How do faith-based organizations influence the work of transnational peacebuilding? How is the political role of such organizations informed by their religious ideas and practices? My book, Faith-Based Organizations in Transnational Peacebuilding (2018, Rowman & Littlefield) investigates this set of questions by examining the work of three faith-based organizations (FBOs) that have pursued distinctive avenues of involvement in conflict resolution, reconciliation, humanitarianism, development, and human rights work. It examines how the meanings that these organizations assign to their religious practices, values, and identities inform their political goals and strategies as transnational organizations. The book addresses debates among scholars of religion and politics, as well as policy debates on peacebuilding and development, by demonstrating the political importance of religious practices in the work of FBOs and evaluating the distinctive strategies that transnational religious organizations employ to navigate religious difference. A central goal of the book is to propose a new way to study religion in international politics that treats “religion” (vis-à-vis specific acts, ideas, and communities) as diverse, sometimes-overlapping, and sometimes-competing ontological discourses.
Some political figures, policymakers, and scholars argue that religion contributes to conflict, while others assert that religious organizations can contribute to peacebuilding in unique ways, through their “cultural proximity” to local populations, their broad religious networks, and/or their holistic approaches to reconciliation. This book intervenes in these debates by developing a reflexive and bottom-up conceptual approach to investigate the meanings and roles of “religion” in the peacebuilding work of three transnational FBOs: (1) Religions for Peace, the world’s largest multi-religious peacebuilding organization known for its conflict resolution and development work in places like Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Syria; (2) the Taizé Community, an ecumenical monastic community striving for reconciliation through prayer and humanitarian aid in Bangladesh, North Korea, Rwanda, and elsewhere; and (3) International Justice Mission, a Christian human rights organization that employs religious practices and legal reform services to rescue and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking and slavery in the Global South. More specifically, I analyze how these groups conceptualize notions of peace, reconciliation, and justice; practices like prayer; and their terms of self-description. I then examine how these meanings shape the transnational work of each organization. Building on critical approaches to the study of religion and politics, the book investigates how these FBOs conceptualize and enact their own identities, values, and practices.
This book makes three primary contributions to debates on religion, transnationalism, and peacebuilding and development. First, it demonstrates the significance of religious practices in defining and furthering the transnational goals of FBOs—through agenda-setting and constituting particular narratives about justice, for instance. It also demonstrates how such practices influence the strategies that FBOs develop for managing conflict. Second, the book reveals how FBO power relations–as manifested through organizational hierarchies and international development norms–constitute the meanings assigned to religious identity, and also when and how FBOs choose to assert particular identities. Third, my book contributes to broader methodological debates about how to study religion in international relations by showing how a reflexive approach to the study of religion and politics—one that does not take the “religious” characteristics of a particular object of study for granted—can open up critical ontological space for examining and analyzing a range of values, identities, and practices for global religious actors.
This book manuscript is based on my dissertation, “Instruments of the Divine? Faith-Based Organizations in International Politics,” which was awarded the 2017 Peace Dissertation Prize by the United States Institute of Peace. In addition, a revised version of one of my dissertation chapters won the 2016 Hayward R. Alker Student Paper Award presented by the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods Group of the American Political Science Association, and was also named the 2015 Best Graduate Student Paper by the Religion and Politics Section of the International Studies Association.