Religion, Conflict, and Peacemakers

An Interdisciplinary Conversation

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Editor(s): 
Muriel Schmid
  • Salt Lake City, UT: 
    University of Utah Press
    , January
     2018.
     192 pages.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781607815860.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Scholarly literature addressing the role of religion in violence, conflict, and peacemaking tends to be flawed in one of two ways: either downplaying or overstating the function of religion. One of the many strengths of Muriel Schmid’s edited volume Religion, Conflict, and Peacemaking: An Interdisciplinary Conversation is that it avoids these common approaches and, as a result, presents a more honest and conscientious treatment of the matters at hand. Consisting of a collection of contributions by diverse scholars in the field, the book is divided into five parts that explore key issues from various vantage points while touching on theoretical and practical considerations. The result is a robust volume that encourages the reader to operate with wide-ranging perspective and balance when examining religion within violence and peacemaking.

A few noteworthy contributions are worth highlighting. Mohammed Abu-Nimer’s essay sets an appropriate tone for the anthology, making a strong case against perceiving religious identity as peripheral to peacemaking on both grassroots and structural-political levels. He argues that peace processes certainly need not be religious at their core, but that they must incorporate religious perspectives if they are to succeed. John Carlson also offers an elegant corrective and caution by calling into question the traditional way that categories such as “religion,” “the secular,” and “violence” are employed in scholarship. He suggests that historical analysis must not be carried out unless through a moral lens that equips us to more readily address core concerns. Abbas Aroua provides a timely and much-needed survey of the Islamic tradition and its complex teachings and systems with respect to violence and peacemaking. Aroua helps bring nuance to a sphere where simplicity often rests. John Paul Lederach’s essay situates conflict as an inherent condition of nature itself, which he explores through a Christian narrative. He submits that conflict is part and parcel of diversity and does not amount to evil (or sin) but that the way that conflict is dealt with may take such disastrous turns. 

Each essay is enriching and compelling in its own right and helps provide a sense of well-roundedness to the volume. As with any work, however, there are limitations. Two, in particular, come by way of content as well as application. The former has to do with an apparent lack of contributions containing non-endorsing perspectives with regard to religion. Though critical remarks do appear throughout the volume, there seems to be very little by way total opposition to religion with respect to questions of violence and peacebuilding. This lack is certainly due to the scope of the project in that its aim is to engage new horizons of religion, as opposed to non-religion. However, some readers may still be left wondering what the inclusion of such content would do to balance the discussion and make it more grounded. The concern regarding application has to do with a paucity of practical instruction or suggestion. Since the volume aims at addressing issues of peacemaking, readers will likely expect implications of practice to be fleshed out thoroughly. And while this occurs in incidental amounts, it is nevertheless sparse and the overall ratio of conceptual wisdom to applied wisdom is clearly unbalanced. This not a critique that should commonly be leveled against academic work, but one that seems justifiable for a book of this nature, with its stated and implicit goals. 

On the whole, the book functions as a useful resource for scholars and students of peace studies, international relations, political science, religious studies, and various social sciences focusing on peace and conflict. Readers will find in this volume a diverse collection of perspectives and disciplinary approaches to some of the most important and fundamental questions surrounding religion, violence, and peacemaking

About the Reviewer(s): 

Barbod Salimi is Assistant Professor of Philosophical Psychology, Theological Ethics, and Peace Studies at the School of Theology at Boston University.

Date of Review: 
June 17, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Muriel Schmid was trained as a theologian and Protestant minister in Switzerland. She founded and directed the program in religious studies at the University of Utah and taught there from 2004 to 2014. Since then, she has been directing programs for faith-based nonprofit organizations.

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