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Q&A with a student of conflict resolution, part 1

Last fall, the Religion and Conflict Resolution Program held a “brown bag lunch” – informal discussion – with students from Georgetown and American University in Washington, DC. Last month, one of the masters students who attended this event asked if he might interview me for a class project. Jason is writing about the growing sub-field of religion and conflict resolution. It makes me very happy to see students of conflict resolution and international affairs recognizing the important role of religion and, moreover, reaching out to Tanenbaum as a resource. Jason asked me questions organized under the categories “professional,” “personal” and “conflict resolution and religion.” I’ll share with you excerpts from this written interview, and this will be the first of a three post series. Enjoy!

(1) What major lessons have you and Tanenbaum learned through the publication of Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution?

I arrived at Tanenbaum (at the end of July 2007) several months after the publication of the book (which occurred in March 2007.) Still, even at this point and since, the response to the book has been strong. Those who have been exploring the intersection of religion and conflict for some time, have an “at last” reaction, because the book fills gaps: First, the case studies focus on individuals rather than organizations; this encourages emulation at the personal level and discourages stereotype based critiques. Secondly, the case studies have one institutional author (Tanenbaum), allowing for systematic approach and analysis.

In terms of those who are new to the idea that religion can be a force for peace, I have observed that it is helpful to gather religious peacemaking stories within a framework of second order language. While the Peacemakers often use primary language (words and references from their religious traditions), the case studies are presented with the secular reader in mind. Tanenbaum is a bridge building organization; we work with, study, and are informed by religious individuals and institutions, but we are a secular organization.

Finally, perhaps the greatest draw of the book is that it provides examples, models, real stories. I know that I personally have read countless descriptions of theological resources for peace within the world’s religions. They are never as convincing or exciting to me as the actions that result from such theological and spiritual insights. Many readers seem to agree; therefore the lesson is that we need more books, trainings, workshops, and conferences that focus on the how-to of religious peacemaking and peacebuilding.

(2) What trends, if any, are you seeing through the dissemination of Peacemakers in Action in how students and universities are engaging the issues of religion and conflict resolution?

People are curious. Many don’t know quite what to think about the intersection of religion and conflict, which is understandable as it is very complex. We find a scattering of courses and a handful of programs that focus on this. Resources also tend to be vague or anecdotal; the field is still in its infancy. Still, the excitement is definitely there.

a. Do you perceive an increase of interest in these issues by undergraduate and/or graduate students and university programs?

Again, yes. There is interest from every direction. Skeptics and even those hostile to religion realize that it’s not going away. On the contrary, the importance of religion as a factor in international affairs and conflict resolution is growing. This is remarkably evident in U.S. foreign policy. If you have not already, please see the CSIS report “Mixed Blessings”! And you know, especially in the Beltway, that what happens in universities and government is related. In another type of university setting as well – in seminaries, we find an increase of interest among students.