10th World Assembly Religions for Peace International Lindau Germany, August 20th 2019

Paper  written and presented by Rev Dr theol Thomas Wipf -President European Council of Religious Leaders ECRL. Read below or Click here to download.

“Peace as a longing, hope, dream or promise is one of the oldest ideas of humanity.”[1]

The Development of the Concept of Positive Peace

In 1971 the German philosopher Georg Picht observed that it is astonishing “that although our culture has produced a science of war, […] there is no science of peace, its preconditions and strategies”.[2]

Things have changed significantly since Picht’s time, and today there is an increasing complex body of international peace research. A large number of political bodies, research institutions, civil society and religious organizations, relentlessly working together to better understand and promote peace.

A ground-breaking development in the contemporary understanding of peace was Johan Galtung’s distinction between negative peace as the “absence of personal violence” and positive peace “as the absence of structural violence”.[3]

According to Galtung, discord and violence cannot simply be attributed to individuals or groups, and political, economic, social and cultural factors and systems invariably contribute to injustice and violence.

Key factors in Building Positive Peace

The Institute for Economics and Peace is a key organisation that has significantly contributed to a more comprehensive understanding of the necessary conditions for Positive Peace.

It has identified eight ‘pillars of positive peace’, which are derived from statistical, empirical research and analysis – and we are pleased to welcome the founder of the IPE Steve Killelea here today as one of Religions for Peace’s loyal supporters and valued members.

The eight “pillars of positive peace” describe concrete conditions for positive peace. According to their research, positive peace requires:


  1. A well-functioning government – delivering high-quality public and civil services generating political stability and the rule of law;
  2. Sound economic regulations – leading to competitive businesses and industrial productivity;
  3. Equitable distribution of resources – – ensuring fairness in access to education and health as well as crucial private and public goods;
  4. Assuring the rights of others – safeguarding tolerance between different ethnic, linguistic, religious and socio-economic groups, as well as between genders and age groups;
  5. Good relations with neighbours – which supports regional integration, foreign investment, tourism and human capital inflows;
  6. Free flow of information – through free and independent media, so that citizens are well-informed and better prepared for participatory decision-making;
  7. High levels of human capital – assured by a comprehensive system of education which helps people in the process of life-long learning and adaption to change; and
  8. Low levels of corruption – improving the efficiency of resource allocation and the running of essential public services, which in turn improves confidence and trust in institutions.

We have to think about how multi-religious work and organisations support, and perhaps even enhance, this vision of positive peace.


A Culture of Peace

In the late 1990s Johan Galtung supplemented his concept of peace with a third aspect – that of cultural peace.[4] Cultural peace is the development of values, attitudes and norms within a society that do not tolerate or condone forms of direct or structural violence based on a person’s origins, beliefs, gender, culture or religious beliefs.

The importance of cultivating a worldwide “Culture of Peace” was reasserted by the United Nations General Assembly in its declaration 53/243 A. ‘Declaration on a Culture of Peace’, in September 1999.[5]

For nearly 50 years, Religions for Peace has also been an organisation that has striven tirelessly to support the development of a culture of positive peace. With its local, national and continental networks, its foundation is the shared message and unifying mission of all religious traditions – the unquestionable commitment to peace, justice and harmony for all of creation.


Religious Contributions to Developing a Culture of Peace

A “Culture of Peace” must be based on a careful analysis of the causes and relationships of violence, and it must offer a comprehensive approach to supporting peaceful coexistence.

In his explanation of the concept of shared well-being, our Secretary General Dr William Vendley formulates three key questions:

  1. How does an individual become a good person?
  2. How do we build a good society?


  1. What is the integral and reciprocal relationship between becoming a good person and building a good society?[6]

From the standpoint of RfP, and many religious traditions, peace is a fundamental attitude that starts with the individual.

RfP’s long-standing efforts for peace and understanding are based on the depth of character of its members, and our personal and shared lived religious experience.

The “Peace Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation”, which we will hear more about later, speaks of “inner peacefulness” and notes:

“We believe that peace is more than the absence of violence, and that it includes inner peacefulness as well as peacefulness with others and with the environment.”[7]

Inner Peace – The spiritual dimension formulated in different ways, but common to all religions, opens the human gaze to that which is sacred, to that which commands unconditional love and respect: and helps moderate human actions based on greed or selfishness.

However, one’s own, inner peace also depends on the peace of one’s fellow people and on peace with nature.

In its “Lille Declaration on a Culture of Peace” of 2009, the European Council of Religious Leaders (ECRL RfP) stated that:

“Peace of the heart and mind and peace of society are intrinsically linked. Peace and justice are inseparable, as are truth and reconciliation. Peace is for the hungry to be fed, the poor to be sustained, the sick to experience care, the oppressed to be released and the marginalized to have a voice. Peace is protection against violence, and it is experienced when warfare and armed conflicts are translated into development and nation building.”[8]

Religious peace connects all living beings into an inseparable community of suffering, responsibility and action. And it is this shared religious experience that is the starting point and foundation for RfP’s social and political action.


A Politics of Positive Peace


In contrast to positive peace, it is unfortunate that too often state and international politics continue to be shaped by destructive attitudes and confrontational relationships. Frequently states rely on their military strength or strategic alliances and threats to gain power and influence.

Throughout the world, we are facing a new phase of threat, in which treaties on arms control and nuclear weapons are being ignored or terminated. More weapons do not bring more security. On the contrary, they make the world a much more dangerous place.

This political philosophy disregards the fact that peace was the original mission of government institutions.

Working for positive peace requires a vision and considerable patience – which clashes with the demands of modern day politics, which often calls for quick solutions, and is oriented toward fixed terms of office.

In contrast most religions have histories that are thousands of years old. These rich and sacred traditions and memories sustain a hope that cannot be diminished. Religions should be calm oases in a world of impatience and acceleration, and specialists in sustainability and perseverance for peace.

As citizens of a nation and members of a religious community, we should ask ourselves “which of the influential and powerful persons in our country’s politics are seriously committed to a peaceful and conflict-free world’? Today more than ever we need far-sighted and courageous politicians who do not allow themselves to be dissuaded from the ambitious and vital goal of developing a worldwide culture of peace.

Therefore, it is highly encouraging that we were invited to this World Assembly as guests of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Federal Foreign Office. Their hospitality gives us hope and demonstrates that there are countries that prioritize proactive and visionary peace politics.

We should also recognise here today the substantial efforts of many people from the RfP network – and especially the youth members – actively working for military disarmament, for example in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

At the preparatory meeting of the European youth and women’s delegation, the suggestion was made that RfP should lobby governments to commit at least 1% of worldwide military spending to global peace work – and perhaps this is an action point we could agree on this week.

The climate crisis facing us today is another pressing example of where a culture of peace is urgently needed. As we speak climate change is destroying the livelihoods of many people. Lasting damage is being done to the vital resources of air, water, soil, forcing people from their homelands and driving tension and conflict over increasingly scarce resources.

We call on governments and people around the world to do more to tackle this imminent disaster.

The political credo “if you want peace, prepare for war” is no longer acceptable.  We must speak out loudly and clearly for what we believe in: “if you want peace, prepare for peace”.


Future challenges for RfP

That said we must also remind ourselves that multi-religious peace work really begins with the willingness of individual religious communities to self-critically and transparently challenge themselves.

Religions traditions do not always transcend this world. They are not immune to corruption, exploitation, the abuse of power and violence. Religious communities must be acutely aware of their ambivalence – as both actors and advocates of peace, but if not careful as a means of legitimizing state interests or extremist violence.

Our credibility as people and institutions come through the renunciation of all claims to exclusivity. This must form the basis of all our actions. As members of religious communities, we are not automatically better people. We must ask ourselves self-critically whether we live up to our own standards and the message we are supposed to represent. By doing this we can become role models to others.


In Conclusion

In concluding I want to remind ourselves that we are present on behalf of the countless people throughout the world who are working toward peaceful coexistence – according to their abilities and in their respective localities.

Most of them are not well-known religious leaders but nevertheless special and inspirational people. Women head many of the small but effective peace initiatives throughout the world. All of these unsung heroes deserve our recognition and utmost respect.

They might not draw up declarations or statements, but with their hearts and imagination they make an indispensable contribution to a more peaceful world. They form the basis of Religions for Peace and are a shining example to all of us. Many participants in this assembly are just such people.

I am with these people in my thoughts as I argue that the future direction of RfP International must aim for a new balance between bottom-up and top-down approaches. I am convinced that as an organisation we can achieve a lot more to help develop a more peaceful, loving and harmonious world, that is worth living in for all of creation.

This aim can be attained through deeper, more serious, action-oriented multi-religious cooperation, carried out in collaboration with political leaders and our many civil society partners.

In view of this, we should continue to commit ourselves to concrete, courageous steps in the spirit of our enduring motto – “different faiths – common action”.

[1]       Georg Picht, “Was heisst Friedensforschung?“, in: ibid/Wolfgang Huber (eds.), Was heisst Friedensforschung?, Stuttgart, München 1971, 13–33 (13).

[2]       Ibid.

[3]       Johan Galtung, Strukturelle Gewalt. Beiträge zur Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, Reinbek 1975, 32. The term “positive peace” was coined by the Zurich constitutional law scholar Johann Baptist Sartorius in his award-winning book Organon of Perfect Peace (Zurich 1837).

[4]       See Ines-Jacqueline Werkner, “Zum Friedensbegriff in der Friedensforschung”, in: ibid/Ebeling (eds.), Handbuch, 19–32 (22-3).

[5]       See http://www.un-documents.net/a53r243a.htm (accessed on 30 June 2019).

[6]       William Vendley, “Positive Peace as Shared Well-Being”, 14.

[7]       http://www.charterforforgiveness.org/charter/#principles (accessed 30 June 2019).

[8]       RfP, “Lille Declaration on a Culture of Peace”, available at: https://ecrl.eu/a-culture-of-peace-lille-declaration/.