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Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding

Lisa Schirch
Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding
ISBN: 978-1-56549-195-3
ISBN: 978-1-56549-194-6
2004/209 pages/LC: 2004018655
A Kumarian Press Book
"Wonderful and long overdue....  Fills a glaring gap in our professional peacebuilding literature. This book should be on the shelves of every practitioner, researcher, and trainer working in this field."—John Paul Lederach, University of Notre Dame

"Does more than point to the power of ritual and symbolism.  In a highly readable style, she parses ritual and symbol into useful analytic and practical components that may be used in setting the stage for peacebuilding opportunities and events."Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

 "Not merely another scholarly contribution to an ever-growing field of research [but] an exemplary case of moving the debate in a new direction."—Veronika Bajt, Peace Institute, Slovenia


Conflict is dramatic. In theater, literature, story telling, and news reporting, it is a powerful mechanism that draws attention, heightens the senses and evokes emotion. Schirch argues that peacebuilding has the potential to do just the same.

Examples of peacebuilding often center on the serious, rational negotiations and formal problem-solving efforts in conflict situations. Schirch argues, though, that what truly bonds adversaries and helps achieve peace are the symbolic, non-verbal ritual acts—shaking hands, sharing a meal, showing a photograph of a loved one. Yet these are often overlooked as deliberate components of peace negotiations.

Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding underscores the importance of incorporating symbolic tools, including ritual, into traditional approaches to conflict. Ritual assists in solving complex, deep-rooted conflicts, and helps to confirm and transform worldviews, identities, and relationships. With theories and language to explain the symbolic dimensions of conflict, this text will be useful to scholars and practitioners active in the diverse field of peacebuilding.


Lisa Schirch is professor in the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. Her publications include The Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding, Civilian Peacekeeping: Reducing Violence and Making Space for Democracy, and Conflict Assessment and Peacebuilding Planning: Toward a Participatory Approach to Human Security.


  • Introduction.
  • Peacebuilding Dramas.
  • Understanding Ritual and Symbolic Acts.
  • Material, Social, and Symbolic Dimensions of Conflict.
  • Finding Ritual on a Map of Peacebuilding.
  • Designing the Stage: Peacebuilding Spaces.
  • Peacebuilding Pantomime: Negotiating Without Words.
  • Forming and Transforming Worldviews
  • Forming and Transforming Identities.
  • Forming and Transforming Relationships.
  • Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws: Designing Peacebuilding Rituals.