Table of Contents
I. Religions Have Nothing to Offer the Task of Peace-Building?
II. How Far is it False?
III. The Role of Religion in Peace-Building
1. Concept of Peace-Building
2. Contribution of Religion to Peace-Building
3. Challenge to Religions in the Task of Peace-Building
Religion is expected by the secularists to decline slowly and be privatised and so not to have any influence on the public sphere. Also after the 9/11 attack the doubt over religion as a cause of terrorism became strong and atheists claim that they are right in labelling religion as the cause of violence. Therefore, people influenced by secularism and atheism claim that religion has nothing to offer the task of peace-building in the society. This essay is an attempt to critically look into this secularisation theory on the role of religion in the task of peace-building in the world and how far it is false.
The essay has three parts. The first part deals with the main ideas of secularisation theory and the atheists as they are the main groups excluding religion in the task of peace-building. The second part, in response to the secularist and atheist theory, attempts to delineate the indispensable role of religion in the public sphere and in the task of peace-building from the perspectives of the resurgence of religion, the root of war and conflict, and sociology. After arguing for the inseparableness of religion in the public sphere in the second part, the final part deals with the idea of peace-building, the contribution of religion to reconciliation and peace-building, and the challenge to the world religions in their engagement in the task of peace-building. Here, it should be acknowledged that the influence of Christianity, despite an attempt to represent different religions, will be often seen in the thought and terms used in the essay as it is written from Christian background.
I. Religions Have Nothing to Offer the Task of Peace-Building?
There are two main forces that make the modern people think that religions have nothing to offer the task of peace-building. The first one is secularisation theory. According to Vexen Crabtree,
“Secularisation Theoryis the theory in sociology that as society advances in modernity, religion retreats. Intellectual and scientific developments have undermined the spiritual, supernatural, superstitious and paranormal ideas on which religion relies for its legitimacy...Secularisation theory explains that as modern society advances it will become increasingly secular, and religion will become increasingly hollow.”
Sociological commentators proposed that the science and intelligence, both rooted in the Enlightenment, would replace religious faith and religions would decline as modernity advances. According to Peter Berger, secularisation theory can be traced to the Enlightenment while the term itself refers to works from the 1950s and the 1960s. He sums up the idea of the theory in its simplest way: “Modernisation necessarily leads to a decline of religion, both in society and in the minds of individuals.”
Thus, in the modern secular world religions are often considered as the causes of violence and conflict and so must be practiced only in private sphere. The secular worldviews have a tendency to exclude religion from the task of building peace and reconciliation and so to promote neutral and secular principles to build peace in the society today.
Another factor that tries to exclude religion from the society is atheism or New Atheism. In the modern period the champions of atheism are Sam Harris (The End of Faith, 2004), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 2006), Daniel Dennet (Breaking the Spell, 2006) and Christopher Hitchens (God is not Great, 2007). Their approach is designated as New Atheism by Gary Wolf in 2006. It is an enthusiastic advocation of atheism and a scathing criticism of both religious belief and cultural respect for religion. The atheists want belief in God to die out, believing that religion is nothing but the cause of violence and conflict in the world, and so the world would be better off and more peaceful without its religions. In other words, the atheists simply believe that the elimination of religion will lead to the ending of wars, violence, conflicts, social tension or discrimination.
Thus, secularisation theory insists on the separation between religion and state claiming that religion must be privatised and practiced in a private life only while atheists pray for the demolition of religion from the human society. However, the events of the modern world witness that the dream of secularisation theory and the atheists does not come true as expected. Rather, things happen in the opposite way: religion has bounded and resurged powerfully around the world and it crosses the boundary of private life and plays a big role in the public life.
Therefore, in the next step we will discuss how the idea of secularisation theory and atheism that religion has nothing to offer the task of peace-building in the society fails or is false.
II. How Far is it False?
Firstly, the idea that religion would gradually die out or it must be privatised is made false by the global resurgence of the religion. As Cassanova rightly observes, the widespread and simultaneous refusal of the world religions – Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism to be restricted to the private sphere became new and strong in 1980s. This resurgence of religion cannot be neglected. This shows that religions cannot be excluded from the task of seeking the public welfare. Instead, religions are still key players in the public sphere today. So Peter Berger, once an advocate of secularization theory, rightly says that ‘the assumption that we live in a secularized world is false. The world today…is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever’.
A good evidence of the resurgence of religion is the role of religion in the academic study and the political culture of China. David Ford quotes Professor Zhou Xinping, Chair of the Chinese Association of Religious Studies who says that in China where religion was characterized as a private affair, which should have no connection with the society, “nobody paid special attention to the academic study of religion. But now, the academic study of religions in China plays a leading role.” Zhou traces the evolution of official attitudes from ‘religion as opium’ through ‘religion as culture’ to ‘religion as religion’, with religious studies moving from being a ‘dangerous discipline’ to a ‘promising discipline.’
Tu Weiming, a professor of Chinese history and philosophy at Harvard University, observes how the political significance of religion will continue to be obvious in China as it is well on its way to becoming an active member of the international society. Even now the issues of religious freedom, human rights, and public space for worship, prayer, and other activities characteristic of faith communities already loom large in Chinese political culture.
John Langan points out the difficulty to achieve the total separation of religion and politics as secularization theory expects, on account of the rights of the religious people to freedom of speech and association and political action that they may choose to exercise in ways that extend beyond the limits of secular expectations. He says that ‘it is to be expected and accepted as legitimate that various religious groups will use the freedom of the public space in democratic societies to advocate policies that they believe are required by justice and that bear the mark of their religious inspiration.’
 Vexen Crabtree, “Secularization Theory: Will Modern Society Reject Religion? What is Secularism ?” available from http://humanreligions.info/secularisation.html (Accessed on 18th April, 2016).
 Vexen Crabtree, “Secularization Theory: Will Modern Society Reject Religion? What is Secularism ?”
 Peter L. Berger, “The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview” in Peter L. Berger (ed ), The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics (Grand Rapids: William B.Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), p. 2.
 Alister McGrath, Why God Won’t Go Away: Engaging with the New Atheism (London: SPCK, 2011), p. 3.
 Jose Cassanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), p.6.
 Peter L. Berger, “The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview”, p. 2.
 David F. Ford, “Scriptural Reasoning and the Legacy of Vatican II: Their Mutual Engagement and Significant” in David F.Ford and Frances Clemson (eds), Interreligious Reading after Vatican II: Scriptural Reasoning, Comparative Theology and Receptive Ecumenism (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), p.110.
 David F. Ford, “Scriptural Reasoning and the Legacy of Vatican II: Their Mutual Engagement and Significant,” p.110.
 Tu Weiming, “The Quest for Meaning: Religion in the People’s Republic of China” in Peter L. Berger (ed), The Desecularisation of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), p. 99-100.
 John Langan, “The Common Good: Catholicism, Pluralism, and Secular Society” in Michael Ipgrave (ed), Building a Better Bridge: Muslims, Christians, and the Common Good (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2008), p. 89.