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Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions


Edited by

Irfan A. Omar and Michael K. Duffey











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(IAO) To Farah for her unfailing support


(MKD) To Mary Beth and our four children, my teachers all


This book is the result of a joint project between the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking and the Department of Theology. In conjunction with planning this book, the editors collaborated with the Office of the Provost to organize a one-day symposium on the topic of “Peacemaking and Nonviolence in World Religions” held at Marquette University on October 3, 2013. The Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr William Welburn, generously provided funding for the symposium for which we are very grateful. The Center for Peacemaking provided additional funds to host the visiting scholars. The symposium was partially funded by a grant from the United States Institute of Peace, and by the Edward D. Simmons Religious Commitment Fund from Marquette University Office of Mission and Ministry. The staff of the Center for Peacemaking, Patrick Kennelly (director), Carole Poth (associate director), and Chris Jeske (office associate) gave their invaluable assistance in planning and organizing the day-long event. Other Marquette colleagues who participated as session chairs include Abderrahman Atifi, Pranavkumar Achar, Sarah Bond, Bronwyn Finnigan, Duane Loynes, Mark Thiel, and Jing Zhai; we are deeply grateful to each for their contribution.

We would like to acknowledge additional support given by the Vice Provost for Research and Dean of the Graduate School Dr Jeanne Hossenlopp. Special thanks are due to Dr Rick Holz, Dean of the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, for his opening remarks at the symposium and for his overall enthusiasm for the project. Numerous members of the greater Milwaukee community were in attendance at the symposium to whom we are in debt both for their physical presence and questions and comments. As we subsequently discovered, this collaboration between academics and community leaders and peace activists was immensely inspiring to many of the undergraduate students present at the event.

We are enormously grateful to each of the authors for putting so much effort into this project and for keeping to the deadlines. They not only graciously accepted our invitation to write a chapter on the topic from the perspective of their tradition, and present a summary version at the symposium, they also gave freely of their time to make revisions and offer suggestions for improvement. We thank the reviewers of the manuscript that were assigned by Wiley for their valuable comments and questions, which helped us frame the issues better. Several Marquette students helped at various stages of the editorial process; we would like to acknowledge the assistance given by Jakob Rinderknecht and Marisola Xhelili. Finally, we are deeply grateful to the folks at Wiley, Georgina Coleby, Lisa Sharp, and Ben Thatcher for their professionalism and for entertaining our numerous queries to each of which they replied promptly and graciously. Thanks to Camille Bramall and Sherleena Sandou for shepherding the manuscript through the final stages before printing. We also thank Rebecca Harkin for her willingness to consider our initial proposal and for accepting it, thus making this book possible.


Irfan A. Omar and Michael K. Duffey

For several years we have sought a book like this one for our courses in comparative religion and peace studies. We wanted a book that would introduce the teachings on peace, violence, and contemporary peacemaking in world religions. We combed the literature, but no book met this need. We found articles that did deal with aspects of religious violence and peacemaking. Studies of religious violence vastly outnumbered those of religious peacemaking.1 The tragic fact of our times is pervasive violence. The troubling reality is that so much research focuses on the relationship between religion and violence. There is no end to the claim that religion fosters violence. Religion has become the whipping boy for much of the world’s violence. But one finds hardly a word about religions’ aspirations for peace and engagement in peace activism.

This book does not ignore violence committed in the name of religion. Analyses of case studies of seeming religious violence often conclude that violence is strongly driven by ethnic animosities. In Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics attacked each other for economic and political reasons: Protestants possessed the wealth and wanted to be part of Great Britain; Catholics wanted to be part of the Republic of Ireland. Sunnis and Shi‘as in Iraq feud over control of the state. At the time of India’s struggle for independence, some Muslims feared being overrun by “Hindu” rule and demanded a separate nation, Pakistan. All of these were about economic and political control, often initiated by and for the benefit of the political and economic elite, having more to do with ethnic rather than religious identity. In some situations politicians invoked a “threat to religion” card to galvanize support.

The claim is often made that religion incites violence. Some lay the blame for violence at the feet of religion, while others argue that it arises due to particular interpretations of sacred texts. From the perspective of the former, religions employ violence to protect the integrity of their faith and to punish those who they believe threaten their faith. Indeed, religious institutions have engaged in deadly violence and people continue to do so in the name of religious teachings and institutions. The historical records and narratives of religious traditions are tainted with blood. Arvind Sharma describes the salutary role of religion, observing that since the Enlightenment there has been a “neglect of the emotional and transcendental dimensions of life” (Sharma 2010, xii). He describes religious authority as “seek[ing] to reclaim religion in the public square.” But Sharma also speaks of the corruption of religion as manifested in forms of fundamentalism. For fundamentalists, sacred texts are the literal word of God and their authority is “absolute.” Fanatics go further, convinced that those who do not share their religious views must be eliminated (Sharma 2010, xii). No religion is immune from fundamentalism and fanaticism, but in the present, some have displayed fanaticism more than others. In religions tied to textual authority this is especially dangerous.

This book is motivated by the need to place the meaning of peace, violence, nonviolence, and peacemaking in particular religious contexts. We focus on seven religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and the Native American Osage Nation.2 The book offers a wealth of information to readers from a variety of backgrounds and levels – from undergraduates to the general public reader who want to understand the role of religion in this violent age. We have carefully crafted the book, with each chapter unfolding in a similar fashion:

We have assembled a group of scholars who have plumbed their religious traditions to describe peace, peacemaking, and violence. They include (in alphabetical order) Joshua Ezra Burns (Marquette University), assistant professor of Hebrew Bible; Sin Yee Chan (University of Vermont), associate professor of Chinese philosophy and Confucianism; Michael K. Duffey (Marquette University), associate professor of Christian ethics; Kalpana R. Mohanty (Gandhigram Rural University, India), a scholar of Hinduism, an educator and social justice activist; Irfan A. Omar (Marquette University), associate professor of Islam and interreligious dialogue; Eleanor Rosch (University of California-Berkeley), professor of Buddhist psychology, and Tink Tinker (Iliff School of Theology), professor of American Indian cultures and religious traditions, and an enrolled member and traditional spiritual leader of the Osage Nation in the United States. The order of essays in the book does not follow the usual historical/chronological arrangement. Instead, we have chosen to proceed in the reverse order, starting with Islam and ending with the Native American tradition. This order made sense due to the oft-argued point that the explicitly text-based Western religions are often grounded within a dogmatic theological and historical framework that makes them more prone to sacralized violence (Ellens 2003; Hoffman 2006). At the same time, it seems fitting that the chapter on Native American tradition appears last as it raises critical questions regarding the very categories that sustain the notion of world religions. The Native traditions are neither text-bound nor do they claim the kind of universality deemed intrinsic to the religions generally assembled under the banner of world religions. We hope that reading this chapter last will help the reader see things through a wider lens.

Below are the summary introductions from each of the seven chapters.

Irfan Omar’s study of peacemaking and the challenge of violence in Islam has led him to believe that peace is at the heart of Islam. The word “Islam” means surrender in peace to the will of God. Since the Islamic tradition has been generally characterized as violent in Western/Christian accounts, in Chapter 1, he examines the charge that the Qur’an promotes violence. His admonition is that texts must be read without ideological agendas in order for them to be efficacious to a reader in achieving basic objectives of faith. This leads him to a careful analysis of jihad in the Qur’an and Islamic history, explaining its various meanings and applications. Omar argues that it does not make sense to understand jihad as a violent enterprise, as the Qur’an sees it primarily as spiritual struggle. Even justified armed struggle or “just war” – at least from the quranic perspective – may not be termed a jihad. He questions the wisdom of religious extremists being given a “loudspeaker” by the media, in the form of excessive coverage of their views and activities. The extremist groups welcome this attention and are eager to take advantage of the air time and print space to broadcast their message of violence and hate. The chapter also treats readers to a very rich examination of quranic teachings on the attributes of peacemakers: reconciliation, forgiveness, patience, and nonviolence. The challenge is to recognize that violence – even when it is “permitted” by the Qur’an for self-defense only and as a last resort – is increasingly unnecessary and even counterproductive in achieving peace.

In Chapter 2 on Christianity, Michael Duffey connects the New Testament texts and the early churches’ teachings and practices to argue that Christians are called to live nonviolently. However, Christian history has been another matter. Once Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire, Christian churches used their political power to justify war, protect orthodoxy, and evangelize by force. Institutional Christianity was often on the wrong side of history, but peace churches (Mennonites, Quakers, et al.) arose in the sixteenth century that were committed to nonviolence. Only in the twentieth century did most other Christian churches begin to promote justice and peace nonviolently. Duffey describes some of the current Christian peacemaking initiatives. He concludes with the challenges of structural violence that Christian communities must still address.

In Chapter 3 on Jewish peacemaking, Joshua Ezra Burns discusses the religious ideologies behind the values of peace and peacemaking as well as key prospects and problems in their implementation. Exploring the classical concepts of peace (shalom) and social justice (tikkun olam), he shows how Jewish interpreters through the ages have pursued these moral objectives to the common benefit of their own people and the world at large. Finally, Burns discusses the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, a longstanding political impasse, which has served both to complicate and impassion Jewish peacemaking efforts in the Middle East and across the globe. Assessing the dilemma from multiple perspectives, he stresses negotiation and mutual compromise as necessary preconditions for the achievement of a lasting peace agreeable to both parties of the conflict as well as their international supporters.

Confucianism arose as a result of the teachings of Confucius, who lived approximately 2500 years ago in China. With his disciples, he taught the importance of personal moral cultivation of the virtues of love and benevolence. In Chapter 4 Sin Yee Chan explores the Confucian texts that stress social harmony beginning in the family and moving outward to include all human beings. She writes that duties and responsibilities exercised in a hierarchy of right relationships are designed “to preempt human conflicts and social chaos by coordinating and regulating people’s desires.” Her chapter explores how Confucian teachers responded to the use of state violence in different periods of imperial China. A strong theme has always been the need for a virtuous leader—an “inner sage/outer king.” As have all the authors, Chan also describes the contributions of Confucianism to peace.

Eleanor Rosch’s chapter on Buddhism informs us that the goal of Buddhism is liberation from suffering through insight into the nature of the world and actions that would sustain experience. Her chapter includes much about the evolution of Buddhism and its relationship to peace that may be surprising to many readers. Unusual for a religion, Buddhism contains a detailed psychology of aggression, including an account of why people continue to perform acts of greed and violence even when their religion or other values tell them not to. Rosch explains a wide range of meditative, contemplative, and compassion practices to bring about the personal and social transformations through which peace and nonviolence can flow. Rosch’s chapter ends with an account of seven specifically Buddhist principles of peacemaking, one of which is that the peacemaker him/herself must “be peace” and must have empathy and compassion for all sides in a conflict, and must remain committed to nonblame and nonretribution.

Hinduism, the oldest of the world’s religions, in the Sanskrit language is called Sanatana Dharma or “eternal”/everlasting path. In Chapter 6 Kalpana Mohanty describes the purpose of Hinduism as achieving union of the human soul and Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. Since at the highest level of realization, there is no division between the Real and the manifest, reverence for all life is an important element in Hinduism. Mohanty observes that the Hindu tradition in its true sense has welcomed people of all races and religions to Bharat, presently known as India. Accepting all and “blending diverse cultures into one” is a nonviolent aspect of the Hindu tradition. “Our tradition,” she writes, “accepts that the entire world is one family.” This concept originates in the Vedic scriptures, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Mohanty’s chapter includes a discussion of Gandhi’s spirituality and his strategies for making peace, which exemplified the principles of Hinduism and the aspirations of the unity of the human family.

In Chapter 7 on the Native American vision of peace, Tink Tinker deconstructs the dichotomies that permeate discussion of peace and violence. He argues that the “cosmic/holistic harmony and balance [is] the ultimate ideal or goal of all human activity – rather than an ideal of competitive achievement (which presumes various kinds of violence)”. Native American ceremonies reflect cosmic relationships. For native peoples, morality is not founded on dualism of good versus evil, but on balance. This discourages viewing others as evil and doing violence to them. The popular portrayal of Indians as violent savages stands in sharp contrast to the savagery of European conquerors. Tinker’s chapter challenges people of other faiths, Christians most notably, providing a critique of their worldviews and their understanding of peace, nonviolence, and violence. The missionary zeal of Christians has done great violence to indigenous peoples, most conspicuously to the peoples of the Americas and of Africa. The manner in which Euro-centric peoples have viewed the world contradicts what is sacred to native peoples: the earth itself.

An important feature of the book is that each chapter is written by a practitioner-scholar with a deeper understanding of the subject than a mere theoretical expertise. These are lived traditions that they both sympathize with and criticize. We also wanted the book to be a conversation among the authors, almost unheard of in anthologies. The authors began this conversation as part of the symposium held at Marquette University where they presented summaries of their chapters and invited comments and criticism from the audience, which largely consisted of members of the wider community in Milwaukee. Each author/participant in the symposium was also asked to be an “outsider” for two other religious traditions and prepare a brief formal response to each of the two religions. Our objective in asking for these responses was to replicate (in print) examples of the cross-cultural and inter-religious conversation we hope to stimulate among the readers. The rationale that guided this schedule was to have each religion experience a response from one religion that is “close” and another that is “distant” based on the notion of the family of religions. Here is how the religious traditions were matched:

These outsider responses have been included alongside the chapter on which they comment.3 We hope that they provide a starting point for comparative discussions on peacemaking and nonviolence. Every attempt was made to provide a forum where each respondent would be able to represent his/her assigned tradition’s interrelationship with other traditions. This is an opening for rich dialogue, a dialogue that recognizes similarities, appreciates differences, admires insights and practices, and seeks to overcome barriers. Different scholars responded to different points in their colleagues’ chapters; however, they were asked to be specific in drawing those items that attended to the goal identified above. This freedom in constructing responses allowed for creativity and depth, however, it also meant that the responses were not always in sync with respect to key elements in their colleague’s chapter. For example, some responses are heavy on identifying similarities between the traditions, while others sought to highlight the differences. Some focused on theological possibilities of dialogue, while others noted the phenomenological parallels. Some responses posed direct questions to their interlocutor in order to draw out his or her thought process, while others challenged his or her assumptions and/or conclusions.

Each author remained careful and judicious in his/her response, as it can be tempting to compare teachings of one religion with acts of a few groups or individuals in another religion. This is in fact, one of the persistent problems of history – one that causes misrepresentation and fear of the “other.” In his recent work Abraham’s Curse: The Roots of Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Bruce Chilton noted that,

Even Islam’s fiercest critics estimate that Muslim militants account for only between 10 and 15 percent of the faithful, a lower proportion than [Christian] Fundamentalists in America, voters from the far right in France 2002, or Jewish Israelis who believe Arabs should be expelled from Israel. Yet many observers evaluate Islam according to its most extreme expressions rather than according to its classic teaching or the behavior of the majority of believers. (Chilton 2008, 146)4

Communities/individuals often compare the “best” in their own faith tradition with the “worst” in other’s religion. This warrants a mention of an important practice in the dialogue of religions; that is, we should avoid associating ideals and teachings with actions of the faithful. Ideals are ideals. Realities are realities. Here is a book that seeks to emulate that practice by providing a balanced perspective.

What we find most hopeful in the chapters and responses that follow is that the aspirations for peace and active peacemaking are evident across religions. Many have peace fellowships that muster support for peace and justice work in local communities. Others have organizations to rally support for peace and to teach peacemaking skills. Others have what may be termed “peace brigades,” whose mission is to intervene in conflict zones. Many religious leaders mediate conflicts and shape opinion.

One of the possible etymologies of the word “religion” is to “bind fast.” To what are we bound? We are bound to the transcendent. We are also bound to each other, called to live in harmony across all religious lines. We hope that readers will discover this in Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions and that learning about these seven religions will foster a deeper appreciation for the centrality of peace. This is a unique book to help us do just that. Its authors share a common purpose of opening the teachings of their faiths and in doing so illuminating pathways to peace. It is hoped that this conversation can continue to move us to recognize our common search for the Ultimate by the way we search for peace today.


  1. Chilton, Bruce. 2008. Abraham’s Curse: The Roots of Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Doubleday.
  2. Desjardin, Michel. 1997. Peace, Violence and the New Testament. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.
  3. Ellens, Harold, ed. 2003. The Destructive Power of Religion: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Four volumes. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
  4. Hoffmann, R. Joseph, ed. 2006. The Just War and Jihad: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
  5. Kepel, Gilles. 1994. The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  6. McTernan, Oliver. 2003. Violence in God’s Name. Religion in an Age of Conflict. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
  7. Partner, Peter. 1998. God of Battles: Holy Wars of Christianity and Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  8. Sharma, Arvind. 2010. The World’s Religions: A Contemporary Reader. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.