Material contributions of religious actors

Normative concepts and values: religion as a set of teachings, religion as practice

Religions are normative. They come with dogmatic claims (What is true?) and ethical implications (What is good?). Though often misused for the purpose of inciting violence and conflict, religious teachings also contain powerful normative concepts and values that can be used to further peace and reconciliation. Faith-based actors have a unique spiritual and moral leverage that is often unavailable to secular peacebuilders. Spiritual resources include values, principles, norms, and rituals rooted in religious traditions which can be used to encourage parties to embrace a new reality, change their behavior, and form new relationships with others, even with former enemies. The Christian tradition, for example, offers the concepts of forgiveness, grace, and love that encompasses even the enemy. By teaching love and reconciliation instead of hatred and exclusion, religious values are disseminated that call for concrete behavioral implications. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) or the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7) have inspired countless Christians to work for peace and justice. Equally, the Jewish and Muslim traditions contain potent resources, including the concepts of love, compassion, forgiveness, and the pursuit of justice and doing good (Kadayifci-Orellana, Abu-Nimer, and Mohamed-Saleem 2013). These teachings serve not only as motivations for concrete actions, but also as ethical orientation and practice as they help to transform attitudes and stereotypes, as well as ways of thinking and acting.

Holistic perspective: religion as spirituality, religion as discourse

Religious actors usually bring a specific kind of anthropology, that is, understanding of the human person, as part of their discourse to the field, as they embrace a holistic perspective on wellbeing. This means that well-being relates not only to physical and material aspects, but to spiritual and emotional dimensions as well. Religious communities often provide care for the soul and for the body. Their holistic perspective gives them an advantage over many secular NGOs who focus primarily on material support. In postgenocide Rwanda, for example, Christian churches offer reconciliation initiatives linked with development projects, such as giving a cow to a victim and a perpetrator. Together, they care for the cow and share the income generated by selling its milk. Psychological and spiritual support of those affected by violence is supplemented here with practical help for daily life, resulting in welcome synergetic effects that enhance the sustainability of both kinds of efforts.

Meaning: religion as spirituality, religion as practice

Through their sacred narratives, spirituality, and practices, religious communities give meaning to everyday life. We want to illustrate this by pointing to the experience of Oledai, a village in Western Uganda, an area that experienced violent insurgency between 1986 and 1993. Oledai PAG (Pentecostal Assembly of God) Church was established in 1994, caring for both the spiritual and practical concerns of the community. At about the same time, different NGOs also moved in, supported by the S233 million worth World Bank-funded Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF). The aim of these NGOs was to “empower communities ... by enhancing their capacity to systematically identify, prioritise, and plan for their needs and implement sustainable development initiatives” (Manor 2007: 264). Ten years later, the NGOs and their initiatives had disappeared. Oledai Church, however, was flourishing, having more than quadrupled in size. How is this difference in impact to be explained? For anthropologist Ben Jones, the main criterion is meaning. While the NGOs remained extrinsic to the local community, Oledai Church successfully engaged the hearts and minds of its members, becoming part of the community and making its members feel at home. The NGOs’ initiatives, on the other hand, displayed “mostly technical functions and represent an ideological agenda—of rights, empowerment or participation—that had little purchase. In a fundamental way the work of NGOs lacked meaning” (Jones 2012: 200).

Rituals: religion as spirituality, religion as practice

Rituals structure our daily life. Especially in times of turmoil, these rituals help to provide stability and meaning. Religious rituals like prayer and meditation can therefore become significant resources for support and inner structure, even as outer (political, economic, etc.) structures are collapsing or changing. Rituals and ceremonies in themselves are ambivalent, however. They can be employed to create insider-outsider boundaries and to encourage conflicts, such as the Rwandan génocidaires taking communion to strengthen themselves for their “work”. Yet they can also be used as powerful resources for coping with conflict. Catholic communities in post-genocide Rwanda, for example, have creatively adapted the Christian Sacrament of Reconciliation. The gacaca nkirisitu (Christian gacaca) has thus become a ritualized pastoral process for perpetrators and survivors on their path to reconciliation (Carney 2015). In the context of overcoming conflict, religious rituals may thus be used, adapted, or created to help facilitate healing processes.

 
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