Role of Theology in Peace and Conflict


Theology looks at the nature of God and religious beliefs. It is the fundamental study that looks at the establishment of systematically developed religious beliefs and theory (Mikoski 253). Theology can bring a lot to the table; it plays a great role in conflict and peace building across the world in the form of religion. Religion is an inspiration for violence and then comes back as a great force for peace. There are conflicts and violence that stem from religious differences, whereas some communities and movements that are religion based work for peace (Mikoski 255). There are many relationships, historical information and current issues that relate religion to the aspects of peace and conflict.

The essay will try to relate past occurrences of conflict and peace building to theology. Also, there are some theoretical constructions that relate theology as a means of conflict and peace building. There is a famous construction that the church and the state are the same thing, and the concept of separating them is just theoretical and impractical. With this knowledge and the fact that states are forever in conflicts as well as peace building efforts, it makes sense to observe that theology plays a great role in both. Different states have different theological constructions; which is a catalyst for conflict. At the same time, religions try to portray themselves as institutions of peace where people can find refuge in times of trouble.

This discussion is based on three major theological constructions of religion; Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Christians are the major adherents of the religion that believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came to save humanity (Kavanaugh 36). Muslims on the other hand, are believers and followers of Muhammad; believed to be the prophet of God and they follow the Abrahamic teachings (Kavanaugh 36). The Jews, who observe Judaism, believe they are the self-appointed by God to lead in terms of behavior and ethics; a religion founded on the Torah text (Kavanaugh 36). Theology is vital in establishment, resolution and prevention of conflicts, as well as maintenance and search for peace.

Background of Religion in Relation to Conflict

The histories of these religions show great conflicts at times and great efforts at building peace in others. There have been internal conflicts among the religion followers, as well as external conflicts with other religions. In the former case, one can draw on the split of Christianity that was spearheaded my Martin Luther in the 16th century to bring rise to Lutherans and many other denominations and doctrines that followed in the later years. The Christianity conflict began with Luther’s assertion that the Catholic doctrine of confessing through the priest was wrong and people ought to communicate directly to God (Valcova 1). This was a conflict from within, based on doctrines that ended up splitting the Roman Catholic Church.

The famous crusades of the times preceding the 18th century probably instigated the worst bloody conflicts that were religion based. Christianity had been legalized in 315 AD, and they were trying to assert their supremacy. The Christians, under the stewardship of their Popes, attacked and slain followers of other religions like Jews, Muslims, among others. For instance in 1572, under the command of Pope Pius V., about 20000 Huguenots were killed in France (Schultz 122). In the 17th century, it was the Catholics against the Protestants, with over 30000 Protestants slain by Catholics in the city of Magdeburg, Germany (Schultz 122).

The origin of these conflicts seems to take its entire route in indoctrination and the fight for supremacy of these doctrines. The conflicts that find their baseline in religion can only blame the doctrines of the same. The Christianity case and the unending conflicts they had is a great example of the same.

Moving on to Islam, they have had much of their own. It requires little reference to have a clue about Jihad. It is a doctrine that advocates for Holy War among the Muslims. In the current world, this doctrine has been blamed as stemming terrorism in the world. The famous 9/11 attacks in the United States were blamed on an Islam affiliated group; Al Qaeda, with all the executers being Muslim. The track record of Islam instigated conflicts is as clear as that of medieval Christians. Their main reference; which is a justification for their actions, is the Jihad where they claim to be commissioned by a supreme being. There are countless events globally where Islam has participated in conflicts.

Historians who observed Islam from the beginning assert that persecution for the sake of Islam began as soon as the religion started. In fact, the first century of its existence describes a religion soaked in blood. They targeted non-believers of their theological teachings. Expansionist, imperialist, and unprovoked aggression among the Muslims in their empire were reasons for the bloodshed (Straus 5). It has been asserted that Islam has been the most violent religion in history. With medieval Christianity having reformed to become more tolerant and mainly peaceful, Islam remains in the backdrop of violence with Jihad and Sharia. The teachings of the two doctrines are somehow related to conflict, with the former advocating for war, and the latter being in the lead for oppression.

The Ottoman Empire was built under the expansionist policy of the Islam. The rulers engaged their neighbors and enemies in war for the gain of the empire especially Christians and the Jews (Bozkurt 43). The basis for building the empire was on the construction of a caliphate by the Islamic Turks. The Battle of Vienna in 1683 marked one of the bloodiest wars instigated by Ottoman Muslims, in a bid to win over the westernized people who were exponentially growing in science, technology and capitalism (Bozkurt 71). This was a conflict in a bid to build their empire; to conquer who they believed to be non-believers and either convert them or eliminate them. The spread of Islam is mostly argued in the quantity of its violence, rather than the quality of its arguments and doctrines.

The Jews have had their conflicts too. They have participated in religious conflicts for as much as it can be remembered. One of the most famous is the murder of Dresden, a German city known for culture, beauty and art. Another famous conflict is the Red Terror in Russia in 1917 that left countless lives dead. These are the forms of atrocities that conflicts embroiled in the Jewish religion have brought in the past. This is to mention just a few of them as heinous acts like those have been countless for as long as religions have existed. The belief by the Jews that their religion is supreme above all others, and that everyone should follow their doctrines is the justification of the basis of their conflicts.

In the recent past, one of the most publicized theological conflicts pits the Jews against the Muslims. The actions of Israel against Gaza are a good example of this. One of the first major aims of Al Qaeda (an Islamic extremist group) is wiping out Israel (the major Jewish territory in the world) off the face of the earth (“BBC News”). This is a demonstration of how theological doctrines can scale the heights of conflict. The greatest threat to global peace today is hinged on terrorism. The main form of terrorism in the world today is based on religion. The conflicts between the Muslims and Jews have extended to Christians, with the Christians going out to back the Jews. When the ISIL strikes Israel, Christians from the West led by their political and executive figures come out in support of the Israelites. The tensions that have built over time in the coexistence of different religions have amplified matters in the wake of threats of conflicts.

Religion in Relation to Peace Building

It has not been all about conflict as far as religion is concerned. In fact, matters relating to peace have been in plenty. Religion has been on the fore in the scramble for peace building across the globe. Teachings and doctrines of many religions cite peace as a pillar of coexistence that should be observed at all times. Some famous priests such as Desmond Tutu successfully negotiated for peace in their times to harmonize warring parties. In promotion of understanding and reconciliation, the role of religion and theological teachings cannot be overlooked. In the current world, religion plays a significant role in shaping public opinion, politics and international relations (Mikoski 255). As emotional as it may be, and as sensitive as it has been, religion remains a social pillar that is the illumination for many people.

Peacebuilding is done by either  preventing, managing or resolving conflict (Mikoski 254). To achieve the three tools, religion becomes the best platform. This is much based on the sensitivity of religion. It is considered that nobody wants their religion offended, and thus they should be taught not to offend other people’s religion. It is a fact that most countries in the world house more than one religion and the believers live together as a community. The instances across the globe where religion has been used as the initiative of making peace between warring nations, communities or even regions are countless.

The Alexandria process is one of the clearest religion based plans initiated for peace building efforts. The process brings together religious leaders; Muslims, Jews and Christians, drawn from Israel and Palestine in an effort to bring peace to Holy Land and end the long time Israeli-Palestine conflict(Smock 1). The process was initiated after the Alexandria Declaration in 2002, where religious leaders from the three faiths signed to initiate a process to find lasting peace in the region. This is a great initiative to use religion as a guise in bringing people together for the common good.

United States Institute for Peace (USIP) has been a great aide to organizations that have been established on religious basis to seek reconciliation, peace building and prevention of conflict. The program funds these organizations established on the basis of teaching and promoting peace across the world. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, Madrasa teachers – those who teach the Muslim concepts in the Quran – are sponsored with text books that teach the concepts of peace, reconciliation and mediation. In Sri Lanka, there is an organization that is composed of religious leaders of Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindu who are trained on the concepts of conflict analysis, using religion to promote peace and bring reconciliation (Smock).

There was the Mozambican Civil War of 1977-1992. It is the charitable efforts of the Community of Sant’Egidio; a Christian Catholic community, which led to the mediation between the warring FRELIMO and Mozambican National Resistance. The organization’s role is credited for the realization of peace in Mozambique and closing the civil war chapter (Domingues 25). In 2007, there was an uprising in Burma, best known as the Saffron Revolution against the military government’s decision to remove subsidies on fuel prices. In the ensuing protests, the Buddhist monks in the country coordinated a civil resistance. The entry of the religious group into the protests alerted the world of the challenges the Burmese were facing in the hands of the military regime of Senior General Than Shwe who retired in 2011(Voyce 33).

Iraq has been at war for as long as many can remember. This is not due to lack of peacemaking efforts from all fronts. Many parties have been involved in the peace missions including Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani; an Islamic leader who has been on the fore front in the struggle for peace in the war-torn nation for years. He is a leader who advocates for Muslim democracy in Iraq and is well respected. He is the man who can play the difference in bringing the Sunnis and Shiite together. Political commentators and advocates of peace highly regard Ayatollah as a religious leader who is capable of building the bridges of peace; if his past efforts are anything to go by. He maintains that despite being a Shiite, the Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis have a lot in common to split of theological and cultural disputes (Krisner 18). Through the platform of religion, without the unnecessary interruption of politics, he believes that peace is achievable for the Iraqis.

The role that religion has played in the construction of peace is great. Across the world, there are interfaith organizations that have been created to foster peace among inhabitants. It is important to strengthen these groups as they can be vital in maintaining international peace. Religion is based on doctrines, and there are those that teach peaceful coexistence. These should be used in a bid to ensure that the world remains peacefully habitable (Mikoski 255). The mantle is with religious leaders to teach their followers how to prevent conflict, maintain peace and reconcile when conflict erupts.

The Shape of Today’s Theological Relation to Peace and Conflict

There are a number of views and theoretical constructions that have been investigated to check on the relationship between theology, conflict and peace. Where there is peace, there is lack of conflict and the reverse is true. These examined in the scope, and the role of theology brings out three views; contending modernity, religion and reconciliation, and just-peace practice. These strands in their relation to religion, conflict, and peacebuilding are briefly discussed in this section.

  1. Contending Modernity

This investigates how religion interacts in the modern world with the secular actors in it. It is a tricky but a real challenge that religion has to contend with. In this view, the world is said to have become increasingly secular with each day that passes, and religions must cope with this (Stuber 13). In a bid to seek the balance desired, it is either that conflict erupts or peace building adventures begin. Religion has to withstand the challenges of the secularization of the world, and in this trend, one must accept to pave the way for the other in some instances.

In many instances, the church has had to contend with scientific findings and recommendations. The Catholics and Protestants have been the ones at the height of it. These conflicts with the secular world on issues like birth control, same-sex marriages have been a cause for civil conflicts between states and religions (Stuber 17). Also, the rise of groups based on feminism supported by religion, or opposed by the same has led to international conflicts. In the modern day, the conflicts and peacemaking efforts that result from religion are seen as being more civilized.

  1. Religion and Reconciliation

It is at such a time in the world when figures like John Paul II and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are symbols of peace. Theologians and some famous faith motivated activists in political circles have made rallying calls to the faithfuls to adopt reconciliation as a way of helping the society emerge from terrible situations like genocide, civil war and dictatorial regimes (Svensson 933). In the 1994 Rwandan genocide where 100 days of slaughter saw about a million people die, religion was a great tool for helping the people come back together after the terrible bloodshed.

In the aftermath of bad situations for countries; marred by violence and war, the best way to bring the people back together is through religious leaders. It is through them that forgiveness is preached, and people find a way back to normalcy. Warring groups during such times need to be mediated and reconciled after the tough times. Theological teachings play a great role in the process. Other examples that have seen religion play a role in reconciliation are the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya, the Arab uprising in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, among many other case scenarios.

  1. Just-peace

This is a Catholic construction that looks to change the concept of just-war to just-peace in the pursuit of justice and peace. The concept of this construction is that peace starts with justice. Therefore, if nations, states, regions, societies and communities want to experience the thrill of peace, they must first and foremost serve their people with justice (Duhn 62). Again in stressing on justice, the religious way teaches on forgiveness. Therefore, there is nowhere that conflict features in this teaching. This is a theological teaching that finds its basis in morals and ethics (Duhn 62).

In promoting morals and ethics, the people are encouraged to take peace as the ultimate prize of coexistence and draw no positives from the rigors of war and conflict. The radical transformations of the modern world maintain a high threshold for the religions to retain their identities. Therefore, they must evolve and undergo various alterations in a bid to move with time. The concept of just-peace has come at such a time that an alteration to the doctrine of just-war needed to be eliminated (Duhn 69).


Theology has played a great role in instigating conflicts, finding resolutions for them as well as preventing others. At the same time, maintenance of peace and building of the same when it has gone missing can be attributed to religion. Violent conflicts world over contain religious elements that are tied to ethno-national, economic, territorial, inter-state, cultural and other issues (Mikoski 253).The role that Ayatollah is playing in Iraq is the search for peace and maintaining the peace that has already been realized since the elimination of Sadam Hussein.

Religions, just like governments are not expected to come to an end anytime soon. The role they play today shall either increase or remain the same. The latter is quite difficult, if going by the evolution of religions one can draw conclusions. The changes that have occurred during these times are incredible. While governments usually use force and arms in search for domineering peace, religion comes in as a safe player in the name of dialogue. In many cases, political and national leaders call upon their religious counterparts to initiate dialogue in search for peace at times of conflict.

Religions have been known to exchange supremacy barbs in several territories, occasioning war and conflict. In the world today, sections of Christians regard Islam as the most violent religion of all times. The latter would argue their case and theologically prove that they are not violent, but their actions are mandated by their religious doctrines. There are those who remain neutral such as the atheists, and their take could probably be the abolishment of all religions to find peace. However, over the years religions have become peaceful, especially the Christians who have greatly transformed from the times of medieval Christianity. The role of theology in peace building reconciliation and conflict can never be underestimated.


Works Cited

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Krisner, John. “Who Can End Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite Violence?”. The Christian Science Monitor. N.p., 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2016.

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Straus, Scott. “Triggers Of Mass Atrocities: Focus On Jihad”. PaG 3.3 (2015): 5. Web.

Stuber, Daniel. “Why America Needs Religion: Secular Modernity And Its Discontents”. Choice Reviews Online 34.07 (2007): n. pag. Web.

Svensson, I. “Fighting With Faith: Religion And Conflict Resolution In Civil Wars”. Journal of Conflict Resolution 51.6 (2007): 930-949. Web.

Valčová, Katarína. “The Theology Of The Worship Service According To Martin Luther”. E-Theologos. Theological revue of Greek Catholic Theological Faculty 3.1 (2012): n. pag. Web.

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