Insightful Quotes
"Addressing groups primarily as religious groups creates stereotyping. It reinforces the view that a particular ideology must be defended creating difficulties in negotiations. When you look at civils society as a whole with different identities, people become part of a larger set of questions where political issues matter."
Insightful Quotes
"Religion is often abused as an effective narrative for mass mobilization for secular, often quite material purposes. We need to harness the uniting force of religion."
Virtual Session 2

Spoilers or Legitimate Interlocutors? Engaging Religious Actors in Peacebuilding

The session addressed the ambivalent role of religious actors in peacebuilding. After 9/11, it was mainly violent religious extremism that received ample attention in policy practice and academic research. In recent years, the positive potential of religious actors in peacebuilding has been increasingly harnessed. However, approaches are not always coherent and new dilemmas arise. The parallel session addressed some pertinent questions with regard to examples such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Main Questions
  • Under which circumstances can religious actors be considered legitimate interlocutors in peacebuilding, crisis prevention and mediation activities?

  • Which responsibilities and advantages do religious actors and institutions have, particularly in contexts shaped by state weakness or even absence of state authority and perceived illegitimacy of governments?

  • How should radical groups and religious violent actors be dealt with in the context of peace processes?

Key Theses, Thoughts and Ideas

It was pointed out that two motivations matter for extremist armed groups to enter into peace negotiation: Firstly, the assessment that continuing armed fight will cause more losses than gains to them. Secondly, the vision that by diversifying tactics they might be better able to achieve their objectives than by using force. Furthermore, putting religious actors into baskets like “liberal” or “constructive” and “extremist” or “hard to reach” is not very helpful as these categories all depend on political and social dynamics, which change over time.

With regard to questions around legitimacy, it was stressed that religious actors enjoy a high level of trust and credibility in their societies. Their moral authority provides them with a remarkable convening power, which can help bring conflict parties to a table. Religious actors also profit from a type of “clerical immunity” in conflicts settings, which serves an important purpose in identifying and accessing hard-to-reach actors.


Hans-Joachim Giessmann
Berghof Foundation, Germany
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Heike Thiele
Federal Foreign Office, Germany
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Tahir Aziz
Conciliation Resources, United Kingdom
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Thomas Kuller
Misereor, Germany
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Current Topics

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The FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum is a series of events on current and overarching challenges and trends in peacebuilding. With the Peacebuilding Forum, we want to provide future-oriented impulses for the development of peacebuilding and strengthen the visibility and importance of the policy field in its entirety.


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