Under what conditions do religious leaders serve to justify or catalyze violence along identity lines that divide contemporary societies, and under what conditions do religious leaders lay the foundation for, advocate, and sometimes directly mediate for peace? The Conflict Resolution Institute together with the Center for Sustainable Development and International Peace (CSDIP) and the at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and the Iliff School of Theology recently co-hosted a symposium to begin to answer these questions. The symposium, held at the Daniel L. Ritchie Center, brought scholars from around the world to discuss the development of new upper-division undergraduate and graduate-level course curricula.
The effort was part of a larger project titled: Religious Leaders and Conflict Management in Deeply Divided Societies, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation's Initiative on Religion in International Affairs, which explores the role that religious leaders play in the creation or cessation of violence in deeply divided societies.
The first track of the project explored how religious leaders construct the relationship between doctrine and human rights; define identities (exclusive versus inclusive); articulate the relationship between religion, governance and state policy; justify and/or mobilize for war (the use of violence) through rhetoric; and, spoil the peace process or directly mediate.
The second track explored the policy implications of the findings from the first track. That dialogue produced discussion about how religious leaders can "promote tolerance, prevent violence and make peace, and build peace in the wake of war," with an emphasis on how the international community's engagement (or lack of engagement) with religious leaders can influence the outcome of interventions in conflict.
This symposium was third track of the three-year project, titled Religion and Global Issues in the 21st Century: Implications for Teaching and Learning. The project partners will take the finalized curricula from the Symposium as a foundation for a new specialization in religion and conflict management in their programs. The six course modules developed as a part of this symposium included:
• Religious Traditions and Contemporary Human Rights
• Religion, the State and Governance in the 21'st Century
• Religion War and Peace Process
• Religion and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding
• Religion and the Environment
• Religion and Development
The symposium commissioned the development of syllabi for each of the course titles and the syllabi were then discussed during the symposium. The development process included group discussions in which scholars presented their course modules to other scholars in a variety of fields. The scholars then offered suggested improvements and critiques of the modules presented. The intellectual, cultural, and geographic diversity of the scholars taking part in these discussions provided for stimulating debate about the intersections and efficacy of various fields involved in peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Several DU Conflict Resolution MA students were able to take part in this part of the process.
A highlight of the symposium was a public dinner and a keynote address by Dr. Rama Mani, activist, policy advisor, and Senior Research Associate with the University of Oxford Centre for International Studies. The keynote speech addressed the role in which religion plays in both fueling conflict and creating and sustaining peace. Although some religions can become obstacles to resolving conflict, Dr. Mani argued that religions can also change in ways that make them peacebuilders.
In an effort to make the most practical use of the rich academic interaction at the symposium, the materials for these courses – syllabi, readings, multimedia, and web guides - will be made available on a website currently being developed by The CSDIP. This web-based resource center will create a space for these materials to be disseminated to instructors and institutions at home and abroad. The site will also include the opportunity for scholars to interact by commenting, sharing information, and using discussion boards. In this way, the symposium demonstrates the commitment by all the institutions involved to a multi-disciplinary, collaborative approach to improving the field of Peace and Conflict studies.