Two ways in which religions can facilitate greater peace is through the common benefits of group membership, and the power of inter-faith dialogue for conflict resolution. This is highlighted by the number of groups dedicated to inter-faith dialogue such as Religions for Peace which is a global organisation with hundreds of affiliates.
Additionally, research highlights that the membership of groups is a form of social capital and in general social capital is associated with better performance in peace. Greater religious membership can have a positive impact to a country’s peace providing that it is tolerant and also depending on a complementary mix of attitudes, institutions and structures within a nation. The Pillars of Peace has found that civic engagement and participation is associated with gains in peace. A study of the responses from 46 countries in the World Values Survey finds that higher group membership corresponds with greater levels of peace.
The difference between the two groups above average or below average membership rates consistently shows higher membership rates are associated with more peaceful countries, other than for environmental groups. The difference ranges from three per cent to 15 per cent. Figure 9 demonstrates that there is a connection between religious membership and peace, although not large. This study included 47 countries and therefore the sample is not comprehensive. Nevertheless, the study does help to inform our understanding of the relationship between peace and religion.
Membership could encourage improvements in several of the Pillars of Peace. For example, greater group membership could lead to improvements in the Good Relations with Neighbours Pillar. This Pillar refers to the relations between individuals and communities as well as to crossborder relations. Countries with positive external relations are more peaceful and tend to be more politically stable, have better functioning governments, are regionally integrated and have low levels of organised internal conflict.
Assessing whether religion is a vice or virtue for conflict does not allow for a nuanced understanding of its relationship with peace. Instead, a more holistic view of peace is needed. Whilst the relationship between relgion and peace has some significance, there are many other factors which have greater explanatory power. Government type appears to have a much more significant connection with peace, and religious freedom, than religious characteristics. That is not to say that religious characteristics, like the absence of a dominant group and religious diversity, do not correspond with higher peace. Rather, there are other features which are more significant that are not related to religion.
Another aspect of religion which can have a positive impact on peace is inter-faith dialogue
and peacebuilding dialogues. Organisations such as Religions for Peace are global in reach and consist of hundreds of affiliated organisations.
Inter-faith dialogue is a growing area of conflict resolution and peacebuilding which has become more significant, especially in the twenty-first century. Inter-faith dialogue has been a successfully employed strategy in ending conflicts. This includes civil and political movements such as the interfaith movement surrounding the U.S. Civil Rights movement and the reconciliation efforts at the end of Apartheid in South Africa, as well as armed conflict including less well known events such as intervention of an imam and pastor in Yelwa Shendam Nigeria and the mediation of the Sant’Egidio Community which helped resolve the civil war in Mozambique in 1992. Religions for Peace for instance played a key role in ending the conflict in Sierra Leone via the Inter-religious Council of Sierra Leone.
Douglas Johnston, president of the International Centre on Religion and Diplomacy, has identified that there are certain conditions for faith-based intervention to have an increased likelihood of success. These include that there is a religious element to the conflict, the presence of religious leaders on both sides of a dispute, religious struggles that transcend national borders and if there has been delays in bringing about a resolution to the conflict.22 There is a large body of literature which demonstrates the success of inter-faith dialogue as a catalyst for the cessation of armed conflict. This report does not seek to add to that body, but rather to note some of the positive elements of religion.