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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


Between Eden and Armageddon: The Future of World Religions, Violence, and Peacemaking
Marc Gopin

Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000
324pp. Biblio. Index. Hb.: 21.50; ISBN 0-19-513432-X.



In his path-breaking work on religion and conflict resolution, Marc Gopin blends together insights from his training as a religious and ethics scholar with his practical and scholarly experience in the field of conflict resolution. His central thesis speaks to the dearth of literature in conflict resolution regarding religion and religious actors in conflict. He acknowledges the propensities within religious traditions to motivate violence, or what he terms the anti-social values, and peace, or the pro-social values. Gopin proposes that the key is to balance two competing human needs: a need for integration and a need for uniqueness. This central thesis - that successful peacemakers are those who are able to retain their unique identity as rooted in a particular religious tradition, but who are able to see the best in other traditions as well - forms one of the recurrent themes of the book.

Gopin proposes that conflict resolution strategies must incorporate and resonate with a religious ethos and vocabulary in order to engage religious actors. He calls for a hermeneutic reinterpretation of religious texts that emphasize the prosocial values within religions, but acknowledges that change will inevitably be slow. To illustrate, he devotes several chapters that analyze Judaism and its peacemaking ethic, and that outline how various texts may be reinterpreted to yield a peacemaking ethic. Gopin's historical and theological analysis of Judaism is enlightening and useful but sometimes too advanced for those more unfamiliar with Jewish traditions or religious scholarship. Nonetheless, his own experience and scholarly analysis yield crucial insights into the Arab-Israeli conflict. His overall analysis extends to Islam, Eastern, and Christian traditions, with one chapter that analyzes Mennonite contributions to conflict resolution.

Although he does not speak directly to ethnic conflict, his insights about religion are relevant for students and analysts of ethnic conflict. His central thesis could well be applied to some ethnic conflicts that are religiously-motivated, and even to those that are not. Conflict resolution in secular contexts could also include a reinterpretation of historical texts and myths to nurture prosocial tendencies.

Gopin's book is an important contribution to the fields of religious studies and of conflict resolution. While his final chapter outlines practice and policy suggestions related to interventions in religious conflict, some of these remain difficult for others to translate into practice. As he indicates, this is one of the tasks that remains for those who follow.


Larissa Fast
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution




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