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  • Dr. Hayley Rose Glaholt

Mediating "in good faith"


To what degree is an individual's faith responsible for the success or failure of a negotiation? Are there cases in which we can point to religious belief as the definitive explanation for the breakdown of a mediation?

In February 2015, E-International Relations published an article entitled "In Good Faith? Reconsidering the Impact of Religion on Negotiated Settlements," written by Jason Klocek (a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley). He begins his article by summarizing recent scholarship on inter-state religion and violence, with some startling findings:

Russell Leng and Patrick Regan (2003), for instance, compare over 700 mediation attempts in conflicts between 1945 and 1995 and find that differences in the religious identities of belligerents significantly hinder third-party interventions. They contend that such divisions obstruct communication between belligerents and, therefore, reduce the likelihood of a peaceful resolution. Shifting the focus to intrastate wars, Isak Svensson (2007) finds that post-Cold War conflicts in which combatants’ make explicit religious demands are significantly less likely than others to be terminated through negotiated settlements. He argues that religion increases the subjective value of the contested territory or control of the government, making combatants more resistant to compromise.

Why might religion interfere so markedly in negotiations? Is there something inherent to fundamentally religious individuals, or to religion as such, that makes mediations unsuccessful? A common response is that beliefs inspired by "the sacred" tend to be compelling because they are tied to rewards and punishments after death. Eternal life is emphasized over worldly life, and rather than compromising their beliefs, fundamentalists (of any faith) will choose to end negotiations in favour of maintaining their commitment to divinely-inspired goals/ends.

Klocek challenges this understanding of religious conflict, however, by relying on Catholic studies professor William Cavanaugh's concept of the "myth of religious violence," This myth is described as:

a founding assumption of the modern state system that construes religion as an inherently violent and irrational force that must be tamed in order to preserve social harmony. The prevalence of this idea means policymakers are apt to construe rebel groups that mobilize along confessional lines as particularly unlikely to compromise.

Klocek argues that framing religion in this way predisposes conflicting parties (in his case, the State and "religiously motivated rebels") to believe that negotiations involving a religious component will most likely fail. That then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In cases such as these, Klocek suggests that the party holding this belief-- the "myth of religious violence"-- has not entered into the negotiation "in good faith."

I would add that mediators themselves are also susceptible to this form of bias. When assessing family or workplace conflict, mediators must be careful to understand and question their own "myths" of religious belief. If one or both parties adhere to strict religious beliefs, or are uncompromising on certain points in the mediation due to their faith, are they (consciously or unconsciously) categorized by the mediator as irrational? Is religious belief viewed as a force that needs to be "tamed"? If so, the mediator has also not entered into the mediation in good faith, and in so doing has harmed her/his clients.

Read Klocek's article here.

#religiousconflict #mediation #Christianity #Islam #conflict #worldview #government

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