In my last post, I posited that scholarship that addresses conflict, violence, and peace needs to address the ways that communities engage “religious traditions and practices to work for justice and healing when confronted by violence.”  What I was arguing for is a shift in the theoretical scope from large-scale international frameworks and practices to local, contextual understandings of the ways that people imagine peace as a process that emerges in everyday life.

I spent last week in New York, attending events designed to mark the passing and implementation (or, in many cases, the lack of implementation) of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, on women, peace, and conflict.  In a report released last week by the International Civil Society Network (ICAN) and MIT Center for International Studies, titled “What the Women Say: Participation and UNSCR 125,” the invisibility of women’s peacebuilding practices—to funders, international agencies, and national governments—was noted as a major barrier to implementation of 1325.  The invisibility of women’s peacebuilding work (and, significantly, a lack of attention to the ways women think about peace and reconciliation) has had concrete implications for women’s lives, as the report notes:

Civilians and civil society groups that are major stakeholders in peace and are often involved in pragmatic peacebuilding efforts remain systematically excluded.  The emphasis is on “ending the war” rather than the complex range of issues and people that define peace and peacebuilding.  UNSCR 1325 with its promise of inclusivity and premise of comprehensive peacemaking, is even more valid today.  But it still remains peripheral.

The question of what we see—and perhaps more importantly, how we see—leads me to some reflections on mapping.  Now you might wonder how and why I became interested in mapping as a methodology for learning about the ways that communities define and enact peace, particularly as it intersects with religious traditions, beliefs, and practices.  In part, this has to do with my own place as a scholar.

Emory University, where I study, has been a part of the African Religious Health Asset Programme (ARHAP) since 2002.  Researchers involved in ARHAP seek to make the assets of faith communities and traditions visible—to mark the places people seek out health and healing resources, particularly in the absence of resources from the state.  ARHAP researchers engage community mapping projects where communities set the terms (What is health? What does it mean to heal?) and literally “map” the places where they find it.

This summer in Kenya I was able to observe one such community health asset mapping project in the informal settlement of Mukuru, in Nairobi.  The work of Emory’s Interfaith Health Program (IHP) in Mukuru has led to a greater understanding of the informal networks that exist in a community that is often marked by its invisibility—both on physical maps (until this project, Mukuru was not visible on maps of Nairobi) and to international and state-level actors (where much of the actual religious and health-related work happening in Mukuru was not recognized or acknowledged).  Mapping, in the sense of identifying the myriad ways people understand and seek out healing and literally mapping these places (using GPS handhelds) provides a counter to the ways that real people can become marginal in international and national scholarly and practical debates around health, development, and human rights.

This overview of the research models developed by ARHAP researchers is too brief, but it points to a potential methodological resource for seeing what often goes unnoticed:  the ways people define things like peace and healing; the places and people that go unmarked on literal and metaphorical maps; and the ways that communities work together in the face of crisis to address the rebuilding and restoring of life.

As the ICAN and MIT report aptly reminds those of us working in fields where international conversations can often set the terms (human rights, health, development, etc.), it is perhaps time for a turn—both theoretical and practical—toward hearing “what the women say.”  What might we learn about the intersections of religion in peacebuilding, human right,s and development work  by turning to community-based research models that privilege the local in its relation to the global?  What local religious landscapes might emerge on our maps?