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Sustainable Peace through Inclusive Security

Dr. Alaa Murabit


State fragility and inadequate security strategies increasingly threaten international safety. These factors greatly contribute to re-emerging and prolonged conflict, return to the far right, and human catastrophes such as the global refugee crisis. Correspondingly, there has been an expansion of extremist groups, and outbreaks of public health emergencies like Ebola.


 In all these cases, women and minorities are often marginalized, despite their unparalleled, unique and overlooked contributions to the security and prosperity of their societies. In fact, currently, 25 to 50 percent of all peace agreements fail within five years. But when peace processes specifically include women, the agreement becomes 35 percent more likely to endure for at least 15 years


In this keynote address Murabit will review lessons from conflict situations and provide recommendations on addressing state fragility through inclusive peace-building.


 A Psychological Perspective on How Religion is Used to Promote Violence … and How to Reverse this Tendency

Dr. Tom Pysczynski


Throughout history, and across diverse religious traditions, people have used religious teachings to promote and justify violence. This is paradoxical because it runs counter to the compassionate values central to the religious traditions being used to promote violence. Terror management theory is a psychological theory that posits that cultural beliefs and values, including religious ones, function to protect people from the potential for anxiety that results from awareness of human vulnerability and mortality. Hundreds of studies have shown that reminders of death increase clinging to one’s cultural beliefs, striving to live up to one’s culture’s values, and hostility toward those with beliefs and values different from one’s own. From this perspective, fear causes people to view those who are different from themselves as inferior and sometimes evil because of the threat that their divergent beliefs pose to certainty about the veracity of one’s own. When these differences are combined with other perceived threats, it often leads to violence. Hundreds of studies, conducted in diverse cultures, have shown that reminders of death increase support for political violence against people from group that are perceived as posing a threat to one’s own. Leaders of governments and radical organizations often take advantage of these tendencies by using fear to promote support for war and terrorism. However, TMT suggests that optimal protection from anxiety requires that one have both faith in the validity of one’s cultural worldview (which is enhanced by vanquishing those who are different) and living up to the values that are central to one’s worldview. This suggests that making people cognizant of the compassionate values of their religion or culture might reduce the tendency to react to fear with hostility toward those with beliefs and values different from one’s own. Studies conducted in Israel, Iran, and the United States have shown that when people are reminded of the values of compassion, shared humanity, and interdependence with others, reminders of death can decrease support for violence and increase support for peace-making. This suggests that increasing emphasis on the compassionate values of religion, and decreasing emphasis on the literal correctness of its teachings, could be an effective way of promoting peace.

Learning Objectives:

1. Understand the role of fear and the existence of people with beliefs and values different from one’s own in promoting hatred and violence.

2. Understand leaders use these aspects of human psychology to encourage the masses to support war and terrorism.

3. Understand the role of compassionate values, a sense of shared humanity, and a sense of shared fate


 Apocalyptic Thinking Religion and Violence

Dr. Arthur N.  Gilbert

One of the first books to place apocalyptic thinking at the heart of religion and violence was Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium.  The first edition, published in 1957 contained a subtitle that was very controversial namely “Revolutionary Messianism in Revolutionary Europe and Modern Totalitarian Movements.”  Comparisons across historical time are always dangerous and in later editions the cover contained no references to modern totalitarian movements like Nazism and Stalinism.  The original cover is interesting because it crosses the line from faith in past time to what we would call today, secular religion. Implicit in Cohn’ title is that “godless” has had much of the dark consequences as killing in the name of traditional belief systems.  It also opened up a debate on if faith contributes to mass killing or whether mass murder in our time,  including genocide is somehow not about religion which is, by definition, benign and peace oriented.  

In order to explore this debate, I will discuss the works of several current writers who have examined the connection between faith and violence.  Both Regina Schwartz and Hector Avalos, for example see profound and fearful ties between traditional religion and violence that continues to cause enormous violence in our world.  Most Interesting is the Schwartz links to the bible where what we might call the original biblical sin in the story of Cain and Abel where God accepts the tribute of one son and rejects the offering of another thus setting up a conflict that would have been avoided by simply offering equal blessings to both.  Conflict arose in the bible and later history because of the narrowness of the deity’s vision of grace.   Heavily influenced by Schwartz, Avalos argues that all religions and in particular monotheisms are based on determining God’s will as the road to salvation.  In the words of Rodney Stark, monotheisms are based on, to use the title of his book, One True God.  Dissenting from this view of religion is William Cavanaugh, whose book the Myth of Religious Violence attacks this way of thinking about religion and among other things makes a brilliant case for mass killing in our time as divorced from faith and based on secular values.

While the history of apocalyptic thinking has been a popular subject for western historians, recently books which deal with the messianic thinking in Islam have appeared which allow us to make interesting comparisons between the Judeo Christian tradition and the history of Islam.  Thus issues of religion and violence can focus on differences between violence prone faith and monotheisms which are presumably more peace loving.  Current debates about Christianity and Islam are often cast in these terms.  On both sides of the Christianity vs. Islam clash are those who argue for reforming religions so that their exclusive and violence prone tendencies are eliminated. 

Learning Objectives:

1. What role does apocalyptic thinking play in encouraging violence in history and today?

2. Is it true that monotheism, by definition, is one of prime reasons why people kill?

3. Is it true, as many atheists argue, that religion must change or be eliminated to achieve peace?


The ISIS Crisis and the 'Broken Politics' of the Middle East:
A Framework for Understanding Radical Islamism

Dr. Nader Hashemi

What is the best framework of analysis to explain the rise and expansion of ISIS? Is the problem with ISIS fundamentally due to something inherent in Islam, Arab Culture or Muslim political thought? Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, has argued this point by affirming that this “is a deeply flawed part of the world that never came to terms with modernity.” Similarly, President Obama on several occasions has spoken about “ancient sectarian differences” between Sunni and Shia, suggesting that perhaps today we are witnessing a Muslim version of Christian wars of religion in 16thcentury. His implication was there was little the international community could do to ameliorate the turmoil in the Arab-Islamic world; it had to simply burn itself out. Or is the problem with ISIS fundamentally about the legacy of US intervention in Iraq in 2003? Did a failed US policy toward the Middle East under Bush/Cheney inadvertently create ISIS as some have argued? What is the best entry point or point of departure to understand this vexed problem? This lecture will grapple with these questions and its implications for international security.

 Learning Objectives:

1. Participants should be able thinking critically about the relationship between religion and politics in explaining violence.

2. They should be able to appreciate the complexity of the problem of religious-based violence with a special emphasis on understanding that “religion” is a poor explanatory variable.

3. Participants should be able to appreciate why religious-based violence happens at particular moments in history and not during others. They should be able to appreciate


 Peaceful Development and Women’s Status

Dr. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi


The presentation starts with a simple theoretical model and clear distinctions between levels of aggression, perpetrators, and victims. It claims no easy solutions. The model begins with observing individuals as group members, who experience identity as central to their self-esteem. Deprived individuals, men and women, may be offered illusory compensations by religions and nationalisms, which promote the concepts of (individual and collective) honor and salvation.
Because religion is tied to both group cohesion and individual self-esteem, it contributes to positive social and individual integration, but also to many inter-group conflicts all over the world.
McCrae (1999, p. 1211) stated that religion was “a cause for which to live, or die, or kill”. The same is often true of secular nationalism. Levels of violent acts among members of differing religious and national groups start with negative attitudes (prejudice), and move on to social and economic discrimination, to humiliation, abuse, lynch (pogrom), war, and genocide.
While we follow daily horrendous acts of “unofficial” public terrorism or massive “official” fighting, and their consequences in human misery, attention should be paid to the connections among development, religion, and suffering. Religion is globally tied to low economic development, women’s oppression, and child abuse (think Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, or Burundi).
Given this global, gloomy, picture, can we offer any change strategies? Paul Kennedy (1993) suggested that the best preparation for the future would be an investment in the education of women. This is one kind of investment that does not disappear because of corruption, civil wars, or natural disasters. Better-educated women are the key to change in all aspects of life in the developing world, where wars are currently raging, together with routine manifestations of women’s oppression and child abuse. Changing women’s status will reduce suffering at every level, from corporal punishment to total war.

Learning Objectives: 

1. The connections between identity, deprivation, and self-esteem

2. The connection between status disparities and violence

U.S. Middle East Policy and Strategic Nonviolent Action

Dr. J. Stephen Zunes

My presentation examines the question of nonviolent alternatives to war, particularly in regard to responding to severe repression, foreign intervention, and terrorism, challenging the false dichotomy between armed insurrections and interventions on one hand and acquiescence to violence and oppression on the other. The overwhelming militaristic response to the threat from terrorism in the greater Middle East has largely encouraged the very extremist ideologies we hope to suppress. It is not the United States’ belief in freedom which has made our country the target of some religious extremists, but U.S. support for repressive governments and occupying armies and military intervention which has led to the deaths of many thousands of civilians.
The greater the understanding of non-military alternatives in struggling for justice, the less the appeal of violent extremism for those who feel oppressed. The greater the understanding of nonviolent alternatives to countering religious extremism, the less the appeal of military intervention and repression which tends to breed still more extremism. Indeed, recent history has shown that the most successful path to democratic change, of advancing social justice, of empowering civil society, of ousting dictatorship, of challenging both secular and religious extremism is through the power of strategic nonviolent action. The popular mobilization of the masses in large-scale civil insurrections has proven itself more effective and far less costly than military action in challenging violence from both the state and armed extremists. Given how all nations seek security, non-military means must be encouraged. Given that all faith traditions seek justice, the power of nonviolent civil resistance needs to be better understood.

Learning Objectives:

1. A better understanding the history of strategic nonviolent action against even the most repressive regimes and violent extremists.

2.Why nonviolent resistance is actually more powerful and effective than armed resistance, thereby enabling oppressed peoples to struggle for justice without embracing violent extremism.

3. How violent responses to religious extremism has done more to encourage such fanaticism than reduce it and what nonviolent methods would be more successful. 


 Religion, Reconciliation, and Peacebuilding in Post-conflict Societies

Dr. Lucy Ware McGuffey

Two assumptions have dominated classical liberalism’s view of religion: that it is a key source of conflict within and among societies; and that it would become increasingly subjective and so its influence would recede from the public square. The violence currently being perpetuated in the name of religion seems to confirm the first claim and invalidate the second. Nevertheless, studies also indicate the religions can provide a basis, albeit a complex one, for peacebuilding. This presentation will explore attempts made by religious actors to nurture reconciliation in postconflict societies. While the conventional example is the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was guided by the norms of forgiveness, other experiences, such as those of Northern Ireland and Bosnia, merit consideration. Crucial questions include: 1) whether religious actors can help reconstituted and depoliticize the identities underlying the conflict; 2) whether measures calling for reconciliation can support the respect for pluralism that is vital to a democracy; 3) whether calls for forgiveness are viable means of fostering social healing; 4) whether religious moral authority can sustain movements for social justice; and 5) whether religions can promote locally-based peacebuilding initiatives. In order to address these questions, I discuss the ways in which the three cases cited above sought to develop appropriate roles for religion to become involved in the peacebuilding processes, and on that basis, reflect upon the possible practical strategies both to avert and to resolve conflicts.

Learning Objectives:

1. Reassess the role of religion in the provoking and resolving of societal conflict

2. Identify practical strategies for religious peacebuilding.


 What We Know About Recent Hate Crimes in the U.S.

Dr. Heidi Beirich

Hate crimes are one of the most underreported and misunderstood types of crimes in the United States. This is a topic that came to the fore in particular after the election of President Donald Trump, an event that was followed by a massive outbreak of hate violence and incidents across the country.
Although the FBI annually reports about 5,500 hate crimes to have occurred, three major Department of Justice studies have found that the actual level of hate crimes is about 280,000 per year. That means hate crime statistics underreport the real level of hate crime in America by a factor of more than 30. The reasons for this underreporting will be explored as well as the impact such a disparity has on minority communities and social policy. Most importantly, underreporting leads to misconceptions of the levels of hate violence in the US and thus diminishes the seriousness with which this issue is treated as well as the resources applied to address this social problem.
We will also explore the history of hate violence in the US, how this problem relates to domestic terrorism, and what drives individuals to commit hate violence. Additionally, certain populations, in particular the LGBT community, are victimized in terms of violent hate crimes at levels far higher than their presence in the population, the reasons for which we will examine. The history of the hate crime reporting program will be described as well as the rather uneven attempts over the years to train law enforcement on these issues. The unequal and regional nature of hate crime laws across states will also be discussed, as will ways in which to better track this type of violence. We will also look at efforts being made to combat hate crime.

Learning Objectives:

1. Understand that hate crimes are grossly underreported in the United States

2. Understand that if reporting were at the level of actual hate crimes, we would consider the country to be experiencing a hate crime crisis

3. Understand the reasons why hate crimes are underreported and what can be done to change that


 Religious Fundamentalisms and the Future of Tolerance

Dr. Adam J. Graves


One aim of my presentation is to tie together, as best I can, a number of themes addressed by the other speakers in our symposium.  And I will attempt to do this by situating those themes within a relatively broad theoretical framework, which I develop in three parts: 


First, drawing upon the works of Émile Durkheim, René Girard and Mark Juergensmeyer, I begin by critically examining a well-known line of thought that associates religion with violence through the central category of ritual sacrifice. 


Secondly, I challenge the seemingly widespread assumption, both within academia (viz. Samuel Huntington) and mainstream media, that the rise of religious fundamentalism reflects a return to age-old civilizational differences. 


Building upon the remarks of previous speakers, I suggest that a proper understanding of contemporary forms of religious fundamentalism—and by extension religious violence—might require us to explain the remarkable ideological commonalties between them. 


Finally, I return to the enlightenment sources of our contemporary notion of tolerance (Locke, Voltaire, and Bayle) to pose a series of questions about what it might mean to tolerate cultural difference in yet another age marked by religious violence. 


Learning Objectives:

1. How might one assess claims about the supposedly violent (or peaceful) nature of religion? Are such claims meaningful, and what (if any) are their hidden assumptions?

2. What are the similarities between contemporary forms of religious fundamentalism (Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, etc.) and what might these similarities tell us about the nature and cause of religious violence today?

3. If tolerance requires a willingness to understand “the other,” what are the limits of tolerance when faced with senseless (and thus inexplicable) acts of brutal violence? Could it be that tolerance also demands greater understanding of oneself? 




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