Development Co-operation, Religion and Conflict

Wolfgang Kaiser
| 2005

FriEnt-Briefing 1 - English version

In Africa – as in other regions of the world – political, economic and social upheavals often fracture society along cultural and/or religious lines. Whether such scenarios escalate into violent conflict or can be managed peacefully depends on many internal and external factors. The existence of a democratic and well-functioning state is undoubtedly a key prerequisite for non-violent change. Peaceful transformation has good chances, too, when recognised legal mechanisms for conflict management are available. A further factor is the presence of values, traditions, experiences and actors that facilitate a constructive debate between different groups, interests and opinions about ways of shaping society's future. Development policy and civilian conflict transformation are therefore increasingly focussing their attention on the role and significance of religion(s) in this context. Religious beliefs and faith communities can help individuals and groups understand the changes occurring in their social environment and encourage them to examine and redefine ethical and social norms. They can also provide guidance for social relations. But in some cases, this guidance may be over-simplistic, denying the individual the opportunity to deal with change, reinforcing the status quo and perhaps even heightening tensions. In most societies and conflict scenarios, both these tendencies exist in a variety of forms. Religion can thus be both an opportunity for and an impediment to the constructive management of development blockades and peaceful conflict transformation. This raises various questions about the relationship between religion(s), development, violence and peace, and between faith communities and development organisations. In the context of Africa, development cooperation organisations are currently considering whether, and in which situations, religious (especially Islamic) actors offer untapped potential for promoting development cooperation. They are also exploring the role of religious differences and identities in inciting or resolving political crises. Four interrelated aspects are discussed in this briefing paper in order to facilitate discussions on religion and international cooperation.