There is a fundamental problem with the ideal of a “peace culture”, if it were to exist, because the underlying assumption is that it should be implemented everywhere, and imposed even where it was not wanted. Galtung states that the construct of a “peace culture” is “problematic, because of the temptation to institutionalize that culture, making it obligatory with the hope of internalizing it everywhere; And that would already be direct violence” . Galtung is a scholar of peace, and it is therefore shocking and even disheartening for him to state that if the ideal of a peace culture was achieved this would be a terrible situation.
Cultural violence is a notion which contrasts with direct violence, as it does not involve physical force but rather less definable structures which justify and reinforce harm or discrimination against a specific group. Cultural violence is embedded in culture, and one of the great influences on culture is religion. The different values in different religions, in other words, give rise to the justification for cultural violence in indirect and sometimes direct ways. The very idea of a “good” culture or a “bad” culture arises from cultural violence, using the values of the cultural-religion combination that is dominant for the person passing judgement. When threat of violence is used often in a culture, such as in many civil wars and situations in the Middle East, it is easy to pass judgement and determine that these are “bad” cultures, or at least not “peace cultures”, but it could be true that the level of violence is a function of the positioning of the peace, conflict and culture triangle that Galtung proposes.

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Religion therefore becomes entangled in matters of power and international politics. A culture of peace between them, as well as nationalistic issues of resource allocation and other issues, would require either cultural or physical violence, according to Galtung.

Is peace therefore violent as an imposition? Does peace therefore require institutionalization, and how is violence positioned then? Does that lead to a freezing of positions, since challenging the status quo could be perceived as violence? How then would the victims of cultural violence who are systematically oppressed change their situation? Is peace theoretical a contributing factor in maintaining cultural violence because it discourages conflict when it is institutionalized as “right”? These are important questions for the world

To further deconstruct this idea, we need to contrast the ideas of a peace culture with a violent culture. One area of interest is therefore how power imbalance is addressed. Galtung proposes a necessary triad of cultural violence, cultural peace, and violence. Galtung further noted that a utilitarian philosophy such as that provided by Kant could balance the cultural violence as a form of cultural peace, since they were both aspects of the same form.

The more difficult question may lead to reflections on the biases that we bring in to the study of peace and violence. To the extent that peace, or peacefulness, is institutionalized and internalized in many cultures so that conflict is greeted with shaming or other forms of cultural violence, one must conclude that the ideal of a peace culture is not an ideal at all. The ideal is instead a balance that attempts to make most of the people content, most of the time, but shifting power and needs will always require correction by challenging power. This requires sufficient openness for conflict to exist.

  • Galtung, Johan. “Cultural Violence”. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Aug. 1990), pp. 291-305. 
  • Hehir, J. Bryan. “Why religion? Why now?” Rethinking religion and world affairs (2012): 15-35.
  • Moore, Diane L. Our Method. Religious Literacy Project, Harvard Divinity School. (2014).