Direktlänk till inlägg 17 november 2017

Stories are Prerequisites for Peacebuilding

Av Lena P - 17 november 2017 14:41

“Rejecting a dialogue with religion would be a cultural and intellectual error.” 
– Nicholas Sarkozy

Having studied literary science, I like to think about occurrences in terms of stories, and I agree with scholars such as J. C. D. Clark who say that the secular narrative has failed [1]. It has not fulfilled its promises but has instead brought destruction, capitalism, competition, injustice, poverty, climate change etc. In many former colonies, secularism equaled – and still equals – totalitarian oppressing regimes such as the apartheid regime in South Africa. In the 1990s, following more than three centuries of colonialism and forty-two years of apartheid, South Africa was faced with the arduous process of transition to democracy.

It was the secular state that had written the laws which promoted racial discrimination. When the South African state and the apartheid system fell apart in 1990, the people of South Africa needed stability. The old narrative had failed, people were disillusioned, and they were craving for something to believe in, because uncertainty is very hard bear [2]. As scholar Karen Armstrong says, human beings are “meaning-seeking creatures; we crave narratives that have a beginning and an end” [3]. Stories help us make sense of what has happened, and when a state and its government fails, people will inevitably turn to something else. They will look for better narratives, and religion can provide precisely that, stories about goodness, hope, forgiveness and reconciliation. People need something that not only speaks to the intellect, but something that speaks to the whole human being, including the heart. However, the purely intellectual secularization theorists, not having understood this need for stories, invented a dichotomy between the religious and the secular according to Professor William Cavanugh. It is “part of a broader Enlightenment narrative”, which has also been promoting “the myth of violence” in religion [4], a myth that has made secularists unaware of the fact that religion also has tremendous peacebuilding potential. 


Nelson Mandela, even though part of the new secular government, must have seen this potential and appointed archbishop Desmond Tutu as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Approximately 80% of black people in South Africa are Christians [5], and they are Christians even though some white Churches were involved in the oppression. If their faith, despite this fact, still consoled them, then I believe it cannot be ignored. Apart from the fact that South Africa was deemed a Christian nation, religious institutions were already there and had an effective system of communication [6]. In South Africa they were able to break down the binary oppositions by letting the secular and the religious work together in the TRC. Any society is both religious and secular, and both parties want to preserve human rights. The mistake in South Africa was that they were not clear about the role of religion and the agenda of the church. It was, however, not the church’s aim to proselytize, but to offer stability, hope and a narrative about forgiveness and reconciliation. Erin Wilsons says that it is not necessarily always true that the secular provides the best narrative for pursuing freedom, justice, equality and inclusion [7].


What happened was that Desmond Tutu was able to draw on the Christian tradition’s power to articulate a sense of moral and solidarity in people [8], but he also very wisely mixed the African concept of Ubuntu with Christian ideals, and made use of what Erin Wilson calls “the influence of religious ideas, imagery, values and narratives around community and identity” [9]. Religion is about existential questions [10], questions to which secularism has no answers. Even secular government employees such as former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has realized that religion can and must not be ignored, and former Prime Minister in the UK Tony Blair says: “You can’t understand the modern world unless you understand the importance of religious faith.” [11] Religion has components that promote peace, reconciliation, kinship and reintegration [12], elements that, combined with a strong and charismatic leader such as Desmond Tutu whose example people are willing to follow, led to the success story of South Africa. What happened there was not a religious revolution; they did not try to take over the whole society.


Religion is, however, part of their culture, and to my mind Desmond Tutu was right in looking for stories in culture and tradition. If the context is Christian, use Christianity in peacebuilding, as it provides people with a forgiving and hopeful narrative. Tutu said that “ntil we can forgive, we remain locked in our pain and locked out of the possibility of experiencing healing and freedom, locked out of the possibility of being at peace.” [13] As they share many values when it comes to concepts of peace, forgiving, reconciliation and inclusiveness, he was wise enough to combine African culture with Christianity. Religions also have long experience with stories about suffering and hope, stories that can ease the burden for those who suffer by providing the insight that they are not alone in their suffering – they can recognize themselves in the stories [14]. I believe stories can alter people’s collective memories of past injustices, and I would like to define “collective memories” as precisely the stories about what happened that people remember and tell each other. Religion also provides rituals and symbols that speak to the unconscious, just like stories do. These narratives of forgiveness together with the official apology from Mandela about the wrongdoings, were not simply about justice but also about recognition of the hardships that black people had suffered, and they were important for shaping the nation’s new identity [15]


All things considered, I believe that the transition from the apartheid system was peaceful [16] precisely because it involved both religion as well as African culture and tradition in the peacebuilding process. It was groundbreaking in that sense. The role of religion in peacebuilding has previously been underrated, considering that it is now increasing across the globe. One example of this is South African Michael Lapslay who has also been involved in the reconciliation process in Sweden between the indigenous Sami people and the Church of Sweden. He confirms my thesis that people’s and religion’s stories are prerequisites for reconciliation [17]. We see the tendency in Europe today that without religious nationalism, secular nationalism turns into far right-wing nationalism, aiming to oppress groups of people, just like apartheid did.


[1] J. C. D. Clark. “Secularization and Modernization: The Failure of a ‘Grand Narrative’” in The Historical Journal, 55, 1 (2012), pp. 161-194 
[2] Peter L Berger. ”The Desecularization of the World: A Global overview”, in The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics. 1999. Ed. Peter L. Berger. 
[3] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/aug/26/comment.mainsection6
[4] William Cavanaugh quoted in L. Mavelli and F. Petito. 2012. “The Postsecular in International Relations: An Overview” Review of International Studies 38(5): 931-942 
[5] https://www.state.gov/h/drl/rls/irf/2006/71325.htm 
[6] Mark Juergensmeyer. “The New Religious State” in Comparative Politics, July 1995. 
[7] L. Mavelli and F. Petito. 2012. “The Postsecular in International Relations: An Overview” Review of International Studies 38(5): 931-942 quoted in https://religionfactor.net/2014/09/01/secularism-security-and-the-limits-of-the-state-the-displacement-crisis-and-the-role-of-religion/#_ftn4 
[8] Jürgen Habermas, Tony Blair, Régis Debray. “Secularism’s Crisis of Faith” in NPQ Fall 2008 
[9] Erin Wilson. “After Secularism: Rethinking Religion in Global Politics” 
[10] http://www.peacebuildinginitiative.org/index9aa2.html?pageId=1827 
[11] https://globalengage.org/attachments/499_albright-faith-and-diplomacy.pdf and http://www.staff.amu.edu.pl/~ewa/Habermas,%20Notes%20on%20Post-Secular%20Society.pdf 
[12] http://www.peacebuildinginitiative.org/index9aa2.html?pageId=1827 
[13] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/22/archbishop-desmond-tutu-sorry-hard-to-say and http://www.overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/unit.php?id=65-24E-3 
[14] Megan Shore and Scott Kline “The Ambiguous Role of Religion in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in Peace & Change, Vol. 31, No. 3, July 2006 
[15] Danielle Celermajer and Joanna Kidman. ”Embedding the Apology in the Nation’s Identity” in The Journal of the Polynesian Society. 121(3), 2012. 
[16] https://www.usip.org/publications/1995/12/truth-commission-south-africa 
[17] Karl-Johan Tyrberg ”Försoningsprocessen mellan Svenska kyrkan och samerna: Initiativ och insatser 1990-2012” in Vitboken om relationerna mellan Svenska kyrkan och samerna

#religion #peacebuilding #peace #fred #southafrica #sydafrika


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