Part 3 (and final): Q&A with a student of conflict resolution

The first posting in this series listed “professional” questions; the second “personal,” this third and final posting lists questions about the subfield of religion and conflict resolution

(1) In what general direction do you see the field of conflict resolution moving (i.e., what do you feel are the dominant theories and practices in the field?)

I think that the conflict resolution field is in part struggling, in part thriving around the classic dichotomy of the ivory tower/government elite and the grassroots. CR should be an inherently practical field. I think that increasingly, we are making the necessary connections so that practice and theory nurture one another.

I also think that law is diminishing as a focus, while international relations is increasingly viewed as a natural fit with conflict resolution.

(2) What do you find to be the biggest challenges and benefits to working in the field of conflict resolution, in general, and religious peacemaking, specifically?

On a personal level, I find it difficult to explain to people what I’m doing. This is especially true once the word religion is thrown because in terms of that subject, we live in a polarized environment. Instead of nice, neutral or open-ended reactions you might get any variance of zeal or rejection. In the benefits column, I love meeting people that are doing this work; I find hope and inspiration in them.

I think that the above apply professionally as well. Because religion is provocative and manifest in many different forms, interactions require more getting to know you time. Assumptions are less of a good idea than usual. Also, as implied above, the work can fuel itself – there is plenty of motivation to stay engaged, especially when the suffering to which you are exposed is tempered by examples of success and compassion.

(3) In what ways do you feel the study of religion will or will not be incorporated into the fields of conflict resolution and peace studies?

Sociology, culture, politics. These are words we are comfortable with and to the degree that ‘religion and conflict resolution’ is associated with them, I think that the general field is ready to work with us. But spirituality, theology, creed – these are not words that fit comfortably into Western academic and policy space. Yet, these are an inherent part of religious identity and religious practice. I highlight this disconnect not to say that the study of religion will remain bifurcated; I hope that it does not because we’ve much to learn from the aspects of religion that do not fit neatly into a social science curriculum. Still, it is helpful to think of the relationship between religion and conflict resolution as a work in progress, one that will require both sides to avoid essentialism or utilitarianism.

(4) Finally, in what ways do you believe the skills and tools developed within a religious tradition should be utilized for various conflict resolution practices (i.e., reconciliation and peacebuilding efforts)?

I think it is important to realize that many religious people that have never even heard of conflict resolution are already involved in reconciliation and peacebuilding. The skills and tools that are developed in the process should be utilized with the participation of those who preserve or create them.

The Rev. William Lowrey (a Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action award recipient) tells a story of an indigenous ritual “discovered” by conflict resolution practitioners from outside of the community. The ritual was misused by the outsiders and this not only caused the specific intervention to fail, it also destroyed the power of this particular ritual of the community. What was once an effective and cherished practice could no longer be enacted.

The above story highlights the importance of supporting local indigenous peacemakers. It also illustrates that religious skills and tools are agents of change as they exist within religious traditions and communities. While secular practitioners can certainly adapt religious techniques and vice-versa, they have most to learn in partnership with their religious counterparts.