Dealing with trauma: religion as a set of teachings, religion as spirituality

The generation of meaning becomes all the more virulent during the experience and in the aftermath of atrocities. Due to gross violations of human rights and excessive violence, individuals and communities involved in conflict are usually traumatized and have deep injuries. These can be passed on to the next generations, resulting in intergenerational trauma. Painful memories of conflict, loss of loved ones, and injuries suffered cause deep emotional and psychological stress. Healing these injuries and trauma thus becomes a major component of peacebuilding efforts, especially for reconciliation at the grassroots level (Abu-Nimer and Kadayifci-Orellana 2008). For if these wounds are left unaddressed, they can not only result in severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but also breed bitterness, hatred, and revenge, thereby perpetuating the spiral of violence as former victims turn into perpetrators.

Religious traditions and their emphasis on transformation and a new beginning can help to integrate experiences of loss and hurt into a framework that restores meaning. Religious perspectives offer hope and an eschatological horizon that assist traumatized victims in dealing with the past and the present. At the same time, concepts such as forgiveness and grace include powerful resources for dealing with guilt, shame, and failure, existential experiences inevitably encountered in the context of conflict and reconciliation on the side of both victims and perpetrators. In Islam, for example, Islamic values of peacebuilding, reestablishment of harmony and order, and respect for others, together with Islamic ideas on fate, predestination, and total sovereignty' of God serve as the basis for healing and reconciliation (Abu-Nimer and Kadayifci-Orellana 2008). Organizations such as the Nigerian Interfaith Mediation Center focus on healing the trauma of injuries inflicted during times of conflict.

Memory and reconciliation: religion as a set of teachings, religion as spirituality, religion as practice

“Culture, history', memory, authenticity ... —these are the currency of the local peacebuilder” (Appleby 2008: 128). Of these, we would like to draw special attention to memory'. During, but even more so after violence, questions of dealing with the past and of remembering arise. Without memory, there is no path to reconciliation and sustainable peace. How we remember the past, what we remember—and what we don’t remember—has an impact on how we live in the present and the future. Yet memory' is not ethically neutral. Rather, it can be just or unjust, as Paul Ricœur’s (2004: 68) call for a “juste mémoire” (“just memory”) reminds us. A just memory does not simply' mirror the victors’ narrative but includes the victims’ perspectives.

Nevertheless, remembrance in itself and as the mere representation of the past rarely leads to a genuine new beginning. For this, concepts such as forgiveness and reconciliation are helpful, even if not always possible. Forgiveness liberates both victim and perpetrator from the haunting past—and from each other. Through forgiveness, the victim regains self-determination over his/her own life, while the perpetrator is no longer defined merely by his/her deeds but acknowledged in his/her shared humanity. As genuinely religious concepts, forgiveness and reconciliation can be actively strengthened through the teaching and practice of FBOs, religious actors, and communities, as displayed, for example, by Christian churches in post-genocide Rwanda. Forgiving does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean impunity. Yet it can pave the way for the genuine healing of relationships and communities as prerequisites for sustainable peace.

In this chapter, we gave an orientation on some of the specific characteristics and contributions—both formal and material— associated with religious actors in conflict resolution. While religious actors have no magic wand to solve conflicts and while their role must not be overstated, it is clear that they bring significant resources to the field that no one genuinely interested in conflict resolution can afford to ignore. The following case studies illustrate the specific contributions of religious actors in concrete contexts of violent conflict.

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