Preventing interreligious conflict : lessons from the ambivalence of the sacred and Singapore
Ho, Chee Feng
Date of Issue2019
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
Conflict has been a constant feature of human existence. While this can be said to be ubiquitous in the secular sphere, there has been a rise in religiously motivated violence in the world, such as religiously motivated terror attacks and interreligious conflicts. Viewed from the lens of Samuel Huntington and Philip Jenkins, religion appears destined to be a major fault line causing instability in a clash of civilizations. One is also struck with a sense of fatalism where there is no solution to prevent interreligious conflicts presenting us with a dim view of the role of religion and the helplessness of humanity. This dissertation utilizes Appleby’s theory of the ambivalence of the sacred and examines the case study of Singapore to draw out four strategies to prevent interreligious conflicts. The ambivalence of the sacred means that although religion may be used as a motivation for violence, there are also motifs of peace, tolerance and pluralism embedded within them which may be a strong force for the fostering of peace. However, this needs to be grounded to a practical statist approach, where Singapore with its practice of respecting the rule of law and community engagement efforts amongst other practices, provides an instructive model to inhibit the occurrence of such violent incidents. The four strategies that can be gleaned from the intertwining of these aspects can be broadly categorized into religious and statist approaches. They are – (a) the dissemination of religiously authentic messages of peace, tolerance and pluralism to the community through the religious leadership to act as nullifying forces against violence, (b) the institutionalization of regular interfaith dialogues bringing together diverse groups of religious believers to discuss common values across their religions to build the norm that all of us are bound by a common thread of humanity despite religious differences, (c) the enactment of legislation to maintain religious harmony coupled with strong enforcement actions against detractors and the development of a national identity that trumps religious differences, and (d) ensuring social and economic equity for everyone in the community to prevent would-be perpetrators from capitalizing on such grievances to fuel interreligious conflicts. I have categorized the former two as religious strategies and the latter two as statist categories. Although categorized this way, the practical approach to the successful prevention of interreligious conflict would require the assimilation of approaches from these two spheres within each strategy. The successful prevention of interreligious conflicts hinges on the application of all the strategies, with the statist strategies being the most pressing strategies to be implemented first, given the importance of the state in setting the political conception and agenda in such issues. That said, for these strategies to work, they would need to be appropriately tailored according to individual political systems and societal requirements of each state.
DRNTU::Social sciences::Political science