Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Spirituality as an Integral Part of “Sustainable” Peacebuilding by Ali Nnaemeka, o.m.i


how_to_build_sustainable_peace__In spite of all the economic investment involved in peacekeeping missions, our society is still faced, today more than ever, with a series of conflicts—from armed to economic conflicts. And even though different organisms and governments invest, not just money, but also time and human resources on peacekeeping, it does not seem to have the required positive long-lasting effects. Could it be because peacebuilding is an art and demands a lot of technic like the moral imagination?

This article explores how sustainable peace could be achieved. It explores among others, the importance of approaching peace and reconciliation through spirituality. But it had to, first, examine the working terms. Then, I explored how spirituality could have helpful or harmful effects on the restoration of sustainable peace.

Keywords: Sustainable peace, moral imagination, peacebuilding, spirituality, interconnectivity, intersectionality.


In his article, Ethics and Spirituality of Sustainability: What Can We All Do? Satinder K. Dhiman wrote,

We have to start viewing our organizations as “living systems” rather than as “machines for producing money”.Thus, true sustainability is not possible without a deep change of values and commitment to a lifestyle at the individual level and the organizational level. It cannot be achieved simply as an expression of economic functionality or legislative contrivance.” (S. K. Dhiman 2016)

 Our economic driven society continues to ignore the effects of human activity on the future of our planet. We have been, since the time of Protagoras, wrongly made to believe that man is the measure of all things and thus master of the universe who could do with it whatsoever pleases him. These our quests include ignoring the other dimensions of our existence. This goes as far as seeing the world only from the material perspective. And it is this and many other false conceptions of our relationship with the physical world that Dhiman criticizes in this afore-cited quotation. He believes, rightly, that our universe is not just a passive part of our ecosystem which could be exploited at their guise, ignoring its impact on our own existence.

For him, there is an urgent need to reform our relationship with our social environment. We ought to change our values and commitments both at individual and public level to achieve the true sustainability our human progress. But unfortunately, modern man unfortunately, continues in several ways to make sure that humanity and the society take a very important distance from any reality that goes beyond human empirical and experimental cognition.

In peacebuilding too, spirituality has been one of the areas that little or no attention is really accorded to. But the recent persistency and reoccurrence of conflicts show that something is missing in the peacebuilding process as practiced today. And the spirituality is one of those domains that lack most in our peacebuilding process today.

In this text, we will show how spirituality is the sine qua non of sustainable peace building. And for so doing, we will explain what we understand by spirituality and “sustainable” peace. Then, we will discuss how the former contributes to the foundation of the latter. And finally, we will discuss how spirituality could hinder sustainable peace building. 


Spirituality is the overriding term that describes engagement in things transcendental—that is to say, in things purely rational as in contrary to experimental facts—in its ultimate aims and goals (P. Feldmeier 2016). Spirituality is also a way of relating with all that exist. It is what permits us to connect with the non-material parts of the universe. That One feels the need to share in the joy and sadness of his or her fellow creature is because one has this immaterial part of our human existence, which can link one to the more-than-humans. It is this force that gives values to our human existence and which can push one even to face physical threat on one’s life without fearing death.

A good example of this is the attitude of Campesino leaders in Colombia (J. P. Lederach, 2005, 13–16) who though, knew they were facing the enemy-other, never feared death because they believed in our transcendental human existence. They believed that human existence goes beyond the conservation of our individual human life. Their quest for peace became so strong that each was ready to sacrifice his or her individual life to procure a sustainable peace for the entire community. They believed that life in their community, in their social spaces and their relationship with their environment were so sacred that dying for them was an option worth embracing. Spirituality could as well be seen as this characteristic of complexity called Holism by De Coning (2016). “Holism is the idea that the properties of a given system cannot be understood by its component parts alone; that the system needs to be understood as a whole, where the emergent properties of the whole co-determines the behavior of the parts produce, by virtue of their interactions, some form of system-wide behavior” (2016, 168). It is what links humanity with one another and with the more-than-human. This is exactly where interconnectivity and intersectionality which are both important aspects of indigenous ecology and the ecofeminism become paramount. Intersectionality, the comprehension that women experience oppression differently both in configuration and degrees of intensity (A. Hooper 2015) or the fact that cultural patterns of oppression are not just interrelated but are woven together and are influenced by the intersectional systems of society like race, gender, class, ethnicity, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, believe, etc., (S. Clarke 2016) is a very important aspect of spirituality. This particular reason explains why spirituality is very important to a sustainable peacebuilding.

Sustainable Peace

Sustainable peace is as difficult to define as the term peace itself. But in our case, we are defining sustainable peace in relationship with peace building. It is a situation of social coexistence in which interpersonal relationship is governed by certain equilibrium in the interaction of a population and its environment. This internal order known as social equilibrium (Encyclopedia Britannica 2002) emanates from a collective effort of the group to construct a society that takes into consideration the need of the community—based on the local culture, history and socio-economic context—and their resilience (De Coning 2016, 167). Sustainable peace is built through symbiotic actions of different actors and draws its force from the theories of peacebuilders and the day-to-day life of the local inhabitants(Mahmoud and Makoond 2018). Through this daily actions like singing together (Conrad 2014, 85) intellectual dialogues (Lederach 2005, 17), community gardening (Shimada and Johnson 2013, 4) which are mechanisms of resilience—that is to say, which are actions that can permit the people dwelling in a war turn environment to resist to the choc caused by the conflict or permits the victims to survive the traumatic effects of the conflict.

Contributions of Spirituality to Sustainable Peace

To understand the need of spirituality in sustainable peace building, one has to examine the phenomena of the cycle of violence in protracted conflicts. In this type of conflict where violence recurs and takes different shapes, the only way out is to touch the innermost part of our being. In such situations, a peacebuilder has to deploy his or her moral imagination. And from all indications, it is one of the areas where professional peacebuilders hesitate a lot (Lederach 2005, preface). Moral imagination, which is the capacity to generate intuitive responses and initiatives that amidst conflicts and challenges could transcend and ultimately break the destructive patterns and cycles of violence (Lederach 2005, 182), is a form of spirituality necessary in making a sustainable peace. But owing to its serendipitous character—the fact that what could be the outcome is not always known at the beginning and also the demand for a continuous vigilance of the peacemakers—many peacebuilders remain skeptical of moral imagination. 

Spirituality is thus very important in sustaining peace because it creates space for a creative act which is, according to Matthew Fox, a place where the divine and human meet (Lederach 2005, 38). As a matter of fact, to take risks in peacebuilding, requires abandoning oneself to this creative imagination of every human community. And to abandon oneself to the creative imagination is to trust the goodness of our human nature. It is also to trust that the truth will always triumph. Lederach explains this through “Web weaving” process where the spider, in addition to being smart flexible is called to be adaptive to shifting contours and constant changing of its environment (Lederach 2005, 83). Maureen Sibanda Shonge (2017) explores this very well in his article on creation of sustainable peace in Zimbabwe.

Spirituality is also very important in creating sustainable peace because it helps in the promotion of paradoxical curiosity, which permits peacebuilders to approach social realities and conflictual environments with respect for complexity (Lederach 2015, 36). This paradoxical curiosity is very necessary more especially in relationship to environmental justice because it is what makes the peacebuilder go beyond the visible, thereby not only facilitating a holistic approach—intersectionality and interconnectivity—to the cosmos but it also reminds him or her to avoid relapsing into historical traps of the cycle of violence (Lederach 2005, 37). Every well-informed peacebuilder knows that once a conflict relapse into a cycle of violence, it becomes very hard to manage and could last for generations and thereby creating not just a hostile environment but turning into a very long and hard to resolve protracted conflict.   

Spirituality as an Obstacle to Sustainable Peace

However, spirituality can also be an obstacle to sustainable peace building. I protracted conflict areas, spirituality could be an obstacle for a peacebuilder. When the gap created by the conflict has pushed the parties involved in developing internal affinities within subgroups, that is to say each party involved in the conflict will regroup within them and see the other group as the enemy-other and thus ruin the possibility of engaging one another (Lederach 2015, 551–552). One of the characteristics of a protracted conflicts is the gift of pessimism. Pessimism is an enemy of peacebuilding process and a major obstacle to sustainable peace. It is also a very big challenge to moral imagination as it questions the authenticity of peacebuilding process. In such environments, there reigns a sort of situation, which prevents the members to see the realizability of peacebuilding. And in such a moment of despair, seeking peace from within becomes very challenging as the community members lose every hope of moving forward because all they remember is awful moments and narratives of loss. Good examples could be seen in protracted conflict zones where peace accords, mainly established through top-down methods, have severally failed to achieve a sustainable peace. The space becomes infected by hopelessness that prevents inner movement and the will to see the enemy-other as a fellow human. The other, in this case, instead of becoming an alter ego, becomes an enemy other.    


It is unquestionably important to reaffirm that spirituality is really necessary for sustainable peace building. And it is important not just because it is the internal soul of peacebuilding process, but because it reconnects both the peacebuilder and the victims of conflicts to the essence of human existence.

In this text, I examined how spirituality effects sustainable peace building process. And to do so, I examined the two major concepts of this topic. I said that spirituality which interconnects all that exists and permits us not just to interconnect with the more-than-human but also gives us the possibility appreciate both human and more-than-human occupants of our ecosystem to their just values. I also discussed sustainable peace which is the situation of social coexistence in which interpersonal relationship is governed by certain equilibrium in the interaction of a population and its environment.

Furthermore, I examined the effects of spiritual approach to peace building. I started discussing how spiritual aspects permit the peacebuilder to tap, in more convenient way, into the moral imagination. Spirituality, we observed, gives a peacebuilder the possibility to be open to serendipity and smart-flexibility.

However, I noted that though spirituality is very important to sustainable peace building, it could also be an obstacle in certain circumstances. And to that effect, I explained how, in protracted conflict zones, the incessant reoccurrence of conflicts awake in the citizens a sort of pessimism that abhors the idea of seeking the peace from within as they have lost hope in reconnecting with the enemy-other.


1.  Amanda Hooper (2015), Let’s Talk About Intersectional Feminism,

Available at https://nwlc.org/blog/lets-talk-about-intersectional-feminism/

2.  Cedric De Coning (2016) From peacebuilding to sustaining peace: Implications of complexity for resilience and sustainability, Resilience, 4:3, 166–181,

Available at https://doi.org/10.1080/21693293.2016.1153773

3.  Satinder K. Dhiman, (2016) Ethics and Spirituality of Sustainability: What Can We All Do? The Journal of Values-Based Leadership: Vol. 9: Iss. 1, Article 11.

Available at: http://scholar.valpo.edu/jvbl/vol9/iss1/11

4.  Keziah Conrad (2014) Dwelling in the place of devastation: Transcendence and the everyday in recovery from trauma, University of California, Los Angeles.

Available at https://uottawa.brightspace.com/d2l/le/content/76756/viewContent/1774276/View

5.  John Paul Lederach (2005) The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, Oxford University Press.

6.  Maureen Sibanda Shonge, 2017, Spinning the Web: Grassroots Human Rights Work Inspired by Peacebuilding Approaches, Oxford University Press.

Available at https://academic.oup.com/jhrp/article/9/3/447/4735133

7.  Peter Feldmeier (2016) “What Is Spirituality?” U.S. Catholic: Vol. 81: No. 5, pages 20–24).

Available at http://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201604/what-spirituality-30626, published on April 25, 2016.

8.  Samantha Clarke (2016), Intersectional Feminism: What It Is and Why It’s Important

Available at http://www.comicwisdom.com/intersectional-feminism-what-it-is-and-why-its-important/

9.  The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2002) Social equilibrium, Sociology.

Available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/social-equilibrium

10.                Youssef Mahmoud and Anupah Makoond, (2018) Can Peacebuilding Work for Sustaining Peace?

Available at https://theglobalobservatory.org/2018/04/peacebuilding-work-sustaining-peace/. Published on 10 April 2018

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