Religious Diplomacy – why is it Essential that Religion Play a role in Peacemaking

by MCR Reporter

The recognition that religion plays a role in peacemaking has been slow in coming, but this recognition is rapidly gaining ground. It is called Track III Diplomacy, or Cultural/Religious Diplomacy.

Though grassroots conciliation work across religious lines has been taking place since the dawn of the Abrahamic faiths themselves, it began taking momentum in the contemporary world only at the very end of the 20th century, with a recognition that religion has to be included in the political process.

In 1998, Professor of History Walter A. McDougall stated, “…we in the West have misread, or more often nowadays forgotten, our own history.” He noted that his local university library listed only seven titles under the rubric “Religion and International Affairs” in the past decade.

Dr. Douglas M. Johnston,  of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, established in 1999, commented on the lack of heretofore involvement of religion in diplomacy“…we have… let our rigorous separation of church and state become a crutch for not doing our homework to understand how religion shapes the worldviews and political aspirations of others.” He noted that the ICRD was founded in part to train clergy on peacemaking and political diplomacy, skills that clergy often lack.

Then, a sea change occurred.

In 1999 the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) was founded in the USA and Berlin.

1999  – the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD) was founded in Washington DC

These were breakthroughs in getting religious diplomacy recognized in the wider sphere of political diplomacy. Momentum increased in the first decade of the new millennium, and it is rapidly picking up speed. This is long after Camp David in 1978, and after Oslo in 1995

In 2012, Professor of Arabic, Dr Mordechai Kedar, commented, “traditional Islamic people find it easier to talk to Jews who share the same cultural world, and perhaps it is time that the Israel foreign ministry understand this.”

Five years after the Oslo accords, there was such a violent uprising in Israel that this period came to be known as the “mini Oslo war” – the fact that violent attacks were actually named after a peace agreement points to its failure. These agreements are not working because they do not capture the soul of the people.

The soul of the people in the Middle East is intimately tied up with religion.

Upon drafting these accords, did any secular leaders take into account the need to appeal to religious sensitivities? How about entering the medrassa, yeshivot, and seminaries and requesting that, say, the top one percent of its students gather as part of a think tank to discuss peace building along religious lines? The marginalization of religion meant that people did not feel heard and included, and it fostered frustration.

It is essential that conflict resolution in the Middle East take place in line with cherished classic and scriptural values that Muslims and Jews hold dear. Otherwise, agreements imposed from without will be resented by local populations, deemed as imperialistic, quasi-colonial interference. Peace agreements, both large scale and small, that organically grow out of our scriptures and shared histories are the real key to lasting peace.

In 2017 Dr Aly ElSamman published an article chiding the Egyptian public for the ongoing unofficial boycott of Israel, noting that since Camp David, there is only cold peace, as Egyptians do not tour, study, or teach in Israel. He called for warm relations, real connection, and cultural commerce with Israel.

As we expand our narratives, we also reclaim the scriptural roots of Western political history and human rights as brought down by Erastus of Switzerland, Hugo Grotius of Holland, John Selden, to the the founders of the English Parliament and the United States of America. These theorists were impressed with the rights of the non-Jewish residents of the ancient Hebrew Commonwealth and with the limited role that theocracy has in enforcing religious law – and this finds its parallel in Islam. Our expanded narrative will reveal an inherent unity among the Abrahamic faiths, even expressed in western models of political science.

It turns out that we are not so foreign to each other.

To ignore the legalistic side of Islam and Judaism is to suppress them, and perhaps as a side effect, only foster religious fanaticism as a result of that suppression.

Professor of Government at Harvard University, Dr Eric Nelson,  asserts that human rights and fundamental freedoms are in fact derived from Scripture as studied by Christian Hebraists in the 16th-18th centuries. Such thinkers included Erastus, Hugo Grotius, John Selden, the founders of the English Parliament and the founders of the United States of America. Islamic theology and history has a place in this, based on the theological and historical symbiotic relationship between Judaism and Islam.

It is time for us to reclaim the Scriptural basis for basic human rights, and resist the externally imposed identity that we are part of religions that can be sidelined to the ritual aspects only. Islam and Judaism are whole civilizations that permeate our entire lives, and when scripture is applied widely, interpretations naturally lead towards the moderate. Insist that religion remain sidelined, the flames of extremism are naturally fanned.

We need to expand the narrative, there should be a natural awareness of the contributions of Islam to the west, such as Avicenna in the world of medicine, the geographer Al-Idrisi, who correctly mapped out the world, and of him it is said that Christopher Columbus probably wouldn’t have found the New World without Al-Idrisi’s work.


It is not too late. By supporting religious diplomacy, we will be sowing the grassroots work so necessary for having Holy Writ be on the map in peacemaking.

See more:

Next article: Practical Tools for Religious Diplomacy


Rebecca Abrahamson is passionate about the common heritage between Islam and Judaism, and in that capacity is co-director of the AlSadiqin Organization, along with her husband Rabbi Ben Abrahamson.



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