Religions have potential for peace
Religious insights can offer immense resources for peacemaking, Professor Johan Galtung, a pioneer in the discipline of peace studies, has said in a lecture at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva.
Galtung, 81, was born in Norway and founded the Peace Research Institute Oslo in 1959. This has been described as the world’s first academic centre devoted to peace studies.
Since then he has acted a mediator in many international conflicts, and is known for developing the idea of “structural violence”.
“Religions are enormous reservoirs of experience,” Galtung said in his 22 May lecture sponsored by the World Council of Churches, Globethics.net, and the Galtung Institute for Peace Theory and Peace Practice.
Galtung is the co-author of Globalising God: Religion, Spirituality and Peace. The book explores how religions relate to spirituality, understood as an inner sense of something beyond the self, and peace, a pattern of nonviolence and equity.
The insights of religions can also serve to judge political developments, suggested Galtung, referring to current tensions in the European Union.
“Germany is acting against a very important religious principle,” he said. “Inequality in economics is incompatible with peace. Germany has forced other countries into debt bondage. Here we have something to preserve, the egalitarian peaceful tradition.”
In a lecture that covered a range of religions – from Judaism to African indigenous religions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Polynesian religions, as well as humanism – Galtung described the insights of religions as a “tool box” in the search for peace.
“Their comparative advantage is their transcendence perspective,” said Galtung, who described himself as a “pagan with Buddhist spots”.
“The kind of peace message I try to extract is a message against structural violence, from the insights of Islam, and against direct violence, from those of Buddhism,” said Galtung.
He recalled that he is sometimes accused of only wanting “to take the best from all the faiths”, leaving others to deal with the rest. “There is some truth to that,” he acknowledged.
In his welcome to Galtung, the Rev. Dr Hielke Wolters, WCC associate general secretary, recalled that the theme of the forthcoming WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, Korea, 2013, is “God of life, lead us to justice and peace“.
Religious questions often play a role in peace building, but also in justifying and inflaming conflicts, he warned. However, “the God of life inspires us to work for justice and peace,” Wolters said.
In a response to Galtung, Professor Christoph Stückelberger, the founder and executive director of Globethics.net, said the peace researcher had not addressed enough the “instrumentalisation” of religion by economic, political, racist, sexist and ethnic powers.
Still, Stückelberger warned politicians against attempting to banish religions from the public sphere because they are seen as a source of conflict.
“If you exclude religion, you don’t solve the problem, you just postpone it,” said Stückelberger. “Often it comes back in violent and fundamentalist ways, so it is better to integrate it now.”
Globethics.net is a global network that promotes the exchange of insights and research on ethics and values.