Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding

Illuminating the Unseen

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Susan Hayward, Katherine Marshall
  • Washington, DC: 
    United States Institute of Peace
    , September
     384 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Katherine Marshall and Susan Hayward fill a significant need with their anthology, Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen. While the intersection of religion and peace is a commonly discussed topic, examining the ways that women play a critical role in peacebuilding efforts is often overlooked. Likewise, women of faith are frequently excluded from peacebuilding efforts, and male activists have failed to recognize existing gendered consequences. With this in mind, Marshall and Hayward, along with fifteen contributors, set out to acknowledge and create dialogue around such issues while acknowledging the insight and creativity that women have demonstrated in working for peace despite challenges.

Over two sections and fourteen chapters, Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding calls for changing the paradigms in peacebuilding. Giving attention to women’s invisibility, Marshall and Hayward explain, “globally recognized women peacebuilders are few and far between. And . . . among peacebuilders with clear religious affiliations it is exceedingly rare to see women stand out” (2). They point out that as women are marginalized within religion, so too are they marginalized within peacebuilding. A historically male-dominated field, it is men who sit at negotiating tables. Women’s needs are generally ignored. 

Exploring distinctive approaches in different religious traditions, contributors make an argument for religious and secular organizations to support and strengthen the activism of women religious leaders who work for peace. Through an examination of women’s peacebuilding efforts in Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism, authors define gender norms and their impact on women’s roles throughout history, both social and political. Although women’s work within peacebuilding is often limited or invisible, contributors offer multiple examples of the ways women are leading critical efforts. While far from an exhaustive exploration of traditions, this volume offers a first step toward analyzing women’s peacebuilding efforts across various religions. In addition, it disrupts stereotypes that distort understanding of women’s work for peace.

An analysis of various case studies of women and faith in action is revealing. Contributors demonstrate the many ways that efforts towards peace are being achieved by women who ground their work in their religious traditions. While both positive and negative repercussions occur due to gendered roles within religion, women are “pioneering new approaches” (133) to resolve conflict in war zones. Likewise, women are key leaders in working towards positive social change through peacebuilding efforts. Confronting the invisibility that women experience, “tensions between local cultural norms and a modern view of empowerment” (138) have been navigated. Dialogue focused on religious and secular perspectives of gender has allowed bridges to be built between the two, which in turn has had an impact, countering misogynistic interpretations of gender roles.

In Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen, Marshall and Hayward have brought together important contributions that interweave dialogue to addresses gender, religion, and peacebuilding. This volume is an important resource that has laid the groundwork and begun a critical conversation that needs to continue. Undergraduate and graduate courses with the appropriate focus would benefit from this text. It is also an important resource for those who are engaged in activism, peacebuilding, and positive social change.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Gina Messina-Dysert is Assistant Professor of Ministry at Ursuline College. 

Date of Review: 
June 25, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Susan Hayward serves as the interim director of the Religion and Peacebuilding Program at the United States Institute of Peace. Her research interests include interfaith engagement in the midst of political violence, political Buddhism, and the role of religion in hampering and propelling women’s work for peace and justice. Hayward worked with the Academy of Educational Development’s office in Colombo, Sri Lanka; as a fellow of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School; and with the Conflict Resolution Program at the Carter Center in Atlanta. She is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She holds a bachelor’s degree in comparative religions from Tufts University and master’s degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard Divinity School and is currently pursuing her PhD in theology and religious studies at Georgetown University.

Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and is a visiting professor in the School of Foreign Service. She is the executive director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue. Marshall spent a large part of her career at the World Bank in many leadership assignments focused on Africa, Latin America, and East Asia. A graduate of Wellesley College (’67) and Princeton (MPA), Marshall is the author of many articles and several books, most recently Global Institutions of Religion: Ancient Movers, Modern Shakers. She writes regularly for the religion page of the Huffington Post.


Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.