In June, the University of Notre Dame Press will release “Religion, Tradition, and Restorative Justice in Sierra Leone,” by Lyn Graybill. The publisher’s description follows:
In this groundbreaking study of post-conflict Sierra Leone, Lyn Graybill examines the ways in which both religion and local tradition supported restorative justice initiatives such as the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and village-level Fambul Tok ceremonies.
Through her interviews with Christian and Muslim leaders of the Inter-Religious Council, Graybill uncovers a rich trove of perspectives about the meaning of reconciliation, the role of acknowledgment, and the significance of forgiveness. Through an abundance of polling data and her review of traditional practices among the various ethnic groups, Graybill also shows that these perspectives of religious leaders did not at all conflict with the opinions of the local population, whose preferences for restorative justice over retributive justice were compatible with traditional values that prioritized reconciliation over punishment.
These local sentiments, however, were at odds with the international community’s preference for retributive justice, as embodied in the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which ran concurrently with the TRC. Graybill warns that with the dominance of the International Criminal Court in Africa—there are currently eighteen pending cases in eight countries—local preferences may continue to be sidelined in favor of prosecutions. She argues that the international community is risking the loss of its most valuable assets in post-conflict peacebuilding by pushing aside religious and traditional values of reconciliation in favor of Western legal norms.
Very interesting-looking book about the role of organized religion in contributing to the peace process in Northern Ireland, Religion, Civil Society, and Peace in Northern Ireland (OUP 2011), by John D. Brewer (Aberdeen), Gareth I. Higgins (lecturer at Queens, Belfast, and Trinity College, Dublin), and Francis Teeney (Aberdeen). The publisher’s description follows.
Religion was thought to be part of the problem in Ireland and incapable of turning itself into part of the solution. Many commentators deny the churches a role in Northern Ireland’s peace process or belittle it, focusing on the few well-known events of church involvement and the small number of high profile religious peacebuilders. This new study seeks to correct various misapprehensions about the role of the churches by pointing to their major achievements in both the social and political dimensions of the peace process, by small-scale, lesser-known religious peacebuilders as well as major players. The churches are not treated lightly or sentimentally and major weaknesses in their contribution are highlighted. The study challenges the view that ecumenism was the main religious driver of the peace process, focusing instead on the role of evangelicals, it warns against romanticising civil society, pointing to its regressive aspects and counter-productive activities, and queries the relevance of the idea of ‘spiritual capital’ to understanding the role of the churches in post-conflict reconstruction, which the churches largely ignore.
This book is written by three ‘insiders’ to church peacebuilding in Northern Ireland, who bring their insight and expertise as sociologists to bear in their analysis of four-years in-depth interviewing with a wide cross section of people involved in the peace process, including church leaders and rank-and-file, members of political parties, prime ministers, paramilitary organisations, community development and civil society groups, as well as government politicians and advisors. Many of these are speaking for the first time about the role of religious peacebuilding in Northern Ireland, and doing so with remarkable candour. The volume allows the Northern Irish case study to speak to other conflicts where religion is thought to be problematic by developing a conceptual framework to understand religious peacebuilding.
Last week, I commented on the New York Times’ profile of evolutionary biologist and vociferous atheist, Richard Dawkins. Post One of this two-part series described (1) Dawkins’ views and (2) how the overheated antipathy and rhetoric of The God Delusion (2006) may reflect atheists’ marginalization in contemporary society—in itself a legitimate concern. (See additionally my Scholarship Roundup post—Faith no More: the Moral Atheist—where I suggest that religion’s record of immorality, for many, makes atheism a moral choice, not a nihilistic one.)
In this post, I criticize Dawkins’ position as described in his NYT profile: first, for its logical inconsistency and stubborn ignorance of its subject matter; and second, for its divisive rhetoric that fails to recognize the commonalities between his chosen source of meaning and his targets’.
I. Dawkins: The Uninquisitive Critic
Dawkins’ ignorance of the faiths he dismisses is alarming. As Terry Eagleton says in his marvelously scathing 2006 review of The God Delusion, Dawkins illustrates and purports to challenge no more than “vulgar caricatures of religio[n].” Eagleton responds to this facile exercise by speculating, “What . . . are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? . . . Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them?”
Yet Dawkins readily, proudly, admits that the answer is no. He scoffs at the suggestion that he study the history and intricacies of the faiths he rejects—study tantamount, in his view, to researching fairy tales. In this way, Dawkins simply refuses to engage in his critics’ conversation.