Leading and Misleading the Flock

Understanding the ambivalent record of faith leaders in peacebuilding and conflict prevention

Authored by: Laura Payne

Routledge Handbook of Conflict Response and Leadership in Africa

Print publication date:  September  2021
Online publication date:  September  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367332228
eBook ISBN: 9780429318603
Adobe ISBN:


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Throughout history, deeply committed men and women of faith have led societies away from violence and towards more peaceful and socially just futures. A chosen few (invariably men) are chronicled and commemorated – Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu. Of course, history is also littered with faith leaders who have seeded violence, stoked division, and frustrated efforts for peace, those who have failed to act in the face of atrocities, and those whose actions have served both conflict and peacemaking to different degrees. This mixed record is often explained in terms of the “ambivalence of the sacred” (Appleby, 2000) – a concept that extolls us to recognize the importance of context for understanding religious leaders’ actions and reject overly simplistic narratives that frame them as one-dimensional forces for good or ill. This chapter explores the factors that help to explain the ambivalence of religious leadership in times of conflict. Why do some religious leaders doggedly pursue peacemaking, often at huge personal cost, whilst others are passive or actively opposed?

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