International Institute for Religious Freedom

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Good Practices to Prevent Religious Discrimination



In recent years both academic and advocacy institutions have documented religious discrimination with increasing sophistication which has improved our understanding of the multifaceted nature of this phenomenon. The sophisticated documentation has inspired responses by a wide range of actors, including faith-based groups and governmental entities. While their efforts are extremely valuable, these actors often become engaged after sometimes violent acts of discrimination against religious groups have been perpetrated and the damage is already done. Conflict certainly merits this engagement, yet considerably less attention is given to the prevention of religious discrimination, an underexplored phenomenon. Although understandable, we argue that the implicit preference for the resolution or transformation of religious conflicts over their prevention is not in the interest of vulnerable religious communities. It also ignores the valuable initiatives to prevent religious discrimination that religious groups themselves are already implementing. 

We posit that vulnerable religious groups are better served by increased attention on prevention. This focus on prevention is in line with analogous developments inspired by the human security paradigm in related areas, such as peacebuilding. Actors involved in the mitigation of religious discrimination have yet to make this shift to prevention, perhaps due to the underexplored nature of this domain. Religious freedom endeavors also create space for cultural production and protecting meaning making space through reducing violence or building peace. Following the assumption that efforts to prevent conflict are more effective than efforts to cure, we develop a methodology to document good practices of the prevention of religious discrimination. This is critical as many violent incidents and mass atrocities happen outside of known conflict areas or news reports. Good practices can be thought of as as embodied and institutional knowhow. We justify our focus on good practices by using the Cynefin framework of sense making. We also draw on conflict prevention literature, and preliminary findings distilled from an exploratory sample of initiatives that have effectively prevented religious discrimination in Vietnam, Iraq, Nigeria, Colombia, and Mozambique. These initial sites were chosen for their religious, political, and geographical diversity. This paper offers a contribution to academic discourse by integrating the documenting of good practices to prevent religious discrimination, based on initial findings, into gaps with existing literature. We also expect that this methodology and frame will allow us in the future to build a database of good practices that religious groups can use and adapt to prevent religious discrimination in new contexts. The knowhow we present is the good practices, which we document and communicate through this project.