Very Short Notes on Johan Galtung: Examining Religious Based Violent Conflict

Comments on Johan Galtung, Peace, Research, Education, Action, (Copenhagen: Christian Eljers, 1975), I.1. & I.4., pp. 29-48, 109-134.


I fascinate Johan Galtung’s background both as a Mathematician and as a Norwich Lutheran Christian. As a mathematician he used to think with rigorous and logic arguments. On the other hand, his Christian understanding of Peace might arguably influenced the way he thought about Peace.

I would like to talk further on the issue of religious based violent conflict based on Johan Galtung’s book entitled Peace, Research, Education, Action (1975). Galtung mentioned two social cosmologies of violent conflict, “actor oriented” and “structure oriented” (p. 22). Question that came to my mind then: How does religion’s role as the root of violent conflict based on Galtung’s terminology of these ‘cosmologies’?  How should we categorise the actor oriented and structure oriented in religious based violent conflict? Since, religion had been engaged very deeply in societies’ life for centuries. On religious based violent conflict, there were groups of people who fight one each other (the actors) in which influenced by religious ideology (structure) that underlying their way of thinking and making decisions.

Galtung contends, “violence is present when human beings are being influence so that this actual somatic and mental realizations are below their potential realizations”. Religious fundamentalism makes people cannot think clearly due to arguably influenced by their problematic religious radical ideology (or theology). Mental realisation that mentioned by Galtung implied to fundamentalism in religions in which encumbered  people understanding of their religion. Thus, people cannot not think out of their radical understanding locus. People might be thinking that killing other people (from different religious belief) in the name of religion were rightful. Meanwhile, religion is believed could contribute positive ideas on peace in society.

On page 31, Galtung asserts, “past generations techniques of freeing individuals from internal conflict depended on religion conversion, whereas in contemporary societies psychotherapy is more frequently called for-if not for its present leaders, at least as a for its leaders, and if not for its present leaders, at least as a screening device for future leaders”. In my opinion, there were paradigm shift occurred on the way of seeing religion in modern society, especially in so called developed countries. Since the Enlightenment and Secularisation sprang in European continent in 17th century, religion has been arguably pushed into private area rather in public sphere. Therefore, religion’s role in freeing individual internal conflict in society in the past has been replaced by psychotherapy approach as argued by Galtung. This concept might bring major effects on seeing religion in personal and social relation. However, we should consider how is religion’s role in internal conflict of individuals and public life in the Global South? There might be some major differences. I leave this question open for further reflection. []

Comments on M.K. Gandhi’s “Non-Violent Resistance”


Reading Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s Non-Violent Resistance echoes an interesting example of the contribution of religion on promoting peace and non-violent movement. In the last several years, world community has been shocked by 9/11 tragedy in U.S. Since then, religion has been under the spotlight of international eyes. Religions were suspected as the root of violence, such as terrorism. Terror actions were very easily associated to religion. Thus, issues on violence based on religion has raised in public discussion sphere.

On the other hand, long before this Gandhi has sounded that religious values could also contribute promoting peace, non-violent movement and social justice. Gandhi as an Indian charismatic leader at the dawn of 20th century, has brought many changes on Indian struggle against British colonialism. Gandhi fought in political, philosophical and religious ‘ways’. As he graduated from a law school in England, Gandhi fought in politics by his law and political knowledge. Gandhi also became a religious leader for Indian people who also appreciated and embraced Hindu religion. Gandhi received two predicates at the same time, both as a political leader and religious leader. He is revered as the father of Indian Nation. These factors has made him became a heroic and charismatic leader in India at that time, although in later discussion there were some controversies over him. Thing that caught my attention is Gandhi’s ‘strategy’ emphasising symbiosis values of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam religion on peace, non-violence, love and social justice (p. 111). He extracted these values and ideas as the root of his actions. He learned Christianity to offend Englishman on how to practice the true Christian value that full of compassion, love and justice to others. And he learned Buddhism and Islam to embrace his fellows Buddhist and Muslim in Indian society to struggle together as one nation. This demonstrates that religions could cooperate to promote and support peace, love and social justice.

Gandhi dug deeply the meaning of peace from his philosophy and religious believe. For him, reactive action without deep understanding will remain in vain for a struggle against colonialism. There should be a deeper understanding, therefore people could have strong persistency on non-violent resistance. That is why Gandhi planted “Satyagaha principle that also could have meaning as ‘devotion to the truth’. If it is a devotion, accordingly it would be a lifetime struggle on achieving peace and justice.

Other thing that I fascinate Gandhi is his way to conduct dialogue with the British colonialist representation in India, in this case on the Examination by Lord Hunter (pp. 19-29). Gandhi has shown his persistence on non-violent resistance. Dialogue or negotiation to the oppressor has been an effective strategy to show the oppressor what human right, equality, justice and truth should be. Peace that meant by Gandhi has its reference to the appreciation of human dignity. On the contrary, arbitrary actions shown by British colonialist to the people of India irritated him and encouraged him to speak up non-violently.

And how does Gandhi`s Satyagraha speak for today`s context? It will be a very long discussion. But one more point that I learn from Gandhi is his non-violent resistance and his systematic political strategy to organize Indian people to insist the truth, peace and justice that he began from his philosophy and religious foundation. []


Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand, Non-Violent Resistance, (New York: Schocken Books, 1951).