Mathias Tanner: Interfaith Peacebuilding. Examining the Impact of Interfaith Peacebuilding Initiatives in a Violent Political Conflict with an Ethno-Religious Dimension in Jos, Nigeria

PhD-project, Faculty of Theology, University of Basel


Topic, Question and Propositions

This research project is located in the field of religion, conflict and peacebuilding. In peacebuilding research and practice there is a general lack of knowledge about interfaith peacebuilding and its impact, especially on the grassroots level and in violent political conflicts with an ethno-religious dimension. Therefore, the research question of this project is: What is the impact of interfaith peacebuilding initiatives on the relationships between members of different ethno-religious communities in a violent political conflict with an ethno-religious dimension? The following propositions derived from peacebuilding theory and practice provide the research project’s line of argumentation: (1) If religion plays a role in the conflict and sustainable peace is the goal, religion needs to be included in peacebuilding; (2) religion should also be included in peacebuilding because it offers significant resources that can be beneficial for healing, forgiveness and reconciliation; (3) there is a high probability that interfaith contact increases mutual acceptance; (4) for the most effective interfaith contact and dialogue, ‘diapraxis’ or ‘approaches beyond rationality’ should be included.

Procedure, Objects and Methods

As there is no theoretical framework on interfaith peacebuilding, the research project will generate hypotheses based on a qualitative case study on interfaith peacebuilding initiatives. The criteria for their selection are: location at the grassroots level, a variety of approaches, a common goal of improving relationships between members of different ethno-religious communities, and within a context of violent political conflict with an ethno-religious dimension. A conflict in the city of Jos in central Nigeria was selected for the case study. The conflict is between ‘indigenous’ and ‘settler’ ethnic groups and concerns access to political and economic resources. The ethnic groups in conflict are religiously quite homogenous; their members adhere either to Christianity or Islam. The conflict has been going on for more than 20 years and has caused more than 4000 casualties to date. To get an overview of interfaith peacebuilding initiatives in Jos, a mapping was conducted based on desk research and discussions with peacebuilding scholars and practitioners during an exploratory field visit in March 2014. Four initiatives that apply different approaches to interfaith peacebuilding were selected: (1) interfaith dialogue about religion, (2) interfaith dialogue about the conflict, (3) interfaith education and (4) an interfaith leisure program. These initiatives will be analysed during an extended field visit (July to October 2016) through participant observation, semi-structured interviews with organizers, participants and observers of the initiatives, and analysis of NGO documents.

Objective, Relevance and Contribution

The objective of this research project is to contribute knowledge to the discussion about both the potential and limitations of interfaith peacebuilding initiatives to constructively transform violent conflicts with religious dimensions. Such conflicts are found world-wide and prove especially difficult to resolve because religious issues are often considered untouchable and non-negotiable. The project contributes to the scientific and practical discussion about conditions for the success and failure of interfaith peacebuilding initiatives. It also offers insight into peacebuilding work and gives recommendations for scholars and practitioners on how to: (1) deal with the religious dimension of conflict, (2) organize interfaith peacebuilding initiatives, (3) engage religious topics in the process of conflict transformation, (4) utilize religious peacebuilding methods, (5) combine different peacebuilding approaches and (6) evaluate interfaith peacebuilding initiatives.