In the World
In a world in which religion is often seen as, at worst, the root cause of violence, at best, a driving, escalating force; in a world in which the vast majority of humankind claims some allegiance to or association with a faith tradition – in this world in which we work at peacemaking, it is critical that we pay attention to religion. To do otherwise is to remove from our toolbox a tool that has the potential to add immeasurably to the strength and resilience of peacemaking communities of practice. To enter into trainings with people of profound, ancient and diverse faith traditions without a consciousness and knowledge of that aspect of their being and its expression in cultic, linguistic, social, cultural and even political norms and practices would debilitate the training, strain our credibility and compromise the results.
In Our Work
Our work is often, more often than not, with groups that are multi-faith. Rather than regarding religion as a system of meaning that we need to dispense with if peace is to be found, we bring it into the middle of training, exposing it as beloved and inviting its probing through the dual lenses of ‘What drives violence?’ and ‘What makes for peace?’ Our methodology is experiential and elicitive – drawing out from people what they already know, connecting the dots and building skills from within the context of their own narratives. There is nothing in their landscape that is not under interrogation through those dual lenses – and that includes religion. There is no attempt to white-wash religion of its errors, excesses and abuses. What of our religious traditions, texts and practices facilitate the work of the peacemakers we want to be? What gets in the way? How do we read our texts and our traditions in ways that are not simply sacred- text cherry-picking?
The result is trained trainers able to pack their Bhagavad Gita, their Qur’an or their Bible in their toolboxes as effective instruments in the transforming of the negative energies of violent conflict into the positive energies of social and political change. At times, we work explicitly with faith communities engaging them in the creation of peacemaking tools appropriate to their religious tradition and practice.
In our experience, we have yet to encounter a situation of violent conflict that can be regarded as truly rooted in religion. Though there may be many layers to peel back, the roots tend to be all about economics and power and their maldistribution amongst populations at risk. Divisions occur, are created, in situations of unfairness, divisions that are then exacerbated and sharpened with the addition of systems of meaning and kinship – adding spiritual and identity elements and thus recruitment potential. It is important to recognise religious motivations to both violence and to peace.
We meet people where they are – as human beings with a collection of identifiers and motivations, including religious ones – recruiting the whole person into the work of peace. We do not ask people to set aside their religion – or their tribe or political affiliation – in order to participate in a training or direct action. We welcome a diversity of spiritual practices and expressions as enriching elements to our trainings, not distractions or deviations from the work at hand.
Our Board and Our Constituency
We also welcome a diversity of people to our board and broader constituency, including a diversity of religious commitment – whether of other faiths or no faith. We deliberately cultivate an understanding of the potential life-giving role of religion inherent in the work of Partera – even as we acknowledge the ways in which religion has been used to oppress and divide. We not only bring religion into our deliberations and work together, but plumb its depths for expressions of meaning and hope regarding peacemaking of all kinds. For many who occupy the concentric circles of participation in and support for the work of Partera, religious faith and tradition support their passion for peacemaking.
People are invited to express their motivations and passions; and faith talk is not excluded. Our board and other meetings reflect the religious inclinations/spiritual practices of those present. Christians give space to Muslims and Hindus, Muslims give space to Christian and Jewish voices; atheists and agnostics are invited to experience and acknowledge without being required to accept or validate. Within our organisational structures and practices, we strive to model what we do in zones of conflict: nurture respect, diversity and inclusion in the service of peace. All are invited to contribute from their perspective on the world and work of peace.