Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding

Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding

Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding

Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding


• Serves as a guide to using ritual acts in peacebuilding efforts

• Abundant with examples of symbolic acts that aided the peace process

Conflict is dramatic. In theater, literature, story telling, and news reporting, it is a powerful mechanism that draws attention, heightens the senses and evokes emotion. Schirch argues that peacebuilding has the potential to do just the same.

Examples of peacebuilding often center on the serious, rational negotiations and formal problem-solving efforts in conflict situations. Schirch argues, though, that what truly bonds adversaries and helps achieve peace are the symbolic, non-verbal ritual acts--shaking hands, sharing a meal, showing a photograph of a loved one. Yet these are often overlooked as deliberate components of peace negotiations.

Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding underscores the importance of incorporating symbolic tools, including ritual, into traditional approaches to conflict. Ritual assists in solving complex, deep-rooted conflicts, and helps to confirm and transform worldviews, identities, and relationships. With theories and language to explain the symbolic dimensions of conflict, this text will be useful to scholars and practitioners active in the diverse field of peacebuilding.


… to study humanity is to study ritual … to ponder the future of humanity is
to consider the future of ritual.

Conflict is dramatic. All theater, literature, and good storytelling revolve around some form of conflict. John Wayne, Rambo, and their video descendants attest to the magnetic attraction of the drama of violent conflict. Peacebuilding can and needs to be equally dramatic to capture people's imagination and interest. Imagine CNN and other news networks giving half their air time to showing the dramas and symbols of peacebuilding processes to balance the barrage of violent images used to invoke the emotions and senses of television viewers.

Scholars and practitioners of peacebuilding do not often articulate the importance of ritual or symbol in solving complex, deep-rooted conflicts. Instead, students in conflict studies are accustomed to hearing of serious negotiations, rational discussion, and problem-solving efforts in conflict situations. Yet virtually all peacebuilders, whether they are government diplomats, nongovernmental organization (NGO) leaders, or grassroots mediators and activists, can tell stories about a meal, coffee break, handshake or other symbolic, physical act when adversaries made real progress toward peace. Peacebuilders are the choreographers, directors, and set designers of a drama centered on the visually engaging process of building peace. Peacebuilders need to see the place where peacebuilding occurs as a stage that must be constructed and set in a way that draws people to observe and take part in the peacebuilding drama. Peacebuilders should demonstrate a skilled capacity to choreograph bodies and movements on the peacebuilding stage to engage people's emotions, senses, and passions. Ritual does not replace other tools for conflict transformation. Rather it is a supplement to traditional “front door” approaches to conflict that deal with issues in direct, rational, and linear modes. Ritual has three specific . . .

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