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Miroslav Volf

Reconciliation, Justice, and Mercy

An alternative to "liberal peace."

Some readers of this journal may know Daniel Philpott as one of the authors of God's Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics (2011). In it, he and his co-authors, Monica Toft and Timothy Shah, attempted to explain, among other things, the conditions under which religion is likely to turn violent. Roughly, their thesis was this: the more a religion is identified with a particular society and the more it is entangled with political power, the more violent it is likely to be. This was also the thesis of David Martin's important but unjustly neglected book Does Christianity Cause War? (1997). From this explanation of when and why religion turns violent, it follows that the independence of religion from the state, especially if it is consensual and combined with certain theological convictions, is most likely to result in peaceable religion. But can religion do more than just not cause trouble? Can it also contribute to peace, be an agent of reconciliation? Much of Just and Unjust Peace, an important contribution to literature on reconciliation, is devoted to showing how religion can do just that.

We can distinguish three basic domains in which reconciliation takes place: personal, cultural, and political. Personal reconciliation concerns situations in which individuals, often members of the same ethnic, religious, or cultural group, are at odds with one another. Cultural reconciliation concerns situations in which communities and persons as members of particular ethnic, cultural, or religious groups are in conflict. Political reconciliation concerns situations in which state actors have committed massive injustices, primarily by violating human rights (both at inter-state and intra-state levels). Many books have been written on personal reconciliation. Fewer books have been written on cultural reconciliation (my own Exclusion and Embrace [1996] being one of them). Rare are books, like Philpott's, which focus on political reconciliation.

Is political reconciliation ...

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