The Meso-Level Theory in Religious-based Violence and Peace-Making

Philip S. Gorski []

This article particularly analyzes religious-based violence and peace-making using the theory, so-called: the meso-level theory. This theory operates the concepts of sociology of religion, especially the classical theories of Max Weber and Emile Durkheim. The meso-level theory of religious life from Max Weber consists of: [1] “religious leaders” and [2] “religious communities”. On the term of “religious leaders”, meso-level theory examines claims of authority, “religious goods” promise, and how these goods exchanged with community. By using Max Weber’s typology of religious leaders, Gorski states that secular analogues of the priestly (religious) leader might include the leaders of worldly “churches” such as dynastic regimes and political parties. Otherwise, Weber’s typology of “religious communities” was developed on three axes: [1] the degree of communal authority claimed by the laity; [2] the presence (or absence) of horizontal ties between laypeople; and [3] the strength (or weakness) of boundaries between members (and outsiders).

Gorski implies that, as in Durkheim’s sociology of religion, the meso-level mainly comprises collective rituals and the conscience collective. This viewpoint emphasizes the bodily and collective aspects of religious experience. The religious life of certain community could not be separated from collectivity of its believers, particularly on term of rituals and conscience. Gorski states that conscience in this double sense is necessarily collective: like language, conscience emerges interactively and exists inter-subjectively. In simpler societies, conscience is characterized by much face-to-face interaction. Durkheim theory of conscience collective proposes the possibility of “collective memory” and also of “collective trauma” as tenets to examine religious based violent.

These meso-level social mechanisms are needed to be identified to generate religious violence and peace. This theory tends to imply that social aspects and positions are important on examining religious violence phenomena in society. Meso-level theory can be seen as contextualized nuances of understanding lives of religion on specific context.

In conclusion, Gorski suggests approaches for religious peacemaking, including: [1] careful balancing of competing claims to contested spaces; [2] public “mixing” of religious leaders from “competing” camps; and [3] ritualized forms of interfaith reconciliation.

This article is very important in giving further theories on religious life particularly in society level. Especially, meso-level theory that emphasized by Gorski has brought to a deeper understanding on religious community and many factors related to this. The Meso-level approaches to religious peacemaking could be possible a theoretical foundation for some case studies.



Gorski, Philip S., “Religious Violence and Peace-Making: A Meso-Level Theory”, Practical Matters, Spring 2012, Issue 5, published by Emory University, pp. 1-6.


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