“Religion is never the reason for conflicts”

Would the world be a more peaceful place without religion? On the contrary, claims conflict researcher Markus A. Weingardt, religious actors are in fact particularly good at bringing about peace.

Religion und Konflikt: Markus Weingardt im Interview
Florian Gaertner/photothek.net

Dr Weingardt, we read about violence and even war in the name of religion on almost a daily basis. Would the world be a more peaceful place without religion?
No, certainly not. Actually religion is never the reason for conflicts. It is rather the case that it is used to justify them. This applies in much the same way to secular ideologies such as nationalism or communism.

Politicians have finally realised that religious actors have been marginalised as supporters in their foreign policy for too long.

Markus A. Weingardt

You have looked all over the world for religious actors who promote peace. Which examples did you find?
There are dozens. In 1992, the Catholic Sant’Egidio lay movement mediated a comprehensive peace treaty in Mozambique – at the height of a brutal civil war that had cost millions of lives. During the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the Muslims there refused almost collectively to join in the violence and saved many thousands of those persecuted – often risking their own lives in the process.

Are there also examples in Germany of religions bringing about peace?
Of course. It is highly probable that German reunification would not have been achieved so peacefully without the protestant churches in East Germany. The peace movement was and continues to be driven by many people who protest against war or the deployment of nuclear weapons on the basis of their religious convictions. Working with refugees is also a way of fostering peace – and one that in many cases is likewise religiously motivated. This is also true of the sanctuary provided by churches.

What makes religious representatives so attractive as peace mediators?
They are trusted, in fact they are often trusted blindly. Religious actors are widely considered to be altruistic, and their motivation is understandable. They are not associated with corruption or cronyism. They are considered competent when it comes to questions such as blame, sin or reconciliation. Because they do not work with pressure or threats, no negative consequences need be feared when an attempt at mediation fails. This specifically religious “leap of faith” opens doors and scope for action, which is an enormous opportunity – and responsibility.

What does this mean for politics?
Politicians have finally realised that religious actors have been marginalised as supporters in their foreign policy for too long. Politicians, non-governmental organisations and religious actors have different possibilities and competences at their disposal, and these can complement one another. If everyone works together in a constructive manner, more peace can and will be created in the world.

Weingardt
Dr Markus Weingardt is a peace and conflict researcher who specialises in religion, and heads the Peace department at the Global Ethic Foundation in Tübingen.

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