argentine militaryjunta in 1983 84, culminating in the report Nunca Mas (‘Never Again’), again spurred by the plight of families grieving disappeared relatives who had played a prominent part in protests that weakened the grip of the dictatorship. The aim of the commissions was to establish a correct historical record that took account of the experience of the large numbers of victims and their surviving families, not to engage victims or perpetrators in public acts of reconciliation. With the exception of the prominent campaigner Rabbi Marshall Meyer in Argentina, clergy did not sit on these early commissions. Nevertheless, the Church did play a role in the preparation of transitional justice in the nascent democracies that replaced these dictatorships. It played a particularly key role in the aftermath of the Brazilian dictatorship: in 1985, with support from the World Council of Churches, the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo published a second Nunca Mais report (Never Again, or Torture in Brazil). Seen objectively, the churches were a natural source of institutional support in societies that had been closed down by years of repression. If there were reasons to associate a number of religious leaders with moral leadership, nevertheless during the transition in Brazil the churches had not acted with the kind of unified moral force that might suggest that their distinctive religious or theological foundations had suited them for a role as seekers of truth and justice.

The response of the Catholic Church to the movement for truth and justice across Latin America was designed to take into account a political and social context that extended beyond the immediate decisions required by the fall of the military regimes. Church leaders also sought a Christian response to the transition to democracy in Latin America in the wider Cold War context, with a particular care for the fate of Catholic populations still living under dictatorship - Communist dictatorship - in Eastern Europe. This Cold War context was of cardinal importance to the Pope, John Paul IL under whose aegis the bishops were collectively asked to reflect on the challenges faced by the Church in engaging with increasingly secularising populations across the world: under dictatorships of the Left as well as the Right. The personal and political were combined for Church leaders in the recognition that in both of these contexts, secularising tendencies were reducing the number of Catholics who made confession. In December 1983, the Synod of Bishops was directed by John Paul II to convene and to consider the theme ‘Reconciliation and Penance’, following which an Apostolic Declaration was published in 1984, the influential Reconciliatio et Paenitentia. Designed for use in instruction for the laity and as guidance for Church leaders, the essay underlined the role of the Church - and the bishops in particular - as bearers of the Christian mercy that was essential to the process by which sinners would overcome their state of sin.

It might seem that this theological formulation represented a step back from the highly sensitive politics of transitional justice. The document was nevertheless explicit about the condemnation of torture, which had a particular resonance since it had been for this in particular that the United Nations had been most active in condemning the Latin American dictatorships. To the Church insider, the political consequences of Reconciliatio et Paenitentia were not hidden by the ostensibly personal religious framing they were given in being focused on the act of confession - they were in fact given added weight because the damage to religion and humanity caused by dictatorship was presented as a reason for the revival of confession as a central element of Church life. A number of Latin American transitions subsequently came to take on this broader mandate for reconciliation premised on markers of repentance. Some commissions were explicitly described in terms of truth and reconciliation - in Chile in 1990-91, in Peru in 2001-03, in Honduras in 2010-11 and (using co-existence instead of reconciliation) as part of the peace agreement of 2016 in Colombia, for instance.

The role played by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia in preparing for this development still awaits fuller scholarly treatment. For observers seeking to be able to identify a theological form of reconciliation as the driver of the truth and reconciliation movement, the document provides circumstantial evidence but relatively insubstantial theological ’meat’. The document does not demand amnesty, nor does it demand a public exchange of truth and forgiveness. It does, on the other hand, relate active membership of a living Christian Church to the re-establishment of social ties, and sets this partially within the contemporary political context.

By contrast, the role of religious actors and communities once the political processes surrounding these Latin American TRCs were under way is easier to establish. In Colombia, for instance, the stake held in the process of reconciliation by religious actors had been established for decades.3 As Colombians debated the peace settlement reached in 2016, the lobby for reconciliation included a range of Catholic actors. One of the most prominent sources of opposition to the process, and to the specifics of the agreement reached between the government and key rebel or opposition groups, was the Evangelical movement, which identified the reconciliation process with threats to their religious values.4 Again, it is less clear that opponents or supporters of the reconciliation processes rested their political positions on the premise of support or opposition to a particular theology of reconciliation. The earlier Latin American Commissions may have been a source of inspiration behind the South African model, but the role of religion has played out in very different ways. Whereas across Latin America a theology of reconciliation has not been a prominent feature of the Commissions’ design, and the Commissions have not been led by clergy, we will see that the South African model is quite different.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation

Commission: Framing power as religious

The form and focus of the Latin American commissions are in striking contrast not only to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but also to the African commissions that were inspired by the South African model. When African truth and justice commissions were established following the South African model, the mandate for reconciliation was most commonly explicitly foregrounded, as it was in Rwanda (1999-), Sierra Leone (2002-04), Ghana (2002-04), the Democratic Republic of Congo (2003-07), Algeria (2005), Morocco (2004-06), Liberia (2005-10), Kenya (2008), Ivory Coast (2011-15) and The Gambia (2017-).

The inspiration provided by the South African model was clear in many cases. The charisma of Archbishop Tutu has encouraged a role for church leaders in subsequent African TRCs: the local authority of church leaders in these countries may make them a natural focus for reconciliation activities; there has also been support for this role from an international network of advisors and mediators, drawing on the experience of clergy in each successive process and applying it to the next. Senior clergy were involved in different ways in proceedings in each country (as they were, too, in East Timor in 2000-08 and in the Solomon Islands TRC, chaired by Father Sam Ata, from 2008 to 2018). In the Democratic Republic of Congo, religious leaders were deliberately appointed as commissioners, and the Commission was headed by Bishop Jean-Luc Kuye Ndondo wa Mulemera. In Sierra Leone, the Commission was headed by Bishop Joseph Christian Humper. In Liberia, commissioners included a bishop and a prominent Islamic leader, Sheikh Kafumba Konneh. Amongst experts involved in the design of these commissions, particularly those focused on establishing the historical record, the Latin American experience is an obvious point of reference. Amongst an attentive public, the South African experience is far better known.

The choice of religious leaders as authoritative mediators reflects the role that some of these leaders played in the transition away from dictatorship, and the role that clergy are expected to play by virtue of the role played by religion in wider social arenas. While this is widely represented as an African reality, it was also a noteworthy feature of the Apartheid regime. As the regime had supportive communities which gave the regime's political positions theological expression, so too there were a range of religious denominations whose leaders gave a voice to religious opposition to the tenets of Apartheid. Among those leaders, Tutu was one of the most prominent. He played a particularly public role in opposing Apartheid in public as Bishop of Johannesburg and then Archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The African National Congress ostentatiously embraced those religious leaders who supported it actively, and by the time of the transition also came to embrace a wider range of religious figures and communities who supported the non-violent struggle against Apartheid. The best-known of these figures were Protestant, but there was also a vibrant multi-faith movement for non-violent resistance to Apartheid organised in the South African chapter of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP). a number of whose members became members of the transitional commissions appointed to prepare the groundwork for the new South Africa. A vivid sense of the combination of personal, theological and political factors that motivated a number of these activists is given in the books published by Farid Esack, a leading Muslim activist and World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) member. Esack describes the religious impact on his generation of the struggle against Apartheid in terms of the call to a pluralistic Muslim theology of liberation.5 Religion was not acting on this generation as an outside force, in Esack’s account, but as a resource in making the personal and political changes that the challenge of ending Apartheid required of them. From the (African National Congress) ANC’s perspective, the prospect of a very public and political role for clergy was already provided with a rationale by virtue of the recognised role clergy played in South African politics and society. This position was further strengthened by those religious figures of Esack’s generation who had played an active part in the transition and for whom a new South Africa would have to be created through a personal and political transformation that engaged them personally as religious actors.

Of all the African commissions, it is the South African Commission which has received the most international scrutiny and the most criticism for the use of a Western Christian model of reconciliation. Critiques of the Commission have faulted two aspects of the apparently Christian framing of the experience: what is described as the coerced acceptance of perpetrator apologies by victims and the amnesty granted for perpetrators who cooperated and testified fully. Religion was a constant feature in the proceedings, though at no point was it formally agreed, leading to continuing debates.6 Some of the critiques of the Christian language and ideology used in Commission hearings have been angry rebuttals aimed at the powerful Commissioners, Tutu above all. As critical studies by Giuliana Lund and Patricia Hayner highlighted. Tutu was seen to use a religious doctrine of forgiveness to pressure vulnerable victims to forgive Apartheid officials who had harmed their families.7 For Tutu, this act of forgiveness could be both public - televised - healing and just at the same time. This was seen as both necessary for the individual and right for society. A foundation for this could be identified in the Christian duty to forgive, and also in the African notion of humanity consisting in common responsibility (ubuntu). This was not only an expression of religious, cultural or political theology; it was also deemed necessary for a stable political transition in the immediate term. The public transformation of the individual grievances of victims of Apartheid into a symbol of collective forgiveness and national reconciliation was a response to the gulfs between sectors of South African society that would not be healed by the handshake between F.W. De Clerk and

Nelson Mandela, nor in itself by the creation of a new constitution promising equal rights for all. The complaint that Tutu’s forgiveness was theological is framed in most critical accounts by a political analysis, according to which the TRC forced acquiescence on victims in an exchange that was unequal, rushed and, on both accounts, forced.

While supporters have seen amnesties for the confession of criminal acts during the Apartheid era as necessary, critics have thus presented the motives of the political process at work in the Commission as less than just, and as less than reconciliation: instead of theatrical acts of social and political renewal premised on spectacular personal acts of forgiveness by victims, critics argued for the validation of victim perspectives.8 In a philosophically oriented study, which distinguishes between a Christian theology of reconciliation and a more humanistically inclined embrace of the suffering of victims, Thomas Brudholm presented this second alternative as more healthy, natural and just.9 For Brudholm, the TRC represented the outworking of a version of Christian idealism which should be judged harshly: hostile to the rights and needs of individuals, it was also closed to the possibility that for victims to sustain their personal dignity they required recognition, not condemnation, for their natural resentment.

Bosnia and Hercegovina: Religious and political reasons for the rejection of the South African model of Truth and Reconciliation Commission

In the wake of the war and genocide in Bosnia and Hercegovina, support in the country gathered for a truth and reconciliation process, and the South African model was one of the most influential precedents presented to local stakeholders for adoption. In the context of Bosnia and Hercegovina, divided by warring parties into Catholic Croat, Muslim Bosniak and Orthodox Christian Serb populations, the theologies of reconciliation promoted by Catholic and Anglican Church leaders in Latin America and South Africa could easily be presented as foreign and as divisive. The TRC was widely faulted for allowing amnesties for war criminals, and this was possibly the most common publicly cited reason for rejecting it. But this critique was also joined to a widely held public view that reconciliation was itself a theological Western Christian concept, which did not have a natural appeal to the population of Bosnia and Hercegovina. There was a political context in which these critiques found resonance, partly local and partly international, and an attempt to distinguish the political and religious dimensions of the local debates about a TRC is first set in a wider international context in what follows.

The charge that amnesty rests on a peculiarly Christian discourse about reconciliation is shared in other non-Western countries, and particularly in states with large Muslim populations. This does not necessarily lead states in transition to reject proposals for a TRC. The TRC project has also been taken up in a range of non-Christian contexts - in Nepal. The Gambia, Kosovo, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, for instance - most of which have Muslim majorities. In some of these commissions, the charge is made that nevertheless it would be unnatural, and a response to a Western Christian not a Muslim idea, to provide for amnesty for gross violations of human rights. Amnesties were thus ruled out, for instance, in the preparations for a TRC in The Gambia.

In Bosnia and Hercegovina, resistance to a public exchange of forgiveness and amnesty for truth and peace may be cast as resistance to a Western Christian form of reconciliation on religious and on secular grounds. The first initiative to establish a TRC was launched in 1999, spearheaded by the Religious Leaders Council, which had been created in 1997 with support and encouragement from the World Conference on Religion and Peace.10 The Council included the most prominent leaders from all of the principal religious communities - Serb Orthodox clergy, the Catholic Croat archbishop, the Reis of the Bosnian Islamic community and representatives of the other Christian and Jewish minorities. This diversity put the Religious Leaders Council in the position successfully to encourage all of the main political parties to contest the 2000 national elections with a manifesto commitment to put in place a TRC. a commitment which was not followed up in practice after the elections. The religious leaders themselves worked under constraints that limited what they could do together to push the process further. The political elites of the respective national communities that they worked with did not share natural interests with respect to the nature of such a process: this was inherently politicised as soon as any relationship between warring parties and war crimes was posited, and parties disagreed on the basic question as to whether there had been a civil war or a war of aggression and genocide. In addition, religious leaders decided that they could not jointly approach the idea of reconciliation using distinctively religious ideas, since a Christian theology of reconciliation was seen as quite different from the Islamic and Jewish understandings: more theological than interpersonal, indeed apparently close to the distinctive Christological teachings which had set Christian, Jewish and Islamic teaching apart through the medieval era.

Amongst a broader section of the public, applying the model of the formal TRC to Bosnia and Hercegovina was also seen to imply the granting of amnesties for war criminals. A second attempt to introduce a TRC with international support in 2005-06 ran up against opposition from associations representing victims because of this assumption. The initiative failed to gain support from the most senior politicians from the largest political parties, though it had garnered tentative support from politicians from all of the country’s main political blocs. In fact, the initiative had not presupposed the inclusion of amnesties. Subsequent pressure for a TRC covering just Bosnia and Hercegovina, or the whole of the former Yugoslavia, has similarly not presupposed amnesties for war criminals. The Regional

Commission Tasked with Establishing the Facts about All Victims of War Crimes and Other Serious Human Rights Violations Committed on the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia (REKOM), the most prominent attempt to promote a reconciliation process in the wake of the wars of the 1990s, has not embraced amnesties, and this is true, too, of the religious activists who have engaged supportively with REKOM activities over the years of its existence: these are equally activists with stated and strong commitments to seeking justice." The need for a common historical truth, seen as a primary concern by the REKOM movement, does not in this context require a deal to secure the collaboration of war criminals, and such a deal would be widely rejected by ordinary citizens from all parts of the population on the grounds that it would leave in place the primary threat to public peace and prosperity, namely the powerful small elite of corrupt politicians who continued to dominate politics and economic affairs in the country - and across the region - after the 1990s.

Critiques of reconciliation in Bosnia and Hercegovina hold in common the sense that a Western framing of Christian forgiveness represents a tool for those maintaining power unjustly, at the expense of real victims. This critique is also shared in Northern Ireland, so it need not be seen as a distinctive product of non-Western or non-Christian perspectives.12 It is natural that this kind of institutionalised and highly public process of transitional justice attracts critique precisely because of the power dynamics exerted on a divided society through the organisation of the process. The notion that ‘reconciliation’ derives its force from a Christian vocabulary is in Northern Ireland sometimes joined to the complaint that ‘reconciliation’ is such a vague word, so open to partial interpretation,13 so little understood by ordinary citizens - a point made by Hamber and Kelly14 - that it hides the political and economic agendas of powerful stakeholders, without providing a real benefit that makes sense to the conflict-affected population. These exact same critiques are also made in Bosnia and Hercegovina, most eloquently by the Sarajevo-based sociologist Dino Abazovic.15 It may be that critique of the use of abstract or Christian language is not the essential objection at stake, but a secondary feature of the critiques of top-down efforts to reach stability through unequal distributions of sacrifice within the affected population. Such survey evidence as exists has nevertheless suggested that, in spite of this association, the notion of reconciliation remains widely accepted as a natural process in Bosnia,16 and suspicion of the political use of the term is raised more by the vagueness with which it can be used to imply political virtue by actors who at the same time stir conflict. The association of the critique of reconciliation with religion can thus be seen to be highly contextual.

Religion and contemporary reconciliation activity in Bosnia: A more inclusive representation

In Northern Ireland and in Bosnia and Hercegovina alike, religious reconciliation activists have outlined a range of distinctive values that they bring to their work in negotiating with elite actors and in building the conditions for long-term change at the grassroots. Their task centres on relationships, and this subjective element is of critical importance to an understanding of their agency and of the limits imposed on them by structures of conflict and elite power.17 An account of the state of a reconciliation process which fixes attention on high-level political obstacles cannot provide a complete or even a satisfying explanation for the motivations of the religious actor seeking a broader social transformation through activities designed to promote reconciliation.

Much of the existing literature on religious reconciliation activists in both contexts seeks instead an objective framing for descriptions of the nature and impact of religious reconciliation activities. In an objective light, religious actors can be seen to be involved because they are embedded in local social structures. Recognition for this objective, or secular, source of power also features in many rationales for funding dedicated faith-based peacebuilding work.18 In many conflict-affected societies, religious actors have been a part of local communities for a long time, and have relationships that pre-date the outbreak of armed conflict. In some locations, they are the most obvious contact for outsider initiatives, their networks give early warning of conflict, and they provide channels across various sectors of local communities. Situated within these divided societies, they attract negative attention as soon as they describe their position in relation to wider communities and elite actors. This has been the fate of religious reconciliation activists of all communities across Bosnia and Hercegovina, where they are often described by members of one or another national camp as leftovers from the Communist era, hostile to the nations to whom they claim to preach brotherhood. Among committed anti-nationalists, the religious reconciliation activists may be seen as too close to the wrong nationalism, too close to the ethnonationalist political elites or simply irrelevant.

Religious institutions in these highly politicised contexts are often viewed in a still more critical perspective. Religious institutions - which may see themselves as stretched already to perform what they perceive as their core roles - can be seen as bureaucratic, timid and out of touch. This was the basis for one of the most critical treatments of the work of the Religious Leaders Council, by Pax Netherlands.19 These local religious institutions and networks nevertheless also attract interest from international supporters of reconciliation initiatives to the degree that they are capable of acting with some degree of freedom from the pressures exercised by conflict parties, they think of their interests in the long term and they may have plans for local peace and social development that are far more strategic than

Religion and reconciliation 175 development agencies or domestic governments. Because of this, they may be well suited to long-term activities aimed at addressing the social challenges faced in reconciliation work. Donors have in recent decades begun to design large projects based on the notion that traditional forms of local religious leadership can prove as effective and trustworthy if scaled up. In Bosnia and Hercegovina, one of the largest programmes of support for reconciliation activity, Pro-Buducnost (Pro-Future), has channelled much activity through the Religious Leaders Council, and through the educational institutions supported by the main religious communities. The aim of Pro-Buducnost has been to harness the local authority exercised by the religious communities, assuming this can be exercised at one remove from the obstructing pressures placed on reconciliation activities by party political sources.

Religious institutions embedded in local society are also likely to be tied in multiple ways to conflict parties. This does not mean they cannot perform useful reconciliation work, indeed it may strengthen their position to change attitudes and behaviour. Where religious actors have a representational function in local society, it is easy for their discourse about reconciliation to attract cynicism, and at the least suspicion. Religious leaders in Bosnia and Hercegovina often speak of reconciliation - but have to work hard to make the various constituencies listening to them believe that this is meant seriously, that it indicates a will to see real change. Their association - real and perceived - with the main nationally aligned political parties conditions the way audiences process their language, whether it is in its intent nationalistic or embracing. At the national level, the long-serving Grand Mufti (Reis) of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric, pressed for reconciliation to take on board the needs of Bosniak returnees to the cities and villages from which they had been expelled or fled during the time of the war and genocide. His public approach was sometimes combative, sometimes angry and unabashedly deliberate about being politically engaged, and for this reason it inspired mistrust from observers in other sectors of the population who see this kind of politics as objectively undermining Ceric’s fine words about reconciliation. And yet Ceric does ground his politics of reconciliation on a sincerely held, moderate, pluralistic Islamic philosophy, as little as this counts when measured from a critical outsider’s view or in a purely objective perspective.

One study which derived much of its conceptual framework from a more objective, systemic or structuralist perspective (these being favoured by many internationally funded reconciliation projects) has suggested that some local clergy in Bosnia and Hercegovina have more freedom to ignore the pressures exerted by nationalist structures than senior clergy do at the state level.20 There are nevertheless many respects in which local clergy may find themselves as much under pressure to conform to group interests as national figures do. An individual cleric taking an active stance in favour of reconciliation can make a real impact on civil society in their town.21

Though this may not be a reflection of their religious influence - it is as much appreciated by citizens of other denominations or religions and of none as by their own flocks - it is a measure of the credit given to local figures who stand up for common interests in the face of pressure on local civil societies to follow the lead of political parties.

By contrast, many religious supporters of reconciliation work do not accept that their values support or reflect existing structures. Instead, faith-based or spiritual activism is seen to challenge these structures, and is believed to be effective in producing peaceful attitude and behavioural change in ways that secular actors do not have open to them.22 For insight into the subjective motivations of religious peacebuilders of all communities, a valuable starting point is the recognition that these activists have come to their religious and political self-understanding in contradistinction to the more synthetic efforts at identity-building of Communist and post-Communist times. For many, the war of the 1990s has been an uprooting experience, in which religion and nation could only be understood afresh in terms that are not owned by conflict-prone, corrupt elites. These religious activists have often embraced a marginal position, commonly in the face of pressure from their families, colleagues and public interlocutors. In Bosnia and Hercegovina, assumptions about a family’s religious tradition represent one of the main markers of the identities separating the constituent nations - many have argued it is the primary marker. Peacebuilders working on the basis of personal faith and a cross-community spiritual engagement directly confront the assumptions about opposition and hostility across ethno-religious affiliation that are used by avowed parties to the conflict. This religious strand within the alternative peacebuilding movement bases its work on aspirations for reconciliation at a social level. This is a task which will take longer than a particular political mechanism could deliver, and the brief lifespans of such mechanisms also make unsatisfying tools for their aspiration to re-establish a ‘common life’, something more than coexistence, based on an everyday, shared interreligious solidarity.23 Among the community of religious reconciliation activists spread across Bosnia and Hercegovina, this ability to look to a long horizon in building social peace is perceived to reflect both their distance from party politics and also their engagement with the resources offered by their religious traditions. A number look back to a time at which local social solidarities were expressed in interreligious activities.24 The reduction of reconciliation to short-term projects intended to produce spectacles of friendship can be an object of intense frustration to these actors, aspiring to work for long-term change in more consistent ways.


To advance a sensitive, contextual understanding of the role of religion in reconciliation activities requires the scholar or student to bridge elite politics and grassroots attitudes, to engage both with current religious social

Religion and reconciliation 177 developments and with competing histories of religious and secular forms of reconciliation. The contrast between South Africa and Bosnia and Hercegovina provides reminders of the very subjective ways in which religious influence can be felt and interpreted. At the same time, ideas cross boundaries and the power of the South African model has had its impact in Bosnia and Hercegovina. It has often appeared in negative terms, articulated as a rejection of conditions such as amnesty deemed characteristic of a very particular Western Christian religious project. We have also seen that the South African model was also a source of inspiration to various attempts to initiate formal reconciliation processes, some of which have shared an emphasis on religious leadership.

Generalisations about the influence of religion on the truth and reconciliation project are naturally contentious and political: we have seen the engagement of religious discourse and of religious clergy for reconciliation activity has met in each of the contexts treated here with heated polemics, both in reflections on the politics of designing truth and reconciliation processes, and in descriptions of the power politics involved in their management. Critics have sometimes considered the very concept of reconciliation itself to be a Western Christian innovation - highly abstract, distanced from the needs that victims have for justice as they recognise it. It could be said that these critics have themselves objectified religious reconciliation activity insofar as they relate it to fixed hierarchies of power or belief; viewing it as a source of tokens of the redistribution of power, not as a provider or cause of change in its own right. Viewed in a more positive, or practical, light, these processes reflect a blend of secular and religious, which in new contexts can transform in markedly different ways, more religious or more secular, while retaining a variety of elements of the forms associated previously with the project of formal reconciliation processes.

The appeal of these forms goes beyond the churches, and beyond historically Christian cultures. In promoting reconciliation processes as a means to deliver transitional justice in new contexts, professional peacebuilders and scholars have argued that religious dimensions to a reconciliation process may provide an additional source of authority appropriate to local culture and politics, and we have seen through the Bosnian context that this generalisation also begs questions about the subjective perspectives and experiences of supporters and of wider sectors of the local population. Even while controversy over the changing roles of religion in this grounded form of reconciliation politics persists, the chapter has also suggested ways in which meaningful relationships between formal processes and local contexts in which religious actors and a wider public can absorb some of the rituals of the reconciliation process and transform it into their own idiom. To capture the changeable and subjective nature of this phenomenon may require a wider range of disciplinary lenses than is commonly deployed in the more politically engaged literature.


  • 1. A useful introduction to recent scholarship on TRCs in Latin America is presented in Elin Skaar, Jemima Garcia-Godos and Cath Collins, eds. Transitional Justice in Latin America: The Uneven Road from Impunity towards Accountability (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016).
  • 2. A useful source for questions raised about the role of religion in Latin American TRCs will be found in Iain S. Maclean, Reconciliation. Nations and Churches in Latin America (Farnham: Ashgate, 2007).
  • 3. Berkeley Center, Religion and Conflict Case Study Series: Colombia: Religious Actors Inspiring Reconciliation( Washington D.C.: Berkeley Center, 2013). https:// berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/publications/colombia-religious-actors-inspiring-reconciliation.
  • 4. See, for example, William Mauricio Beltran, and Sian Creely, ‘Pentecostals, Gender Ideology and the Peace Plebiscite: Colombia 2016', Religions, 9/12 (2018), 418.
  • 5. Farid Esack, Qur'an. Liberation and Pluralism (Oxford: Oneworld. 1997).
  • 6. Piet Meiring, ‘The Baruti versus the Lawyers: The Role of Religion in theTRC Process,’ In Looking Back. Reaching Forward, ed. Charles Villa-Vicencio and Wilhelm Verwoerd (London: Zed, 2000). 123-31; Megan Shore, Religion and Conflict Resolution: Christianity and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009).
  • 7. Giuliana Lund, “‘Healing the Nation”: Medicolonial Discourse and the State of Emergency from Apartheid to Truth and Reconciliation’, Cultural Critique 54 (2003) 88-119; Patricia B. Hayner, Unspeakable Truths: Transitional Justice and the Challenge of Truth Commissions (2nd ed., Routledge, 2010).
  • 8. Lund, ‘“Healing the Nation”; Hayner, Unspeakable Truths, and Thomas Brudholm. Resentment's Virtue: Jean Amery and the Refusal to Forgive (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2008).
  • 9. Brudholm. Resentment's Virtue.
  • 10. A useful account of the role of religious leaders in reconciliation work in Bosnia and Hercegovina will be found in Janine Natalya Clark, ‘Religion and Reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Are Religious Actors Doing Enough?’, Europe-Asia Studies, 62/4 (June 2010) 671-94.
  • 11. Documents on REK.OM activities are available on its website, www.rekom. link.
  • 12. See the chapter by Evershed in this volume.
  • 13. John Brewer, G. Higgins, and F. Teeney, Religion. Civil Society and Peace in Northern Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 185.
  • 14. Brandon Hamber and Grainne Kelly. Reconciliation: Rhetoric or Relevance? (Democratic Dialogue: Belfast, 2005), 7-8, 41.
  • 15. See, for instance. Dino Abazovic, ‘Reconciliation, Ethnopolitics and Religion in Bosnia and Hercegovina’, in Post-Yugoslavia, Abazovic D., Velikonja M., eds (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) 35-56.
  • 16. George Wilkes, et al.. Factors in Reconciliation: Religion, Local Conditions. People and Trust (CEIR/University of Edinburgh: Sarajevo, 2013). For more on the religious sociology of reconciliation in Bosnia and Hercegovina, see Marko-Antonio Brkic and Zorica Kuburic, eds, Duhovni Temelji Drustvenog Mira: Istrazivanja loge religije и procesu izgradnjepovjerenja іpomirenja (Sara-jevo/Mostar: CEIR and Hercegovina University, 2019).
  • 17. See, for example, Zilka Spahic-Siljak and Julianne Funk, ‘Bringing Faith into the Practice of Peace: Paths to Reconciliation of Bosnian Muslims’, in Reconciliation in Global Context: Why it is needed and how it works, ed. Bjorn Krondorfer (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2018), 105-27. For a practical text

Religion and reconciliation 179 introducing an Islamic approach to peacebuilding written by Muslim feminist peacebuilders who embody this personal faith-based approach, see Amra Pandzo and Amela Jakubovic. Put Mira: Izgradnja mira i is lam u Bosni i Her-cegovini (available in English as The Way of Peace: Peacebuilding and Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovina), Sarajevo: Mali Koraci, 2016.

  • 18. For example United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), Faith Partnership Principles (London-. DFID. 2012); Chris Shannahan and Laura Payne, Faith-based Interventions in Peace, Conflict and Violence: A Scoping Study (Coventry: Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, 2016).
  • 19. IKV Pax Christi Netherlands. Tales of War and Peace: Religious Leaders During and After the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Calculated Hypocrisy or Paving the Way for Peace? (Utrecht: IKV Pax Christi Netherlands, 2008).
  • 20. Sead Fetahagic et al.. Between Cooperation and Antagonism: The dynamics between religion and politics in sensitive political contexts. Case: Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo: Nansen Dialogue Centre, 2015).
  • 21. Davor Marko et al.. Reconciliation - Means to Fight Insecurity or Resist the Politics of Division: Citizens in 13 BiH Local Communities Talk about Reconciliation and Trust Building Processes (Sarajevo: CEIR/University of Edinburgh, 2019).
  • 22. See, for example, Spahic-Siljak and Funk, ’Bringing Faith into the Practice of Peace’, 105-27, and Pandzo and Jakubovic, Put Mira.
  • 23. Spahic-Siljak and Funk, ‘Bringing Faith into the Practice of Peace', 105-27.
  • 24. Spahic-Siljak and Funk. ‘Bringing Faith into the Practice of Peace’, 105-127, and Pandzo and Jakubovic, Put Mira. See also the interesting work drawing on the historic phenomenon of interreligious solidarities between women in small towns by Dermana Seta, presented, inter alia, in ‘Building bridging social capital at a local level: Examples from Central Bosnia’, http://www.eiz. hr/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Djermana-S%CC%8Ceta-ENG.pdf.

11 Burying the hatchet

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