Culture & Religion - Tool for Conflict Management & Resolution

Asianalyst
5 min readNov 27, 2022

If human security can be considered a coin, then peace and conflict would represent two sides of it. Both are contrary but exist side to each other. As a result, for peace to prevail and gain prominence among the target populace, conflict management and conflict resolution must precede any attempt made to bring peace to the conflict environment. In that regard, culture and religion will play a key role and shall remain primary indicators for both devising politico-security-developmental policies to ensure deconfliction and gauge the long-term successes of those policies and programs.

Please note that as a matter of principle, I have not included references to any specific events of conflicts, groups involved, their faith, activities, and the region in my speech. Here, the objective is to provide insights that I gleaned from years of research and field activities on security issues.

Culture & Religion: What are they?

Culture and Religion are not the same. Culture is a superset. Culture may give birth to certain religious practices or may continue to hold within a diverse set of beliefs emphasising spiritualism and tolerance. There remains a possibility that the culture may provide the foundations and necessary history for intolerance and procedural aspect of religion. Rituals are culture-centric and form part of community practices. Religion may or may not hold all the rituals in its fold. Imagine, culture as the Centrepoint in a circle, and religion as a sphere revolving around it along a circular trajectory. As religion moves away from the centre, towards the periphery, it will shed some of the rituals inherited from its base culture. Culture is temporal, Religion is spatial. In some cases, religion as a foreign entity may get introduced to the native culture assimilates and thereby evolve as part of it, together contributing to the identity of a community or group. So, religion plays an important role in the formation of an identity. The symbols, rituals, signages, and accoutrements enforce the religious identity in our daily lives.

Now, all religions have some form of dogma. These dogmas are either picked up from the base culture or may have formed in the process of development of religion, handed down to the followers by the founding head, and recorded in written form. The followers are expected, and in some cases, forced to accept them without question. The expectations and enforcement can be either via state action or collective action of a community or a society. It leads to inflexibility and intolerance. It must be remembered that dogma is often vague and are open to interpretation by various religious scholars from different schools of thought and sub-cultures functioning within the ambit of a religion.

Is religion a factor or a cause behind a Conflict?

Culture and religion may or may not be the cause of a conflict. The relationship between culture, religion, and conflict is relative, consequential, and bidirectional. They either enforce or weaken each other with relative influence. They can either provide a ready platform or shall become one of the many factors to trigger a conflict. Often, they are used to provoke sentiments, trigger emotions, and mobilize masses on the ground.

Religious extremists and fundamentalists act as catalysts contributing to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling the divine command or wishes. A handful of extremists or individuals with fundamentalist views will prevail with the silence of the moderate majority. They call for divine intervention, claim its presence to the crowd, and inform about incentives to them, before committing mass action.

In some cases, aggressive advocacy activities of religion can provide fertile ground for the creation of a conflict. There are countries where the dominant majority faith, enjoying direct or indirect state and institutional support, may sow seeds of discord and conflict by denying space for other religions to flourish. Also, there is a historical aspect and the associated transgenerational trauma that will provide the necessary collective memory and consciousness to keep alive and trigger friction between faiths within a particular geographical area.

Furthermore, some Religious nationalists try to create a national identity around a particular faith tied to the culture of the land. In this case, they form the majority faith of the country and use state and societal might to enforce religious conformity in an “embrace or perish” mode triggering a humanitarian crisis, often resulting in forced exodus and refugees seeking asylum in other countries.

Can Culture and Religion act as a tool for conflict management and conflict resolution?

In my observation, culture and religion are the most fundamental elements that should remain at the epicentre of conflict management and resolution mechanism. No number of military operations, law enforcement, and developmental activities can provide a long-term solution to a conflict. Indeed, depending upon the type and nature of conflict, one may argue about the importance of economics in ensuring that sparring sides shall push their differences and focus on securing the benefits of development. However, by this, they ignore the intrinsic motivations, sentiments and the change in human psychology that created the appetite for conflict in the first place. Those hidden sentiments will resurface in a different form in future. Hence it is required to address the issue at the psychological level through dedicated actions.

We have all heard from global media about the negative aspects of religion and religious groups. However, they ignore the humongous social service networks commanded by different groups functioning under the ambit of a religion. These multidimensional religious networks, already engaged in humanitarian activities, if used for bridging the differences that exist between various religious groups via a culture-centric approach grounded on human psychology, can play an important role in deconfliction.

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