". … To the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

Swedish industrialist Alfred B. Nobel could not imagine how prestigious his Peace Prize would become, nor the great wars that would scar the planet after his death. Since the bestowing of the first Nobel Peace Prize in December 1901, the laureates have shone like faint stars in the dark night of the most violent century on record.

By the end of this month, 100 Christmases will have been celebrated since the first Nobel awards ceremony—a century greatly in need of peacemaking. The field has often been so bleak, indeed, that the Nobel Committee has forgone making awards in 19 of these years (nine of them coinciding with the two World Wars).

The dawn of the new century finds an uncharted world filled with conflicts mapped more by cultural and ethnic than geopolitical boundaries. Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington warned of a world "anarchical, rife with tribal and national conflicts" as he surveyed post–Cold War realities in The Clash of Civilizations (Touchstone, 1998). The end of the 20th century was marked by an "eruption of a global identity crisis."

Religious factors in these tangled thickets have been unavoidable. Where culture and ethnicity overlay all boundaries, religious differences easily serve as markers—something readily evident in the protracted struggles of the Middle East, the Balkans, Northern Ireland, and parts of India, Indonesia, and Africa.

At the same time, a growing body of evidence suggests that religion in these same locations can and does serve as a resource for unraveling the tensions, alleviating ...

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