Religion was a relatively overlooked factor in the study of political science until the 21st century. Even when the focus on religion increased in the aftermath of 9/11, a majority of the scholarship still dealt with religion and violence. “Religion and peace” has arguably been a less popular topic, yet there is still a vibrant literature that has contributed to our understanding of religion and social dynamics, especially given the significant number of religiously inspired organizations that are active in postconflict processes, such as Network of Engaged Buddhists, Sant’Egidio, and American Jewish World Service. Religion can play a critical role in conflict resolution and negotiation, especially in settings where secular approaches fall short of resolving the tensions, and where religious actors are seen as more neutral than the political actors. Peacebuilding literature has also recognized the importance of religion. Every religious tradition has its own sources of nonviolence within itself, and under the right conditions, these sources can help with reconciliation, peacebuilding, and transitional justice. At the same time, involvement of religious actors in postconflict processes poses its own challenges. Religious actors are rarely fully neutral, their assistance usually comes with conditions attached, and their involvement in political processes can undermine their moral authority. In addition, there are religious leaders who work against reconciliation to protect their own status in conflict settings. Recognizing that it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of faith-inspired initiatives, more scholarship is needed to explore the dynamics of religious initiatives in postconflict processes. There are gaps especially when it comes to non-Christian actors’ involvement in peace processes, and how the faith-inspired initiatives of individuals differ from those of religious institutions and organizations.
Demobilization of ex-combatants is a major obstacle in the transition to a stable postconflict society. The combatants must be convinced to abandon the armed confrontation and hand over their weapons in light of security concerns and a lack of alternative means of income. The challenges to overcoming the commitment problem differ in terms of numbers of combatants who must be demobilized for conflicts that end in a decisive victory and conflicts that reach a military stalemate. Peace agreements can offer several solutions for overcoming the parties’ commitment problems, but often the implementation of the provisions is incomplete. Third parties can offer to monitor an agreement and provide security guarantees. International actors increasingly assist with demobilization and reintegration programs for former combatants and help to overcome security-related concerns and economic challenges. Another solution offered is military power-sharing arrangements and the integration of rebel fighters into the national military. These measures are intended to reduce the pool for potential recruitment for existing or new rebel groups. If ex-combatants are left without means of income to support themselves and their families, the risk is higher that they will remobilize and conflict will recur. Reintegration in the civilian labor market, however, is often difficult in the weak economies of war-affected countries.
A major challenge for countries that emerge from civil war is the stabilization of the post-conflict order in a way that fighting does not break out again. Recent empirical and theoretical work on the resolution of civil wars and on the duration of peace strongly rely on the bargaining framework of war emphasizing information asymmetries and commitment problems as main reasons for why in some states civil wars recur repeatedly, whereas in other societies a conflict ends and a transition to a peaceful society is successful. The length of peace spells depends partly on information about the distribution of power that became available during the conflict, captured by the duration and intensity of the fighting as well as the type of conflict ending. Information problems are more relevant at earlier stages and with regard to the initiation of negotiations. In finding bargaining deals and securing their implementation, the conflict parties have to overcome commitment problems. The literature has investigated in more detail third-party security guarantees and power-sharing arrangements as mechanisms to get conflict parties to credibly commit to and adhere to a negotiated agreement. Recently, empirical research moved beyond the conclusion of peace agreements to the study of their implementation. Particular challenges for a peaceful order are the demobilization of ex-combatants, which is aggravated by time-inconsistency problems, the timing of elections, and the redistribution of economic resources. Finally, solutions become more difficult in multiparty conflicts and if the armed groups are fragmented.