The Power of Inter-Religious Cooperation to Transform Conflict

By Vendley, William F. | Cross Currents, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

The Power of Inter-Religious Cooperation to Transform Conflict


Vendley, William F., Cross Currents


Religion sparks violence and impedes efforts to address global problems like terrorism, according to many. Reality is more complex. Religious networks are also working to eliminate terror, prevent and mediate violent conflicts, and aid the world's most vulnerable populations. Secular societies are undergoing a fundamental shift in their attitudes toward religion and beginning to tap the vast social, moral and spiritual resources of religious communities to tackle the most critical global problems. The World Conference of Religions for Peace, the largest coalition of the world's religions committed to common action, is playing a key role in this transformation.

Throughout history and in modern conflicts, violent conflict is often considered synonymous with religious conflict--Jews and Muslims in Palestine, Muslims and Orthodox Christians in the Balkans, Hindus and Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the Judeo-Christian "West" and Muslim extremists in the war on terror. While religious intolerance and extremism are a frequent source of conflict, religion is more often the convenient scapegoat for underlying political and economic tensions.

It is too easy to dismiss religion as a source of conflict without considering the demonstrated capacity of different religious communities to work together to promote peace. In some of the most intractable conflicts around the world, religion is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

No form of cooperation has greater potential to improve conditions for more people worldwide than the cooperation of the world's religious communities. Of the world's six billion people, five billion identify themselves as members of religious communities. The capacity of religious communities to meet the challenges of our time is a vast untapped resource.

Religions for Peace has developed a unique method and builds effective mechanisms--inter-religious councils--specifically designed to help religious communities to cooperate together in the work of transforming conflict.

The work of Religions for Peace relies on a deceptively simple, yet powerful, recent advance in religious creativity. Many religious communities have opened the door to effective religious cooperation by becoming bilingual. (1) Every faith has its own primary language that defines the religious community. But primary religious language is not a language for engaging other religious communities or the public. Representatives of religious communities are now also learning to speak in public language. A shared public language provides a medium to clarify agreements and differences on important moral issues, and serves as a basis for cooperative action. Becoming bilingual allows religious communities not only to speak a common public language, but also to act on issues of common concern. Working together is an opportunity for religions to creatively and faithfully re-express their own tradition in a common language for a common purpose.

Once religious communities are able to become bi-lingual, retaining their respective primary languages even as they learn to use public language together, the stage is set for forms of multi-religious cooperation that can contribute powerfully toward the resolution of conflict. The use of two languages facilitates a dual use of the vast social infrastructures, the moralities and the spiritualities of religious communities. On the one hand, a primary language is used by a religious community to build and advance the transmission of its respective traditions across time. On the other hand, the use of public language by this same community opens up these same resources to a unique and highly focused intention to serve the common good through partnerships both among different religious communities and other stakeholder groups. Public language is the language of cooperation, and cooperation is essential to the resolution of conflict.

I. Method: Engaging Religious Assets to Transform Conflict

When the collective assets of religious communities are coordinated and mobilized as multi-religious assets, their effectiveness and values as problem-solving tools grows exponentially. …

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