UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Gerard Powers, the director of Catholic peace building studies at Notre Dame University

‘Good religion’

Faith still has a role to play in peacebuilding

By Dennis Gruending


It’s always stimulating to hear someone knowledgeable talk about an issue in a way that leads one to deeper understanding. Gerard Powers, the director of Notre Dame University’s Catholic peacebuilding studies, did just that when he recently talked about extremism, conflict and peacebuilding at Ottawa's Saint Paul University.

Powers made two basic points. One is that the "war of religions" paradigm is frequently unhelpful. It diverts attention away from the actual causes of conflict, such as the foreign policies of nations, including those of the West. The second point is that religious actors are playing an important role on a daily basis — in what Powers called the "peace of religion." He described those efforts as "unheralded, under-appreciated, and under-analyzed."

Some of the world's conflicts, Powers said, certainly do involve religious extremists, such as ISIS in the Middle East. But there are often multi-faceted dynamics at work that aren’t primarily religious in nature.  For example, the rise of ISIS has included support from Iraq’s former secular Bathists, who were sidelined when the U.S. toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. As well, Iraqi Sunni tribes fear the Shiite-dominated Iraqi governments installed by the U.S. even more than they fear ISIS. Powers said that Catholic and Protestant leaders in the U.S. warned against military intervention in Iraq, but their advice wasn’t heeded by the U.S government.

Regarding peacebuilding, he said that religious leaders and ordinary people — motivated by their faith — have important work to do in conflict zones throughout the world, including Iraq, Syria, Uganda, South Sudan, and Northern Ireland. In fact, in many societies, religious institutions are ubiquitous, and can be present in places and situations where secular and government negotiators fear to tread. In Colombia, for instance, a local priest might travel in "no-go" areas, reaching out to rebel leaders as a pastor who tends to both victims and perpetrators of violence. He might even hear a killer's confession. This "track two" — or soft power diplomacy — provided by religious and other civil society actors supplements what Powers called the "track one" diplomacy by politicians and diplomats. And the "peace of religion" efforts would be even more widespread and effective if a greater number of people in leadership and in the pews understood peacebuilding as integral to their vocation and faith.

Still, Powers added that there is a secular bias among Western governments who ignore religion and wish it would go away or — at the very least — remain a private activity with no influence in the public square. This lack of sympathy and understanding leads Western countries into foreign diplomacy that supports what they consider "good religion" while at the same time discrediting "bad religion" in foreign countries. This, Powers said, is a self-serving approach that rarely works. And, more than often, it plays into the narrative of religious extremists like ISIS. 



Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

Enclaves of the elderly

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: A shoulder to lean on

by Observer Staff

Sheima Benembarek was born in Saudi Arabia, grew up in Morocco and moved to Canada in 2005. In 2015, she relocated to Toronto. At first, the city seemed so much bigger, impersonal — and even threatening — until a fateful encounter in the subway one day.

Promotional Image

Faith

January 2017

Presbytery turns down bid to halt Vosper hearing

by Mike Milne

World

February 2017

Many faces, one humanity

by Wade Davis

The words and photographs of the Canadian author and explorer capture the richness — and fragility — of global cultures and rituals

Society

February 2017

An anatomy of hate

by Douglas Tindal

It’s on the rise everywhere. The writer explores our most troubling emotion and asks how we might overcome it.

World

February 2017

Many faces, one humanity

by Wade Davis

The words and photographs of the Canadian author and explorer capture the richness — and fragility — of global cultures and rituals

Society

January 2017

The new agrarians

by Lois Ross

In the next 15 years, almost half of Canadian farms will change hands. Meet seven millennials who view agriculture as a career — and moral calling.

Faith

March 2016

The Walrus Talks Spirituality

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image