Making Sense of the Pandemic through Peace Research

Simon GunthrieWhen the pandemic first closed down workplaces in March 2020, Simon Guthrie (right), like so many others at the time, found himself struggling to make sense of the world around him. A student in Grebel’s Master of Peace and Conflict Studies (MPACS) program, he soon had the idea to take advantage of this unusual opportunity and conduct research on the impact of a global pandemic—right in the middle of one.

With faculty advisor Eric Lepp, he developed a research question: How has the pandemic impacted faith communities in the Waterloo Region and how are they adapting? He conducted interviews with local community leaders from various faith traditions, once with each during the summer of 2020 and again one year later. The research was meant to probe what makes communities resilient (or not) in the midst of crisis, but it also helped Simon stay connected in a time of isolation. “I pulled off the entire project from my basement using Zoom,” he grinned.

One hopeful insight, he explained, is that the pandemic made time and space for many faith communities to step back and reflect on what they are doing, sometimes leading to a new focus on building relationships. For a few traditions, that meant reconnecting virtually with past members who were now physically distant—or, for example, a local Baha’i community connected with global counterparts by joining and contributing to an emergent grassroots 24-hour Zoom prayer group. For Christian denominations, Guthrie observed a trend of introspection in regard to harm caused to Indigenous neighbours, and a renewed effort to start building positive relationships.

Coming from a science and technology background, Simon reflected, “I’ve been answering technical problems for a long time, and this program gave me a chance to explore human problems; I’m really grateful for that.” He hopes to continue peace research, in one form or another, after graduation.