The arts of peacebuilding: exploring religious dimensions

By Theodora Hawksley
August 16, 2013

In recent years, practitioners engaged in the fields of mediation, conflict resolution and peacebuilding have begun to explore the role arts can play in helping communities to move from protracted conflict to just and sustainable peace.

Engagement with the arts can help communities and peacebuilders to understand and represent conflicts without being analytically reductive, and to express their hopes and aspirations for the future.

As conflict transformation specialist Joh Paul Lederach points out in his book Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace (2005), the arts have the capacity for building ‘moral imagination’, and developing people’s ability to transcend cycles of violence while still living in them.

Recent years have also demonstrated that religious agents, identities and narratives play a significant part in contemporary conflicts. As well as the role religious self-understandings play in longstanding conflicts such as that in Israel-Palestine, it is also becoming clear that resurgent fundamentalisms are significant factors in the growing instability in states such as Nigeria and Pakistan.

The importance of religion appears to be growing, rather than declining, as states become more economically developed. Practitioners involved in peacebuilding, mediation and conflict resolution cannot overlook the importance of religion for building just and sustainable peace, and nor can they focus peacebuilding efforts on eliminating religion as an obstacle to peace: religious agents, identities and narratives need to be engaged with as resources for peace as well as forces for conflict.

In light of the rising interest in peacebuilding through the arts, and the rising significance of religion for the practice of peacebuilding, a number of us have been seeking to bring together artists, theologians and peacebuilders for a series of workshops that will explore the significance of religion in peacebuilding through the arts.

It has been our hope that these workshops will result in the publication of an edited book on the theme of religion, peacebuilding and the arts. In general terms, the purpose of the book would be to encourage the development of arts-resourced approaches to peacebuilding, and to promote greater understanding of the role of religious agents, identities and narratives in the making of conflict and peace.

In more specific terms, the book would be intended as a toolkit for all practitioners of peacebuilding, mediation and conflict resolution who are engaged in arts-based peacebuilding, particularly in situations of conflict to which there is a significant religious dimension.

The workshops have been taking place in Edinburgh and Notre Dame as follows, involving the collaboration of a range of participants, facilitated by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame (USA) and the Centre for Theology and Public Issues at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland). They have been on Tuesday 23 October 2012, on Visual Arts (Edinburgh), 19–20 April 2013, Music and Literature (Notre Dame) and the most recent one from 15–16 August 2013, Theatre and Film (Edinburgh).

There will be no immediate reporting from the latest gathering in Edinburgh, but material will be shared on an agreed basis, in discussion with the participants, and will of course contribute to the research and publication project.

The University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies is one of the world's leading centers for the study of the causes of violent conflict and strategies for sustainable peace. Kroc Institute faculty and fellows conduct interdisciplinary research on a wide range of topics related to peace and justice.

The Centre for Theology and Public Issues ( promotes reflection and research on important public issues to which Christian theology can make a constructive contribution. Founded in 1984 as the world's first centre for research on public theology, CTPI is a unique meeting place for theologians, social scientists, church leaders, policy makers and the public. Carrying on the University of Edinburgh's tradition of linking academic work to the surrounding community, CTPI is rooted in its Scottish context and oriented towards the wider global setting. CTPI has close connections with a wide range of local, national and international groups and institutions.


(c) Theodora Hawkseley is a postdoctoral researcher at New College, Edinburgh, and works with the Centre for Theology and Public Issues through the Peacebuilding Through Media Arts Project, where she focuses on peacebuilding in the Catholic Church in Ireland in the wake of the abuse crisis. Her PhD was on ecclesiological ethnography, and her other interests include Systematic Theology, the Second Vatican Council and Christian Mysticism. Some of her papers and reviews may be accessed here:

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.