Division Essay Religion

Principles of classification

The criteria employed for the classification of religions are far too numerous to catalogue completely. Virtually all scholars who have considered the matter have evidenced a certain amount of originality in their views of the interrelationships among religious forms. Thus, only some of the more important principles of classification will be discussed.


Perhaps the most common division of religions—and in many ways the most unsatisfactory—distinguishes true religion from false religion. Such classifications may be discovered in the thought of most major religious groups and are the natural, perhaps inevitable, result of the need to defend particular perspectives against challengers or rivals. Normative classifications, however, have no scientific value, because they are arbitrary and subjective, inasmuch as there is no agreed method for selecting the criteria by which such judgments should be made. But because living religions always feel the need of apologetics (systematic intellectual defenses), normative classifications continue to exist.

Many examples of normative classification might be given. The early Church Fathers (e.g., St. Clement of Alexandria, 2nd century ce) explained that Christianity’s Hellenistic (Greco-Roman culture) rivals were the creations of fallen angels, imperfect plagiarisms of the true religion, or the outcome of divine condescension that took into account the weaknesses of men. The greatest medieval philosopher and theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, distinguished natural religion, or that kind of religious truth discoverable by unaided reason, from revealed religion, or religion resting upon divine truth, which he identified exclusively with Christianity. In the 16th century Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer, forthrightly labelled the religious views of Muslims, Jews, and Roman Catholic Christians to be false and held the view that the gospel of Christianity understood from the viewpoint of justification by grace through faith was the true standard. In Islam, religions are classified into three groups: the wholly true, the partially true, and the wholly false, corresponding with Islam, the Peoples of the Book (Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians), and polytheism. The classification is of particular interest because, being based in the Qurʾān, (the Islamic holy book), it is an integral part of Islamic teaching, and also because it has legal implications for Muslim treatment of followers of other religions.

Although scientific approaches to religion in the 19th century discouraged use of normative categories, elements of normative judgment were, nonetheless, hidden in certain of the new scientific classifications that had emerged. Many evolutionary schemes developed by anthropologists and other scholars, for example, ranked religions according to their places on a scale of development from the simplest to the most sophisticated, thus expressing an implicit judgment on the religious forms discussed. Such schemes more or less clearly assume the superiority of the religions that were ranked higher (i.e., later and more complex); or, conversely, they serve as a subtle attack on all religion by demonstrating that its origins lie in some of humanity’s basest superstitions, believed to come from an early, crude stage. A normative element is also indicated in classification schemes that preserve theological distinctions, such as that between natural and revealed religion. In short, the normative factor still has an important place in the classification of religions and will doubtless always have, since it is extraordinarily difficult to draw precise lines between disciplines primarily devoted to the normative exposition of religion, such as theology and philosophy of religion, and disciplines devoted to its description (phenomenology of religion) or scientific study (e.g., anthropology of religion, sociology of religion, or psychology of religion).


A common and relatively simple type of classification is based upon the geographical distribution of religious communities. Those religions found in a single region of the earth are grouped together. Such classifications are found in many textbooks on comparative religion, and they offer a convenient framework for presenting religious history. The categories most often used are: (1) Middle Eastern religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and a variety of ancient cults; (2) East Asian religions, comprising the religious communities of China, Japan, and Korea, and consisting of Confucianism, Daoism, the various schools of Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) Buddhism, and Shintō; (3) Indian religions, including early Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, and sometimes also the Theravada (“Way of the Elders”) Buddhism and the Hindu- and Buddhist-inspired religions of South and Southeast Asia; (4) African religions, or the cults of the tribal peoples of Sub-Saharan Africa, but excluding ancient Egyptian religion, which is considered to belong to the ancient Middle East; (5) American religions, consisting of the beliefs and practices of the Indian peoples indigenous to the two American continents; (6) Oceanic religions—i.e., the religious systems of the peoples of the Pacific islands, Australia, and New Zealand; and (7) classical religions of ancient Greece and Rome and their Hellenistic descendants. The extent and complexity of a geographical classification is limited only by classifiers’ knowledge of geography and their desire to seek detail and comprehensiveness in their classification scheme. Relatively crude geographical schemes that distinguish Western religions (usually equivalent to Christianity and Judaism) from Eastern religions are quite common.

Although religions centred in a particular area often have much in common because of historical or genetic connections, geographical classifications present obvious inadequacies. Many religions, including some of the greatest historical importance, are not confined to a single region (e.g., Islam), or do not have their greatest strength in the region of their origins (e.g., Christianity, Buddhism). Further, a single region or continent may be the dwelling place of many different religious communities and viewpoints that range from the most archaic to the most sophisticated. At a more profound level, geographical classifications are unacceptable because they have nothing to do with the essential constitutive elements of religion. The physical location of a religious community reveals little of the specific religious life of the group. Though useful for some purposes, geographical classifications contribute minimally to the task of providing a systematic understanding of human religions and religiousness.


Max Müller, often called the “Father of the history of religions,” stated that “Particularly in the early history of the human intellect, there exists the most intimate relationship between language, religion, and nationality.” This insight supplies the basis for a genetic classification of religions (associating them by descent from a common origin), which Müller believed the most scientific principle possible. According to this theory, in Asia and Europe dwell three great races, the Turanians (including the Ural-Altaic peoples), the Semites, and the Aryans, to which correspond three great families of languages. Originally, in some remote prehistory, each of these races formed a unity, but with the passage of time they split up into a myriad of peoples with a great number of distinct languages. Through careful investigation, however, the original unity may be discerned, including the unity of religion in each case. Müller’s principal resource in developing the resulting classification of religions was the comparative study of languages, from which he sought to demonstrate similarities in the names of deities, the existence of common mythologies, the common occurrence of important terms in religious life, and the likeness of religious ideas and intuitions among the branches of a racial group. His efforts were most successful in the case of the Semites, whose affinities are easy to demonstrate, and probably least successful in the case of the Turanian peoples, whose early origins are hypothetical. Müller’s greatest contribution to scholarship, however, lay in his study of Indo-Aryan languages, literatures, and comparative mythology.

Because Müller was a scholar of the first rank and a pioneer in several fields, his ethnographic-linguistic (and genetic) classification of religions has had much influence and has been widely discussed. The classification has value in exhibiting connections that had not been previously observed. Müller (and his followers) discovered affinities existing among the religious perspectives of both the Indo-Aryan-speaking and Semitic-speaking peoples and set numerous scholars on the path of investigating comparative mythology, thus contributing in a most direct way to the store of knowledge about religions.

There are, nevertheless, difficulties with the ethnographic-linguistic classification. To begin with, Müller’s evidence was incomplete, a fact that may be overlooked given the state of knowledge in his day. More important is the consideration that peoples of widely differing cultural development and outlook are found within the same racial or linguistic group. Further, the principle of connection among race, language, and religion does not take sufficiently into account the historical element or the possibility of developments that may break this connection, such as the conversion of the Indo-European-speaking peoples of Europe—who were viewed as being not only linguistically, as the Indo-Aryan languages continue to be classified among the Indo-European language family, but also racially connected to the Indo-Aryan speakers—to a Semitic religion, Christianity.

Other scholars have developed the ethnographic classification of religion to a much higher degree than did Müller. The German scholar Duren J.H. Ward, for example, in The Classification of Religions (1909) accepted the premise of the connection between race and religion but appealed to a much more detailed scheme of ethnological relationship. He says that “religion gets its character from the people or race who develop or adopt it” and further that

the same influences, forces, and isolated circumstances which developed a special race developed at the same time a special religion, which is a necessary constituent element or part of a race.

In order to study religion in its fullness and to bring out with clarity the historical and genetic connections between religious groups, the ethnographic element must thus have adequate treatment. Ward devised a comprehensive “Ethnographico-historical Classification of the Human Races to facilitate the Study of Religions—in five divisions.” These major divisions were (1) the Oceanic races, (2) the African races, (3) the American races, (4) the Mongolian races, and (5) the Mediterranean races, each of which has its own peculiar religion. The largest branch, the Mediterranean races, he subdivided into primeval Semites and primeval Aryans, in order to demonstrate in turn how the various Semitic, Indo-Aryan, and European races descended from these original stocks.


The past 150 years have also produced several classifications of religion based on speculative and abstract concepts that serve the purposes of philosophy. The principal example of these is the scheme of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a seminal German philosopher, in his famous Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (1832). In general, Hegel’s understanding of religion coincided with his philosophical thought; he viewed the whole of human history as a vast dialectical movement toward the realization of freedom. The reality of history, he held, is Spirit, and the story of religion is the process by which Spirit—true to its own internal logical character and following the dialectical pattern of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis (the reconciliation of the tension of opposite positions in a new unity that forms the basis of a further tension)—comes to full consciousness of itself. Individual religions thus represent stages in a process of evolution (i.e., progressive steps in the unfolding of Spirit) directed toward the great goal at which all history aims.

Hegel classified religions according to the role that they have played in the self-realization of Spirit. The historical religions fall into three great divisions, corresponding with the stages of the dialectical progression. At the lowest level of development, according to Hegel, are the religions of nature, or religions based principally upon the immediate consciousness deriving from sense experience. They include: immediate religion or magic at the lowest level; religions, such as those of China and India plus Buddhism, that represent a division of consciousness within itself; and others, such as the religions of ancient Persia, Syria, and Egypt, that form a transition to the next type. At an intermediate level are the religions of spiritual individuality, among which Hegel placed Judaism (the religion of sublimity), ancient Greek religion (the religion of beauty), and ancient Roman religion (the religion of utility). At the highest level is absolute religion, or the religion of complete spirituality, which Hegel identified with Christianity. The progression thus proceeds from human immersed in nature and functioning only at the level of sensual consciousness, to human beings becoming conscious of themselves in their individuality as distinct from nature, and beyond that to a grand awareness in which the opposition of individuality and nature is overcome in the realization of Absolute Spirit.

Many criticisms have been offered of Hegel’s classification. An immediately noticeable shortcoming is the failure to make a place for Islam, one of the major historical religious communities. The classification is also questionable for its assumption of continuous development in history. The notion of perpetual progress is not only doubtful in itself but is also compromised as a principle of classification because of its value implications.

Nevertheless, Hegel’s scheme was influential and was adapted and modified by a generation of philosophers of religion in the Idealist tradition. Departure from Hegel’s scheme, however, may be seen in the works of Otto Pfleiderer, a German theologian of the 19th century. Pfleiderer believed it impossible to achieve a significant grouping of religions unless, as a necessary preliminary condition, the essence of religion were first isolated and clearly understood. Essence is a philosophical concept, however, not a historical one. Pfleiderer considered it indispensable to have conceptual clarity about the underlying and underived basis of religion from which all else in religious life follows. In Die Religion, ihr Wesen und ihre Geschichte (“Religion, Its Essence and History”), Pfleiderer held that the essence of religious consciousness exhibits two elements, or moments, perpetually in tension with one another: one of freedom and one of dependence, with a number of different kinds of relationships between these two. One or the other may predominate, or they may be mixed in varying degrees.

Pfleiderer derived his classification of religions from the relationships between these basic elements. He distinguished one great group of religions that exhibits extreme partiality for one over against the other. The religions in which the sense of dependence is virtually exclusive are those of the ancient Semites, the Egyptians, and the Chinese. Opposite these are the early Indian, Germanic, and Greek and Roman religions, in which the sense of freedom prevails. The religion of this group may also be seen in a different way, as nature religions in the less-developed cultures or as culture or humanitarian religions in the more advanced. A second group of religions exhibits a recognition of both elements of religion, but gives them unequal value. These religions are called supernatural religions. Among them Zoroastrianism gives more weight to freedom as a factor in its piety, and Brahmanism and Buddhism are judged to have a stronger sense of dependence. The last group of religions is the monotheistic religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, which are divided again into two sub-groups, i.e., those that achieve an exact balance of the elements of religion and those that achieve a blending and merging of the elements. Both Judaism and Islam grant the importance of the two poles of piety, though there is a slight tendency in Islam toward the element of dependence and in Judaism toward freedom. It is Christianity alone, he claimed, that accomplishes the blending of the two, realizing both together in their fullness, the one through the other.

The intellectual heritage that lies behind this classification will be immediately apparent. The classification reflects its time (19th century) and place (western Europe) of conception in the sense that the study of religion was not yet liberated from its ties to the philosophy of religion and theology.


Considerable progress toward more scientific classifications of religions was marked by the emergence of morphological schemes, which assume that religion in its history has passed through a series of discernible stages of development, each having readily identifiable characteristics and each constituting an advance beyond the former stage. So essential is the notion of progressive development to morphological schemes that they might also be called evolutionary classifications. Trends in the comparative study of religions have retained the interest in morphology but have decisively rejected the almost universal 19th-century assumption of unitary evolution in the history of religion. The crude expression of evolutionary categories such as the division of religions into lower and higher or primitive and higher religions has been subjected to especially severe criticism.

The pioneer of morphological classifications was Edward Burnett Tylor, a British anthropologist, whose Primitive Culture (1871) is among the most influential books ever written in its field. Tylor developed the thesis of animism, a view that the essential element in all religion is belief in spiritual beings. According to Tylor, the belief arises naturally from elements universal in human experience (e.g., death, sleep, dreams, trances, and hallucinations) and leads through processes of primitive logic to the belief in a spiritual reality distinct from the body and capable of existing independently. In the development of the idea, this reality is identified with the breath and the life principle; thus arises the belief in the soul, in phantoms, and in ghosts. At a higher stage, the spiritual principle is attributed to aspects of reality other than human beings, and all things are believed to possess spirits that are their effective and animating elements; for example, primitive peoples generally believe that spirits cause sickness and control their destinies.

Of immediate interest is the classification of religions drawn from Tylor’s animistic thesis. Ancestor worship, prevalent in preliterate societies, is obeisance to the spirits of the dead. Fetishism, the veneration of objects believed to have magical or supernatural potency, springs from the association of spirits with particular places or things and leads to idolatry, in which the image is viewed as the symbol of a spiritual being or deity. Totemism, the belief in an association between particular groups of people and certain spirits that serve as guardians of those people, arises when the entire world is conceived as peopled by spiritual beings. At a still higher stage, polytheism, the interest in particular deities or spirits disappears and is replaced by concern for a “species” deity who represents an entire class of similar spiritual realities. By a variety of means, polytheism may evolve into monotheism, a belief in a supreme and unique deity. Tylor’s theory of the nature of religions and the resultant classification were so logical, convincing, and comprehensive that for a number of years they remained virtually unchallenged.

The morphological classification of religions received more sophisticated expression from Cornelius Petrus Tiele, a 19th-century Dutch scholar and an important pioneer in the scientific study of religion. His point of departure was a pair of distinctions made by the philosophers of religion Abraham Kuenen and W.D. Whitney. In the Hibbert Lectures for 1882, National Religions and Universal Religions, Kuenen had emphasized the difference between religions limited to a particular people and those that have taken root among many peoples and qualitatively aim at becoming universal. Whitney saw the most marked distinction among religions as being between race religions (“the collective product of the wisdom of a community”) and individually founded religions. The first are the result of nature’s unconscious working through long periods of time, and the latter are characterized by a high degree of ethical awareness. Tiele agreed strongly with Whitney in distinguishing between nature and ethical religions. Ethical religion, in Tiele’s views, develops out of nature religion,

but the substitution of ethical religions for nature-religions is, as a rule, the result of a revolution; or at least of an intentional reform.

Each of these categories (i.e., nature or spiritualistic–ethical) may be further subdivided. At the earliest and lowest stage of spiritual development was polyzoic religion, about which there is no information but which is based on Tiele’s theory that early human beings must have regarded natural phenomena as endowed with life and superhuman magical power. The first known stage of the nature religions is called polydaemonistic (many spirits) magical religion, which is dominated by animism and characterized by a confused mythology, a firm faith in magic, and the preeminence of fear above other religious emotions. At a higher stage of nature religions is therianthropic polytheism, in which the deities are normally of mixed animal and human composition. The highest stage of nature religion is anthropomorphic polytheism, in which the deities appear in human form but have superhuman powers. These religions have some ethical elements, but their mythology portrays the deities as indulging in all sorts of shocking acts. None of the polytheistic religions, thus, was able to raise itself to a truly ethical point of view.

Ethical religions fall into two subcategories. First are the national nomistic (legal) religions that are particularistic, limited to the horizon of one people only and based upon a sacred law drawn from sacred books. Above them are the universalistic religions, qualitatively different in kind, aspiring to be accepted by all men, and based upon abstract principles and maxims. In both subtypes, doctrines and teachings are associated with the careers of distinct personalities who play important roles in their origin and formation. Tiele found only three examples of this highest type of religion: Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism.

Tiele’s classification enjoyed a great vogue and influenced many who came after him. Nathan Söderblom, a Swedish archbishop who devoted much energy to problems of classification, accepted the division of higher religions into two great groups but used a varied terminology that pointed to some of the characteristics of the two types of religion. In addition to natural religion and revealed religion, or religions of nature and religions of revelation, Söderblom spoke of culture religions and prophetic religions, of culture religions and founded religions, and of nature religions and historical religions. The highest expression of the first category is the “mysticism of infinity” that is characteristic of the higher aspects of Hindu and Buddhist religious experience. The apex of genuine prophetic religion is reached in the “mysticism of personality.” All these distinctions mean the same thing, and all are indebted to Tiele’s thought. Söderblom, however, sharply disagreed with Tiele’s thesis of continuous development in the history of religion. In Söderblom’s view, the line between nature religion and prophetic religion is a deep and unbridgeable chasm, a qualitative difference so enormous that one type could never evolve by natural historical processes into the other. Prophetic religion can be explained only as a radical and utterly new incursion into history. As Söderblom was a churchman and theologian as well as a distinguished historian of religion, there is without doubt an element of theological judgment influencing his stand on this matter. Söderblom was eager to defend the uniqueness of biblical religion, and he believed that his historical and scientific studies provided an objective basis for asserting not only the uniqueness but also the superiority of Christianity.

Tiele’s enduring influence may also be seen in the classification of religions advanced by Mircea Eliade, a Romanian-American scholar who was one of the most prolific contemporary students of religion. Eliade, who in other respects might be considered among the phenomenologists of religion, was interested in uncovering the “structures” or “patterns” of religious life. The basic division that Eliade recognized is between traditional religions—including primitive religions and the archaic cults of the ancient civilizations of Asia, Europe, and America—and historical religions. The distinction is better revealed, however, in the terms cosmic religion and historical religion. In Eliade’s estimation, all of traditional religion shares a common outlook upon the world—chiefly, the deprecation of history and the rejection of profane, mundane time. Religiously, traditional humans are not interested in the unique and specific but rather exclusively in those things and actions that repeat and restore transcendental models. Only those things that participate in and reflect the eternal archetypes or the great pattern of original creation by which cosmos came out of chaos are real in the traditional outlook. The religious activities of traditional human beings are the recurring attempts to return to the beginning, to the Great Time, to trace again and renew the process by which the structure and order of the cosmos were established. Traditional religions may, therefore, find the sacred in any aspect of the world that links man to the archetypes of the time in the beginning; thus, their typical mode of expression is repetitive. Further, their understanding of history, as far as they are concerned with it at all, is cyclical. The world and what happens in it are devalued, except as they show forth the eternal pattern of the original creation.

Modern, postarchaic, or historical religions (e.g., Judaism, Christianity, Islam) show markedly other features. They tend to see a discontinuity between God and the world and to locate the sacred not in the cosmos but somewhere beyond it. Moreover, they hold to linear views of history, believing it to have a beginning and an end, with a definite goal as its climax, and to be by nature unrepeatable. Thus, the historical religions are world affirming in the double sense of believing in the reality of the world and of believing that meaning for human beings is worked out in the historical process. By reason of these views, the historical religions alone have been monotheistic and exclusivist in their theologies. Although Eliade outstripped his predecessors in delineating the qualities of traditional religion in particular, much of his thought was anticipated in Söderblom’s descriptions of nature religion and prophetic religion.


All the principles thus far discussed have had reference to the classification of religions in the sense of establishing groupings among historical religious communities having certain elements in common. While attempts have been made to classify entire religions or religious communities, in recent times the interest in classifying entire religions has markedly declined, partly because of an emerging interest in the phenomenology of religion.

This new trend in studies, which has come to dominate the field, claims its origin in the phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl, a German Jewish–Lutheran scholar, and has found its greatest exponents in the Netherlands. Phenomenology of religion has at least two aspects. It is first of all an effort at devising a taxonomic (classificatory) scheme that will permit the comprehensive cataloging and classifying of religious phenomena across the lines of religious communities, but it is also a method that aims at revealing the self-interpretation by religious practicioners of their own religious responses. Phenomenology of religion thus rejects any overview of religion that would interpret religion’s development as a whole, confining itself rather to the phenomena and the unfolding of their meaning for religious people. Phenomenologists are especially vigorous in repudiating the evolutionary schemes of past scholars, whom they accuse of imposing arbitrary semiphilosophical concepts in their interpretation of the history of religion. Phenomenologists also have little interest in history for its own sake, except as a preliminary stage of material gathering for the hermeneutical (critical–interpretive) task that is to follow.

One of the earliest Dutch phenomenologists, W. Brede Kristensen (1867–1953), spoke of his work as follows:

Phenomenology of Religion attempts to understand religious phenomena by classifying them into groups…we must group the phenomena according to characteristics which correspond as far as possible to the essential and typical elements of religion.

The material with which phenomenology is concerned is all the different types of religious thinking and action, ideas about divinity, and cultic acts. Kristensen’s systematic organization of religious phenomena may be seen in the table of contents of his Meaning of Religion in which he divides his presentation of material into discussions of (1) cosmology, which includes worship of nature in the form of sky and earth deities, animal worship, totemism, and animism, (2) anthropology, made up of a variety of considerations on human nature and also on human life and human social associations, (3) cultus, which involves consideration of sacred places, sacred times, and sacred images, and (4) cultic acts, such as prayer, oaths and curses, and ordeals. Kristensen was not concerned with the historical development or the description of a particular religion or even a series of religions but rather with grouping the typical elements of the entire religious life, irrespective of the community in which they might occur.

Probably the best known phenomenologist is Gerardus van der Leeuw, another Dutch scholar. In his Religion in Essence and Manifestation, van der Leeuw categorized the material of religious life under the following headings: (1) the object of religion, or that which evokes the religious response, (2) the subject of religion, in which there are three divisions: the sacred person, the sacred community, and the sacred within human beings, or the soul, (3) object and subject in their reciprocal operation as outward reaction and inward action, (4) the world, ways to the world, and the goals of the world, and (5) forms, which must take into account religions and the founders of religions. Van der Leeuw was not interested in grouping religious communities as such but rather in laying out the types of religious expression. He discussed distinct religions only because religion in the abstract has no existence. He classified religions according to 12 forms: (1) religion of remoteness and flight (ancient China and 18th-century deism), (2) religion of struggle (Zoroastrianism), (3) religion of repose, which has no specific historical form but is found in every religion in the form of mysticism, (4) religion of unrest or theism, which again has no specific form but is found in many religions, (5) dynamic of religions in relation to other religions (syncretism and missions), (6) dynamic of religions in terms of internal developments (revivals and reformations), (7) religion of strain and form, the first that van der Leeuw characterizes as one of the “great” forms of religion (Greece), (8) religion of infinity and of asceticism (Indian religions but excluding Buddhism), (9) religion of nothingness and compassion (Buddhism), (10) religion of will and of obedience (Israel), (11) the religion of majesty and humility (Islam), and (12) the religion of love (Christianity). The above is not a classification of religions as organized systems. Categories 3, 4, 5, and 6 relate to elements found in many if not all historical religious communities, and the categories from 7 onward are not classifications but attempts to characterize particular communities by short phrases that express what van der Leeuw considered to be their essential spirit. The “primitive” religions of less-developed peoples are not classified.

Other principles

William James, the American philosopher and psychologist, in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, differentiated two types of religion according to the attitude toward life—the religion of healthy-mindedness, which minimizes or ignores the evil of existence, and that of morbid-mindedness, which considers evil as the very essence of life. Max Weber, a German sociologist, distinguished between religions that express themselves primarily in mythopoeic ways and those that express themselves in rational forms. The distinction comes very close to that between traditional and historical religions, though its emphasis is somewhat different.

Nathan Söderblom, in his prolific scholarly career, devised several classifications other than the principal one discussed above. In his great work on primitive religions, Das Werden des Gottesglaubens (“Development of the Belief in God”), Söderblom divided religions into dynamistic, animistic, and theistic types according to the way primitive peoples apprehend the divine. In other works (Einführung in die Religionsgeschichte, or “Introduction to the History of Religion,” and Thieles Kompendium der Religionsgeschichte neu bearbeitet, or “Tiele’s Compendium of the History of Religion Revised”) he contended that Christianity is the central point of the entire history of religions and, therefore, classified religions according to the historical order in which they came into contact with Christianity. Similarly, Albert Schweitzer, the French theologian, medical missionary, and Nobel laureate, in Christianity and the Religions of the World, grouped religions as rivals or nonrivals of Christianity. Still another scheme may be seen in Söderblom’s Gifford Lectures, The Living God, in which religions were divided according to their doctrines of the relation between human and divine activity in the achievement of salvation. Thus, among higher religions there are those in which humanity alone is responsible for salvation (Buddhism), God alone is responsible (the bhakti movements of India), or God and humanity cooperate (Christianity).

The American sociologist Robert Bellah, having in mind the advances of the social sciences in their understanding of religions, offers a refurbished and more highly sophisticated version of an evolutionary scheme that he thinks to be the most satisfactory possible in the present state of scholarly knowledge. He views religion as having passed through five stages, beginning with the primitive and proceeding through the archaic, the historical, and the early modern to the modern stage. The religious complexes that emerge in each stage of this evolution have identifiable characteristics that Bellah studies and differentiates according to the following categories: symbol systems, religious actions, religious organizations, and social implications. Two basic concepts run through Bellah’s classification, providing the instruments for the division of religions along the evolutionary scale. The first is that of the increasing complexity of symbolization as one moves from the bottom to the top of the scale, and the second is that of increasing freedom of personality and society from their environing circumstances or, in other words, the growing secularization of the religious field. Bellah’s classification is important because of the wide discussion it has awakened among social scientists.

One may find additional classifications based upon the content of religious ideas, the forms of religious teaching, the nature of cultus, the character of piety, the nature of the emotional involvement in religion, the character of the good toward which religions strive, and the relations of religions to the state, to art, to science, and to morality.


Luc Reychler

Introduction: Towards a Religion of World Politics?

The New World Order cannot be understood without accounting for the role of religion and religious organizations. During the Cold War, not much attention was paid to the phenomenon of nationalism and religion. Marxists, Liberals, nation-builders and integration specialists treated it as a marginal variable. In the Western political systems a frontier has been drawn between man's inner life and his public actions, between religion and politics. The West is characterized by a desecularisation of politics and a depolitisation of religion. Part of the elite Western opinion views religion as irrational and premodern; "a throw-back to the dark centuries before the Enlightenment taught the virtues of rationality and decency, and bent human energies to constructive, rather than destructive purposes" (Weigel, 1991: 27) In the Communist block, religion was officially stigmatized as the opium of the people and repressed. In theories of integration and modernization, secularization was considered a 'sine qua non' for progress. Consequently, the explosion of nationalist and ethnic conflicts was a great surprise.

What about religious conflicts? Are we in for surprises too? The answer is: yes probably. As late as August 1978, a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Paper asserted confidently that "Iran is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-Revolutionary situation." Roger Williamson (1990) considers this the most glaring example of Western incomprehension and misconception of Modern Islam. The fundamental mistake of Western observers, he argues, is the assumption that since Christianity plays little direct role in shaping policy in Western nations, the separation of religion and political decision-making can be assumed in the Middle East as well. Since the fall of the Shah, research about the role of religions in conflict dynamics has increased. The amount of research, however, lags considerable behind the boom of studies of ethnic and nationalistic conflicts.

The attention for the role of religion in conflicts has been stimulated by positive and negative developments, including the desecularisation of the World and the rise of religious conflicts. In most Strategic Surveys, attention is now paid to the militant forms of religious fundamentalism as a threat to peace. Also important has been the phenomenon of realignment or the cross denominational cooperation between the progressives and traditionalists with respect to certain specific issues (Hunter, 1991). Illustrative is the view of the Catholic Church and the Islam Fundamentalists vis à vis the Report by the United Nations Population Fund on population growth.

Attention has also been drawn by the increased engagement of churches or church communities in the search for détente or constructive management of conflicts. Think of the voice of the American bishops in the nuclear debate in the eighties; the role of churches in the democratic emancipation of Central and Eastern Europe; or the impact of church leaders on the conflict dynamics in several African conflicts. All have attracted considerable attention. Not only in South Africa with Desmond Tutu or Allan Boesak, but also, for example, in Sudan (Assefa, 1990; Badal, 1990), Mozambique and Zaire. Mgr. Jaime Gonçalves, the archbisop of Beira played an important role in the realization of a peace-agreement in Mozambique on 4 October 1992. It ended a gory war in which a million lives were wasted and half of the population were on the run for safety. In Zaire, Monseigneur Laurent Monsengwo was elected as chairman of the "High Council of the Republic", and played a central role in the difficult negotiations between President Mobutu and his opponents. The Burundian catholic bishops, representing half of the population, are now mediating towards the development of a more collegial government to prevent further violence. Finally, we should also mention the role of the church in empowering people in the Third World with the Liberation theology and many recent efforts to provide peace services in conflicts areas, including field-diplomacy.

To get a better grasp of what religions or religious organizations could do, to help to promote a constructive conflict dynamic, one could start by investigating systematically which positive or negative roles they play now. Consequently, suggestions would be made about how to reduce the negative and strengthen the positive impact. Religious organizations can act as conflicting parties, as bystanders, as peace-makers and peace builders (see Table 1).

Table 1. Religious organizations in conflict dynamics



Religious wars
Low-intensity violence
Structural violence
Cultural violence




Empowering people
Influencing the moral-political climate
Development cooperation-humanitarian aid


Traditional diplomatic efforts
Track II peace-making

Religion and Violence

1. Religious Wars

Since the awakening of religion, wars have been fought in the name of different gods and goddesses. Still today most violent conflicts contain religious elements linked up with ethno-national, inter-state, economic, territorial, cultural and other issues. Threatening the meaning of life, conflicts based on religion tend to become dogged, tenacious and brutal types of wars. When conflicts are couched in religious terms, they become transformed in value conflicts. Unlike other issues, such as resource conflicts which can be resolved by pragmatic and distributive means, value conflicts have a tendency to become mutually conclusive or zero-sum issues. They entail strong judgments of what is right and wrong, and parties believe that there cannot be a common ground to resolve their differences. "Since the North-South conflicts in the Sudan have been cast in religious terms, they developed the semblance of deep value conflicts which appear unresolvable except by force or separation" (Assefa, 1990). Religious conviction is, as it has ever been, a source of conflict within and between communities. It should, however, be remembered that it was not religion that has made the twentieth the most bloody century. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-tung, Pol Pot and their apprentices in Rwanda maimed and murdered millions of people on a unprecedented scale, in the name of a policy which rejected religious or other transcendent reference points for judging its purposes and practices (Weigel, 1991: 39). Those policies were based on an ideology having the same characteristics as a religion.

In a world where many governments and international organizations are suffering from a legitimacy deficit, one can expect a growing impact of religious discourses on international politics. Religion is a major source of soft power. It will, to a greater extent, be used or misused by religions and governmental organizations to pursue their interests. It is therefore important to develop a more profound understanding of the basic assumption underlying the different religions and the ways in which people adhering to them see their interests. It would also be very useful to identify elements of communality between the major religions.

The major challenge of religious organizations remains to end existing and prevent new religious conflicts. In December 1992, 24 wars were counted with a religious background (adjusted AKUF-Kriege-Datenbank). Most of them were situated in Northern Africa, the Middle East, the ex-USSR and Asia. In Europe there were only two: Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland. No religious wars were registered in the Americas (See Table 2).

These wars could be further classified by distinguishing violent conflicts within and between religions and between religious organizations and the central government. In Europe, Bosnian Muslims have, for more than two years, been brutally harried by Serbs who are called Christians. On the border between Europe and Asia, Christian Armenians have thumped Muslim Azzeris, and Muslims and Jews still shoot each other in Palestine.

1. Mayanamar/Burma 1948 Buddhists vs. Christians
2. Israel/Palestinian 1968 Jews vs. Arabs )Muslims-Christians)
3. Northern Ireland 1969 Catholic vs. Protestants
4. Philippines (Mindanao) 1970 Muslims vs. Christians (Catholics)
5. Bangladesh 1973 Buddhists vs. Christians
6. Lebanon 1975 Shiites supported by Syria (Amal) vs. Shiites supported by Iran (Hezbollah)
7. Ethiopia (Oromo) 1976 Muslims vs. Central government
8. India (Punjab) 1982 Sikhs vs. Central government
9. SudanWITH 1983 Muslims vs. Native religions
10. Mali-Tuareg Nomads 1990 Muslims vs. Central government
11. Azerbejdan 1990 Muslims vs. Christian Armenians
12. India (Kasjmir) 1990 Muslims vs. Central government (Hindu)
13. Indonesia (Aceh) 1990 Muslims vs. Central government (Muslim)
14. Iraq 1991 Sunnites vs. Shiites
15. Yugoslavia (Croatia) 1991 Serbian orthodox Christians vs. Roman Catholic Christians
16. Yugoslavia (Bosnia) 1991 Orthodox Christians vs. Catholics vs. Muslims
17. Afghanistan 1992 Fundamentalist Muslims vs. Moderate Muslims
18. Tadzhikistan 1992 Muslims vs. Orthodox Christians
19. Egypt 1977 Muslims vs. Central government (Muslim) Muslims vs. Coptic Christians
20. Tunesia 1978 Muslims vs. Central government (Muslim)
21. Algeria 1988 Muslims vs. Central government
22. Uzbekisgtan 1989 Sunite Uzbeks vs. Shiite Meschetes
23. India (Uthar- Pradesh) 1992 Hindus vs. Muslims
24. Sri Lanka 1983 Hindus vs. Muslims

Table 2: Wars with a Religious Dimension


Source: Gantzel et al., (1993)

Further east, Muslims complain of the Indian army's brutality towards them in Kashmir, and of Indian Hindu's destruction of the Ayodhya mosque in 1992. Islam, as Samuel Huntington has put it, has bloody borders (Huntington, 1993). It was Huntington who recently provided the intellectual framework to pay more attention to the coming clash of civilizations. Civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most importantly, religion.

He expects more conflicts along the cultural-religious fault lines because (1) those differences have always generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts; (2) because the world is becoming a smaller place, and the increasing interactions will intensify the civilization- consciousness of the people which in turn invigorates differences and animosities stretching or thought to stretch back deep in history; (3) because of the weakening of the nation-state as a source of identity and the desecularisation of the world with the revival of religion as basis of identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations; (4) because of the dual role of the West. On the one hand, the West is at the peak of its power. At the same time, it is confronted with an increasing desire by elites in other parts of the world to shape the world in non-Western ways; (5) because cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones; (6) finally, because increasing economic regionalism will reinforce civilization-consciousness.

Of course there are no ' pure ' religious conflicts. It is the correlation with other integrating or disintegrating pressures which will determine the dynamics of a conflict. There is a need for a more sophisticated typology.

For each conflict in which religion is involved, a cross-impact analysis is necessary of at least six variables which together could reinforce a constructive or a destructive conflict dynamic (See the Figure 1).

1. A Cross-Impact Analysis of Conflicts in Which Religion Is Involved


2. Low-Intensity Violence

To further their interests religious organizations make also use of low-scale violence, political repression and terrorism. Salmon Rushdie or Taslima Nasrin in Bangladesh were forced into hiding from Muslim fundamentalists who want to punish them with death. Each religion has its fanatic religious fundamentalists. The Kach Party, which was leaded by Rabbi Meir Kahane until his death in November 1990, used tactics of abusing and physically attacking Palestinians. Kahane believed in a perpetual war and preached intolerance against the Arabs. Christian fundamentalists in the US cater a "Manifest Theology", a fundamentally Manichean worldview in which "we" are right, and all civil and aggressive intentions are projected to "them" (Galtung, 1987).

"Because 'they' are evil and aggressive forces of chaos in the world, 'we' then have to be strongly armed, but do not perceive ourselves as aggressive even when attacking other countries" (Williamson, 1992: 11). Intolerance is also spawn by a minority of Islamic organizations, like Egypt's Gama'at al-Islamiya, Libanon's Hezbullah or Algeria's Islamic fundamentalists. All pursue a policy of violent confrontation, based on the convention that armed struggle or 'jihad' is a necessary and appropriate response to the enemies of God, despotic rulers and their Western allies.

3. Structural Violence

Several religious organizations also support structural violence by endorsing a centralized and authoritarian decision-making structure and the repression of egalitarian forces. Churches have sympathized with authoritarian government. The concord of the Vatican with Portugal in 1940, the agreement with Franco in 1941, and the support of authoritarian regimes in Latin-America were clear statements. Recently, the Vatican disapproved the candidacy of Aristide for President in Haiti. On the contrary, it recognized the military regime.

4. Cultural Violence

One of the major contributions of Johan Galtung to the understanding of violence is his exposure of cultural violence or the ways and means to approve or legitimize direct and indirect violence. Cultural violence could take the form of distinguishing the chosen from the unchosen, or the upper-classes being closer to God and possessing special rights from the lower classes. John Paul II, opening the Santo Domingo meetings, warned the Latin American bishops to defend the faithful from the "rapacious wolves" of Protestant sects. His language dealt a blow to 20 years of ecumenical efforts (Stewart-Gambino, 1994: 132). Cultural violence declares certain wars as just and others as unjust, as holy or unholy wars.

The peace price given to Radovan Karapi¦, the Serbian leader in Bosnia, by the Greek Orthodox Church, for his contribution to world peace could easily be labeled as cultural violence. In July 1994, Kurt Waldheim was awarded a papal knighthood of the Ordine Piano for safeguarding human rights when he served with the United Nations. His services in the Balkans for the Nazis were seemingly forgiven. Both were made religious role models.

It is clear that the causes of religious wars and other religion related violence have not disappeared from the face of the earth. Some expect an increase of it. Efforts to make the world safe from religious conflicts should then also be high on the agenda. Religious actors should abstain from any cultural and structural violence within their respective organizations and handle inter-religious or denominational conflict in a non-violent and constructive way. This would imply several practical steps, such as a verifiable agreement not to use or threaten with violence to settle religious disputes. It must be possible to evaluate religious organizations objectively with respect to their use of physical, structural or cultural violence. A yearly overall report could be published. Another step would be furthering the 'depolitisation' of religion. Power also corrupts religious organizations. In addition, depolitisation of religion is a major precondition for the political integration of communities with different religions.

Very important is the creation of an environment where a genuine debate is possible. Extremist rhetoric flourishes best in an environment not conductive to rational deliberation. Needless to say, extremist rhetoric is very difficult to maintain in a discursive environment in which positions taken or accusations made can be challenged directly by rebuttal, counter propositions, cross-examinations and the presentation of evidence. Without a change in the environments of public discourses within and between religious organizations, demagogy and rhetorical intolerance will prevail. In his latest book Projekt Weltethik, Hans Küng rightly concludes that world peace is impossible without religious peace, and that the latter requires religious dialogue.

Religious Bystanders

Religious organizations can also influence the conflict dynamics by abstaining from intervention. As most conflicts are 'asymmetrical', this attitude is partial in its consequences. It is implicitly reinforcing the 'might is right' principle. During the Second World War, the Vatican adopted a neutral stand. It didn't publicly disapprove of the German atrocities in Poland or in the concentration camps. To secure its diplomatic interests, Rome opted for this prudence and not for an evangelical disapproval. The role of bystanders, those members of the society who are neither perpetrators nor victims, is very important. Their support, opposition, or indifference based on moral or other grounds, shapes the course of events. An expression of sympathy or antipathy of the head of the Citta del Vaticano, Pius XII, representing approximately 500 million Catholics, could have prevented a great deal of the violence. The mobilization of the internal and external bystanders, in the face of the mistreatment of individuals or communities, is a major challenge to religious organizations. To realize this, children and adults, in the long run, must develop certain personal characteristics such as a pro-social value orientation and empathy. Religious organizations have a major responsibility in creating a worldview in which individual needs would not be met at the expense of others and genuine conflicts would not be resolved through aggression (Fein, 1992).

Peace-Building and Peace-Making

Religious organizations are a rich source of peace services. They can function as a powerful warrant for social tolerance, for democratic pluralism, and for constructive conflict-management. They are peace-builders and peace-makers.

1. Peace-Building

Religions contribute to peace-building by empowering the weak, by influencing the moral-political climate, by developing cooperation and providing humanitarian aid.

(1) Empowering people

In the last quarter of this century, religious actors have been a major force for social justice in the Third World and a movement for peace in the industrial countries in the North.

People can be empowered by offering support to protest movements, for instance, the God against the bomb action in North America and Europe. In both East and West, churches issued a declaration in the 1980's supporting the goals of the peace movement. The ecumenical peace engagement was particularly important in creating a mass constituency for peace. The pastoral letter 'The Challenge of Peace is God's Promise and our Response', issued in May 1983, challenged the very foundation of U.S. nuclear policy and opposed key elements of the Reagan administration's military buildup (Cartwight, 1993).

People can also be empowered by providing them with theological support against injustice. In the Third World, many varieties of theology have been developed which are critical of structural violence. The best known are the Liberation theology in Latin America and the black theology in South Africa. These theologies speak for putting an end to suffering caused by physical, structural, psychological and cultural violence. The existence of a Christianity of the poor is a powerful social force, confronted with repression and exploitation. Hundreds of church workers, catechists, priests and bishops have undergone death threats, have been tortured or murdered while working on the abolishment of poverty and injustice (Lernoux 1982).

A wide varieties of initiatives were recently taken for protecting people from violence. Examples are the 'Peaceworkers' who went into conflict areas to accompany people whose lives were in danger. In one case, from the Philippines, 25 volunteers came on short notice to be with 650 refugees in a church surrounded by death squads threatening to kill the refugees. The presence of the international group, which was holding a press conference, prevented a potential massacre (M.E.Jeger, 1993). Another example are the activities of the 'Cry for Justice' organizations which were, according to Father Nangle, a response to a call from Haiti "for as many internationals as possible for as long as possible to go into the most violent places in Haiti's countryside to be a protective presence, to protect human rights abuses, and to foster a climate for free and open dialogue and assembly".

(2) Influencing the moral-political climate

The major variable, which religious organizations can influence, is the moral-political climate. The moral-political climate at the international or domestic level can be defined in terms of the perceived moral-political qualities of the environment in which the conflicting parties operate. Some climates tend to be destructive, but others enhance conditions for constructive conflict-management. Religious organizations influence the moral-political climate by justifying war or peace, tolerance or intolerance, conservatism or progressivism (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Dimensions of the moral-political climate

(3) War vs. Peace

With respect to war and peace, the religious approaches could be divided under two main categories: pacifism and just war doctrine (Life and Peace Report, 1990). Many varieties of pacifism could be distinguished: optimistic, mainstream and pessimistic (Ceadel, 1987). For some, it means an unconditional rejection of participation in armed struggle; for others, it refers to an active engagement in peace-making. The Quakers traditionally have devoted themselves to the dismantling of enemy-images and reconciliation. With Gandhi as a source of inspiration, others have developed non-violent peace-making strategies.

Christianity is contributing to arms control and to non-violent conflict resolution, through the evolution of the just war tradition and the acceptance of it as its mainstream normative framework for reflecting on problems of war and peace. The 'ius ad bellum' principles (which determine when resort to armed force is morally justified) and the 'ius in bello' principles (which determine what conduct within war is morally acceptable) have significantly influenced current international law. Some analysts consider the liberation theology as a recent but radical variant of this doctrine, even though certain liberation theologians tend to be advocates of non-violence and some are considering it necessary to develop just revolution principles. In Latin-America, some theologians of liberation pondered on the use of 'revolutionary' violence, and in South Africa, revolutionary 'second violence' was endorsed against the 'first violence' of the Apartheid system. A just war or just revolution discourse is also alive in the Muslem world. Modernist authors have argued that the doctrine of 'jihad' can also be considered as a theory of bellum justum (Peters, 1979). The Islamic-Christian National Dialogue Committee in Lebanon recently declared that their respective religions could not be used to justify violence.

(4) Religious Nationalism vs. Ecumenism

Religious organisations also make efforts to overcome religious-intolerance, sectarianism or nationalism, and to develop an ecumenical climate. Hans Küng urges, as a first step, the development of an ecumenical and concrete theology for peace between Christians, Jews and Muslims (Küng, 1990). A systematic analysis of their divergences and convergences, and their potential of conflict and cooperation would be a helpful step forwards.

(5) Status-quo vs. Progressive Development

Religious organisations have also played an important role in clearing the social space for pluralism, thereby enhancing a potential environment characterized by persuasion and consent rather than coercion. The impact of religious conviction and religious actors on the revolution in 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe starts to be documented. In his book The Post-Totalitarian Mind (1991), Goldfarb demonstrated that the political revolution was preceded by a moral and cultural revolution. Garton Ash refers, for example, to the impact of John Paul II on his homeland Poland in March 1979. "For nine days the state virtually ceased to exist, except as a censor doctoring the television coverage. Everyone saw that Poland was not a communist state. John Paul II left thousands of human beings with a new self-respect and renewed faith, a nation with rekindled pride, and a society with a new consciousness of its essential unity" (Ash, 1985). Religious organisations also played a crucial role in the peaceful revolution in South Africa. There is the steadfastness of the condemnation of violence by black religious leaders. Of great significance was also the role of the Dutch reformed Church which distanced itself from Apartheid and condemned it as biblically unwarranted. This helped to deprive the racial radicals of the moral legitimacy of violence.

(6) Development, Cooperation, and Humanitarian Aid

A great number of INGO's, engaged in all kinds of development projects, have a religious base. I do not know of any study assessing the efforts of religious INGO's, but scattered data suggest that these efforts are considerable. In 1974 Belgium had 6,283 catholic missionaries in the world. In 1992 this number decreased to 2,766: 1,664 in Africa, 633 in America, 464 in Asia, and 5 in Oceania. In the same year Caritas Catholica Belgium spent 145 million BF on emergency aid, 290 million BF on food aid, 22 million BF in Yugoslavia, 17 million BF on micro-projects in other parts of the world, and 21 million BF to help refugees and migrants in Belgium.

2. Peace-Making

Several religious organisations distinguish themselves through peace-making efforts. Those efforts could be of a traditional diplomatic nature or be categorized as Track II or Field diplomacy.

(1) Traditional diplomatic efforts

The Vatican has been involved in several cases as a mediator. Its Secretariat of State has 150 members divided over eight language desks. It is represented in 122 countries. Its highest ranking ambassador is called a 'nuncio' who represents the Pope to the Heads of state and to the local church. They gain much information of local affairs from the 150,000 parish priests who preside over 800 million Catholics worldwide. To the extent the Vatican lacks traditional state interests and maintains a sense of 'objectivity', it makes it a good candidate for international mediation. During 1978-1984 Pope John Paul II mediated successfully between Argentina and Chile over a few islands at the tip of South America. Both countries narrowly averted war by turning to the Vatican as a mediator. The Vatican was succesful only in keeping the parties at bay, not pushing a settlement. In the end, that proved quite enough once domestic factors, especially those in Argentina after the Maledives/Falklands war, changed.

According to Thomas Princen (1992), the Papacy has special resources that few world leaders share. Six resources, which appear to be common to other international actors, stand out.

(a) Moral legitimacy: The Pope has a legitimate stake in issues such as peace-making or human rights having a spiritual or moral component. During the Beagle Channel mediation, the Pope appealed to the moral duty to do all necessary to achieve peace between the two countries.

(b) Neutrality: In the dispute mentioned above, there was no question that the Vatican had no interests in the disputed islands.

(c) Ability to advance other's political standing: A papal audience, a papal visit or involvement confers political advantage on state leaders. This advantage can be used at key junctures in a mediation: gaining access; deciding on agenda and other procedures; delivering proposals. The demarches done by the president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, to resolve the issue peacefully were distrusted by the two military governments who found his stand on human rights annoying (Princen, 1992).

(d) Ability to reach the (world) public opinion: The Pope can command the attention of the media. This is especially true for the perigrinating John Paul II.

(e) Network of information and contacts: The information and communication network of the Catholic Church is extensive. For a localized dispute, communication channels outside conventional diplomatic channels can be significant.

(f) Secrecy: Confidentiality is a major asset for mediation. As an organisation with no claim to democratic procedures or open government, the Holy See is known to be able to keep a secret. Maintaining confidentiality is a standard operating procedure in the Vatican.

Thomas Princen concludes his analysis of the mediation by the Vatican by observing that when pay-offs are not the primary obstacle, when the interaction between disputes is inadequate, when face-to-face talks and face-savings devices are in short supply, a powerless transnational actor can influence disputants in subtle ways. He also notices that the mediation effort in the dispute mentioned above turned out to be a terrible headache for the mediation team and the Pope. What started out as a six-month enterprise turned out to be a six-year ordeal. He further observes that, on the whole, however, the Vatican remains a re-active player, for whom power politics continues the dominant paradigm.

(2) Track II Peace-making

The peace-making activities of NGO's, be it of a religious or non-religious nature, are getting more attention. A great deal of research is, however, needed to have insight in the potential of the rich amount and variety of peace services.

Traditionally, a lot of peace work has been delivered by the Quakers. Various efforts have been directed toward conciliation to stop "all outward wars, strife and fighting." Under the heading "conciliation" come especially efforts to promote better communication and understanding by bringing people together in seminars and efforts to work with the conflicting parties. Adam Curle and Kenneth Blulding are the two most well-known academic spokesmen of this approach. The definition given by Adam Curle for conciliation describes the Quakers assumptions: "Activity aimed at bringing about an alteration of perception (the other is not so bad as we imagined; we have misinterpreted their actions, etc.) that will lead to an alteration of attitude and eventually to an alteration of behavior" (Yarrow, 1977).

This kind of conciliation is the most appropriate if conflicts primarily arise over a different definition of the situation. For other conflicts related to gross injustices or unequal power, the Quakers use methods of witness or advocacy. Essential for effective conciliation is the establishment of confidence, impartiality and independence. Yarrow describes the kind of impartiality, which tends to promote 'balanced partiality,' that is, listening sympathetically to each side, trying to put themselves in the others party's place. Another characteristic of balanced partiality is the Quakers concern for all people involved in a situation. The Quakers teams--Quakers have tended to entrust mediatory work to at least two friends--emphasize the need to maximise the gains that might accrue to both sides through a settlement. Also, several other religious organisations are increasingly engaged in peace-making efforts. An important role was played by the Catholic community of San Egidio in Rome to reach a Peace Agreement in Mozambique in October 1992 (Sauer, 1993).

Non-governmental peace-makers tend to approach conflicts from a different perspective shared by the traditional diplomacy. The new approach, carrying different names such as Track II, parallel, multi-track, supplemental, unofficial, citizen diplomacy, or 'interactive problem-solving diplomacy' reflect a new conflict resolution culture. This new conflict resolution culture differs from the traditional one with respect to four points.

(a) Goals: The nongovernmental diplomats tend to make a distinction between conflict settlement (by authoritarian and legal processes) and conflict-resolution (by alternative dispute resolution skills). Conflict-resolution aims at an outcome that is self-supporting and stable because it transforms the problem to long-term satisfaction of all the parties (Burton, 1984).

(b) Attitude vis-à-vis the conflicting parties: Track II diplomacy assumes that the motivations and intentions of the opposing sides are benign; this contrasts strongly with the conflict culture of the traditional diplomacy in which distrust and a more negative perception of men prevails. Track II peace-makers further believe that only the conflicting parties can arrive at a solution; in other words, their task consists mainly of facilitating the process. They also try to help understanding of so-called 'irrational behavior' that is disapproved by dominant social norms. From the point of view of the decision-maker, it could be perceived as the best they would do given what they know about the intentions of the other parties and the perceived options. They believe that not only the government, but different layers of the respective society should have a say in the peace-making process. A stable peace ought to be embedded in a democratic environment.

(c) Towards a multi-level and comprehensive approach: Track II peace-makers see their efforts as complementary to the official diplomatic efforts. They believe that peace has to be a multi-level effort and that governmental as well as non-governmental actors should be involved. The latter could be private persons or organisations, and national or transnational institutions of a secular or religious nature. They also believe that a sustainable peace requires a comprehensive approach in which the necessary diplomatic, political, military, economic, cultural and psychological conditions are created.

(d) Peace, a learning process: Track II peace-makers assume that, in many cases, violence and war are the consequence of a wrong assessment of the consequences of war or of a lack of know-how to manage conflicts in a more constructive way. They also believe that warlike or peaceful behavior is learned behavior, and that what is learned could be unlearned through peace-research and peace-education.

Track II diplomacy involves a series of activities such as 1) the establishment of channels of communication between the main protagonists to facilitate exploratory discussions in private, without commitment, in all matters that have or could cause tensions; 2) setting up an organization which can offer problem-solving services for parties engaged in conflicts within and between nations; 3) the establishment of a center to educate people undertaking such work; and 4) the creation of a research center or network in which know-how and techniques are developed to support the above mentioned tasks.

(3) Field-diplomacy

Recently we notice, in several parts of the world, new initiatives for developing what could be called 'field-diplomacy'. This new creative energy has been jolted by three factors. First of all, there is the failure of the traditional diplomacy of governmental and intergovernmental organizations to prevent conflicts (Bauwens and Reychler, 1994).

Important also is the explosion of peace-keeping and humanitarian relief efforts. These efforts absorbing huge budgets do not solve conflicts, and could have been used in an earlier phase of the conflict to prevent violence escalation. Peace-keepers and humanitarians seem to be doomed to Sisyphus efforts, an endless pushing up of peace-building stones against the mountain of human suffering. When the task seems over, the stones role back and they can start again.

A third factor stimulating 'field-diplomacy' is the growing awareness that case studies and especially practical experience in the field would enhance the research work and the training of professional conflict-managers. As compared to other professions, such as lawyers, economists, or physicians who have respectively their law courts, business and patients or dead corpses to try out their theories, most peace-researchers have no practical experience. In addition, certain kinds of information to understand the dynamics of a conflict requires the analyst to be in the field.

The confluence of these factors started the development of a third generation of peace-making approaches: field-diplomacy. It refers to sending non-governmental teams to conflict areas, for an extended period, to stimulate and support local initiatives for conflict prevention. This means, in the first place, creating a network of persons based on trust. Such a network or trust bank is necessary for the observation of the conflict dynamics, for early warning, for an assessment of needs and for taking timely measures. Such measures could consist in keeping the communication channels between the conflicting parties open, creating a favorable climate for the explorations of solutions, developing a constructive conflict culture, keeping account of the total costs and benefits of the conflict, giving advice and evaluating official peace proposals or agreements. An effective contribution to conflict prevention requires a credible presence in the conflict area of professional volunteers who empathize with the concerns, needs and preferences of the communities in which they operate. To be effective they need to earn the respect and the trust of the local opinion-leaders. The organization, the personal and the methods for this kind of peace-making and peace-building are still in an embryonic state.

Among the pioneering organizations, we could mention, for example, 'Witness for Peace' who operated in Nicaragua, and the Swedish 'Peace Monitoring in South Africa' (PEMSA). Some organizations specialize in one task. The 'Peace Brigade International' takes care of the security of threatened activists. 'International Alert', an INGO situated in London, tries to improve conflict prevention by networking the humanitarian organizations, research institutes, peace movements, conflict resolution networks, human rights organizations and the media of each country, and by organizing training sessions in constructive conflict management.

An NGO with ample experience in constructive conflict management is 'Search for Common Ground' based in Washington (1993 Report). It began in 1982 and focused originally on Soviet-American relations. Now it works in the Russian Federation, the Middle East, South Africa, Macedonia and the United States. They develop what they call a common ground approach which draws from techniques of conflict resolution, negotiation, collaborative problem solving and facilitation. The aim is to discover not the lowest but the highest denominator.

In Belgium, a similar NGO called 'International Dialogue' will be created. Recently at the American University of Beirut, a "Training for trainers in conflict-resolution, human rights and peace democracy" was organized by the International Peace Research Association (IPRA), International Alert and UNESCO.

An initiative which could be referred to as a model for field-diplomacy is the 'Centre for Peace, Non-violence and Human Rights' in Osijek, Croatia, very close to the Serbian border. The Peace Center was founded by a small group of people in May 1991. They are 20 altogether, with a core group of five including Croats, Serbs and Moslems. Under the Chairman Katarina Kruhonja, several initiatives were undertaken to help and to protect people against threats. The members of the Center practiced sitting in apartments with Serbs so that they could confront the soldiers who came with orders to evict them. The members of the Center promote human rights, teach methods and strategies of active non-violence, assist in the resettlement of refugees, mediate in conflict situations, etc. The members of the Center were frequently threatened and have been accused by the authorities of being unpatriotic traitors. One of the heads of the local government said that the Center would be destroyed and members would lose their jobs if they would continue their activities.

Several organizations are addressing violence in their own countries. Mr.Upchurch is focusing violence in Los Angeles where in 1,992,857 young men and women were killed in group related violence. Not only at non-governmental but also at governmental levels, field-diplomacy projects are being developed. Recently, the United Nations Volunteers started projects to support the peace process in several conflict areas in the world. Their project in Burundi endeavors to promote peace at a community level through grassroots confidence building measures aimed at enabling the emergence, return and social reintegration of persons in hiding internally displaced people and refugees. Part of the project's efforts will be to shift the dynamic of inter-group relationships from animosity and confrontation to mutual esteem and cooperation. Training in conflict resolution will support the efforts of community leaders for reconciliation, and lay a basis for a national capacity to detect, preempt and defuse future tensions and latent conflict situations. Peace education and promotion of respect for human rights will also be required. The project will also help in building up a fabric of local and international NGO support for the peace process. It will promote peace building efforts and humanitarian relief simultaneously, and it will also practically help in advancing the agenda towards sustainable social recovery and human development. To further the cooperation between all these scattered peace services in the field, Elise Boulding organised in May 1994 in Stensnäs (Sweden) a mini-seminar to prepare the way for the establishment of a 'Global Alliance of Peace Services' (GAPS).

Although, to a great extent, inspired by and using techniques and methods of Track II peace-making, field-diplomacy distinguishes itself in several ways.

First, field diplomacy requires a credible presence in the field. One has to be in the field to help to transform the conflict effectively. A credible presence in the field is needed to build a trust bank or a network of people who can rely on each other. This is necessary to get a better insight into the concerns of the people, the conflict dynamics, and for taking timely measures to prevent destructive action.

Second, a serious engagement is necessary. As the adoption of a child cannot be for a week or a couple of months, it is a long-term commitment. Facilitating a reconciliation process could be depicted as a long and difficult journey or expedition.

Third, field diplomacy favors a multi-level approach of the conflict. The actors in the conflict could be located at three different levels: the top leadership, the middle level leaders and the representatives of the people at the local level. A sustainable peace needs the support of the people. Since they have a major stake in peace, they should be stake holders in the peace-making, peace-keeping and peace- building process.

Fourth, field diplomats believe that peace and the peace process cannot be prescribed from the outside. They favor the elicitive approach. One of the most important tasks of field diplomacy is to identify the peace making potential in the field. The role of field diplomats is to catalyze and facilitate the peace process. Any peace process should be seen as a learning experience for all the people concerned.

Fifth, field diplomats have a broad time perspective, both forward and backward. A sustainable peace demands not only a mutually satisfying resolution of a specific conflict but also a reconciliation of the past and a constructive engagement towards the future.

Sixth, field diplomacy focuses also attention to the deeper layers of the conflict -- the deep conflict. Most peace efforts focus on the upper layers. They are concerned with international and national peace conferences and peace agreements signed with pomp. A lasting peace needs to take care of the deeper layers of the conflict: the psychological wounds; the mental walls; and the emotional and spiritual levels. The latter refers to the transformation of despair in hope; distrust in trust; hatred in love. Our understanding of these soft dimensions is very limited. We have a long way to go.

Seventh, another characteristic of field diplomacy is the recognition of the complex interdependence of apparently different conflicts. Field diplomats do not only reject the artificial distinction between internal and external conflicts, but pay attention to the interdependence of different conflicts in space and time. Many Third World conflicts have not only roots within the country or the region, but also in the North. The conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi cannot be uprooted if not enough attention is paid to the behavior of Belgium or France in the past and present. There is also some fieldwork to be done here and now.

Eighth, field diplomats stress the importance of a more 'integrative approach of the peace process.

Religious Peace-making: Strengths and Weaknesses

1. Strengths

Several factors endow religions and religious organizations with a great and under-utilized potential for constructive conflict management.

First, more than two thirds of the world population belongs to a religion. In 1992, 29.2% of the religious constituency was Christian; 17.9% Muslim; 13% Hindu; 5.7% Buddhist/Shintoist; 0.7% Confucianism/Taoist. Together, all those religious organizations have a huge infrastructure with a communication network reaching to all corners of the world. They have a great responsibility and leadership is expected from them.

Second, religious organizations have the capacity to mobilize people and to cultivate attitudes of forgiveness, conciliation. They can do a great deal to prevent dehumanization. They have the capacity to motivate and mobilize people for a more peaceful world. Religious and humanitarian values are one of the main roots of voluntarism in all countries: doing something for someone else without expecting to be paid for it. They are problem-solvers. They do not seek conflict. But when a need is seen, they want to do something about it. They are a force to be reckoned with (Hoekendijk, 1990).

Third, religious organizations can rely on a set of soft power sources to influence the peace process. Raven and Rubin (1983) developed a useful taxonomy for understanding the different bases of power. It asserts that six different sources of power exist for influencing another's behavior: reward, coercion, expertise, legitimacy, reference, and information.

Reward power is used when the influencer offers some positive benefits (of a tangible or intangible nature) in exchange for compliance. If reward power relies on the use of promises, coercive power relies on the language of threat. Expert power relies for its effectiveness on the influencers' ability to create the impression of being in possession of information or expertise that justifies a particular request. Legitimate power requires the influencer to persuade others on the basis of having the right to make a request. Referent power builds on the relationships that exist between the influencer and recipient. The influencer counts on the fact that the recipient, in some ways, values his or her relationship with the source of influence. Finally, informational power works because of the content of the information conveyed.

To mediate, religious organizations can rely on several sources of power. There could be the referent power that stems from the mediation position of a large and influential religious family. Closely related could be legitimate power or the claim to moral rectitude, the right to assert its views about the appropriateness and acceptability of behavior. Religious leaders could refer to their 'spiritual power' and speak in the name of God. Also important could be the informational power derived through non-governmental channels; groups like the Quakers could use expertise power on the basis of their reputation of fine mediators.

Fourth, religious organizations could also use hard sources of power. Some religious organizations have reward power, not only in terms of promising economic aid, but, for example, by granting personal audiences. Use could also be made of coercive power by mobilizing people to protest certain policies. Think of Bishop James McHugh, warning President Clinton of an electoral backlash for the administration's support of abortion rights at the United Nations population conference in Cairo. Integrative power, or power of 'love' (Boulding, 1990), is based on such relationships as respect, affection, love, community and identity.

Fifth, there is a growing need for non-governmental peace services. Non-governmental actors can fulfill tasks for which the traditional diplomacy is not well equipped. They would provide information not readily available to traditional diplomats; they could create an environment in which parties could meet without measuring their bargaining positions, without attracting charges of appeasement, without committing themselves, and without making it look as if they were seeking peaceful solutions at the expense of important interests. They could monitor the conflict dynamics, involve the people at all levels, and assess the legitimacy of peace proposals and agreements.

Sixth, most can make use of their transnational organization to provide peace services. Finally, there is the fact that religious organizations are in the field and could fulfill several of the above peace services.

2. Weaknesses

Several weaknesses limit the impact of religious organizations in building a world safe from conflict. Several religious organizations are still perpetrators of different kinds of violence. In many of today's conflicts they remain primary or secondary actors or behave as passive bystanders.

Also inhibiting religious peace-making efforts is the fact that, as third parties, religious organizations tend to be reactive players. They seem to respond better to humanitarian relief efforts after a conflict has escalated than to potential violence. A third weakness is the lack of effective cooperation between religious organizations. Most of the peace making or peace-building efforts are uncoordinated. Finally, there is a need for more professional expertise in conflict analysis and management.


Religious organizations have a major impact on inter-communal and international conflicts. During the Cold War, religious as well as ethnic and nationalist conflicts were relatively neglected in the study of international relations and peace research. After the implosion of the communist block, the escalation of nationalist violence was a surprise. Some expect an escalation of religious conflicts as well. Despite an increase in the attention to the religious dimension of conflicts, it remains an under-researched field. There is no useful typology of religious conflicts; no serious study of the impact of religious organizations on conflict behavior; no comparative research of peace-making and peace-building efforts of different religious organizations.

The world cannot survive without a new global ethic, and religions play a major role, as parties in violent conflicts, as passive bystanders and as active peace-makers and peace-builders. Hans Küngs' thesis that there cannot be world peace without a religious peace is right. Representing two thirds of the world population, religions have a major responsibility in creating a constructive conflict culture. They will have to end conflicts fueled by religion, stop being passive bystanders and organize themselves to provide more effective peace services. Religions and religious organisations have an untapped and under-used integrative power potential. To assess this potential and to understand which factors enhance or inhibit joint peace ventures between the Christian religions, but also between the prophetic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the Indian religions (Hinduism and Buddhism) and the Chinese wisdom religions, is an urgent research challenge.


Assefa, Hizkias. 1990. "Religion in the Sudan: Exacerbating conflict or facilitating reconciliation" Bulletin of Peace Proposals, Vol. 21 No. 3.

Bauwens, Werner and Luc Reychler, ed. 1994. The art of conflict prevention. London: Brassey's.

Boulding, Kenneth. 1990. Three faces of power. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.

Burton, John. 1984, Global Conflicts, the Domestic Sources of International Crisis. Maryland:
Wheatsheaf Books.

Ceadel, Martin. 1987. Thinking about peace and war. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fein, Helen, ed. 1992. Genocide watch. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gantzel, Klaus, JürgenTorsten Schwinghammer, Jens Siegelberg. 1993. Kriege der Welt. Ein systematischer Register kriegerischen Konflikte 1985 bis 1992. Bonn: Stiftung Entwicklung und frieden.

Goldfarb, Jeffrey. 1989. Beyond Glasnost: The Post-Totalitarian Mind. Chicago: University of ChicagoPress

Hoekendijk, Liebje. 1990. "Cultural roots of voluntary action in different countries" Associations Transnationales, 6/1990.

Hunter, James Davison. 1991. Culture wars: the struggle to define America. New York: Basic Books.

Huntington, Samuel. 1993. The clash of Civilizations? New York: Foreign Affairs.

Küng, Hans, 1990. Mondiale verantwoordelijkheid. Averbode: Kok-Kampen Altioria.

Princen, Thomas, 1992. Intermediaries in international conflict. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Reychler, Luc, 1979. Patterns of diplomatic thinking. New York: Praeger publishers.

Sauer, Tom. 1992. The Mozambique peace Process, paper, John Hopkins University, Bologna Center 1992/1993.

Search for Common Ground. 1993. Report, Washington DC.

Shenk, Gerald. 1993. God with us? The roles of religion in conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Research Report of the Life and Peace Institute15 December 1993.

Stewart-Gambino, Hannah. 1994. Church and State in Latin America, in Current History, March 1994.

Weigel, George. 1991. "Religion and Peace: An argument complexified," The Washington Quarterly, Spring/1991.

Williamson, Roger. 1992. "Religious fundamentalism as a threat to peace: two studies" Life and Peace Studies, Oktober/1992.

Williamson, Roger. 1990. "Why religion still is a factor in armed conflict?" Bulletin of Peace Proposals, Vol.21, No. 3.


0 Replies to “Division Essay Religion”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *