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About the Centre for the Study of Religion and Peace

 [W]hen there are sustained efforts at peacemaking and peace-building by religious organizations they tend not to be considered as news. - Chadwick Alger, Peace Researcher

 

​Mission

Through research, dialogue, and public education activities, the Centre for the Study of Religion and Peace (CSRP) aspires to advance knowledge and awareness of religious contributions to peace, and to enhance the capacity of religious communities to engage contemporary conflict issues and practice the peaceful values they profess. The CSRP explores the peace potential inherent in religious traditions, with an eye to more fully actualising this potential and identifying ways in which it can be applied to build trust, foster understanding, and revitalize public policy discussions.

Rationale 

One of the most salient themes of contemporary research on religion and conflict is the observation that religion often plays a dual role: religion can and often does inform identities and belief systems that sustain or intensify conflict, and yet it also serves as a powerful motivating factor in efforts to overcome destructive rivalry and establish just relations. Paradoxically, religion is both a source of conflict and a resource for peace. Often, however, conflict-intensifying roles of religion receive significantly greater attention from journalists and scholarly researchers than conflict-mitigating roles, resulting in unbalanced perceptions and impoverished public discourse. Stereotypical views that present religion as a major or even singular cause of polarization and violent confrontation have become commonplace in Canada and in other post-industrial societies, with few prominent commentators demonstrating awareness of persistent, organized religious peace efforts and of actual ways in which religion has advanced the cause of reconciliation. In effect, public discussions of religion and conflict tend to downplay political context, amplify the voices of extremists, and muffle the testimony of religious actors working for peace.

The urgency of research and dialogue on religion and peace becomes clearer when one considers the increasing prominence of identity conflict in many regions of the world, including Europe and North America. Conflicts that involve polarization of religious identity are by no means restricted to the Middle East, South Asia, or sub-Saharan Africa. Within a context of globalisation, migration, shifting demographics, and amplified security concerns, even nations that pride themselves on peaceful co-existence are experiencing ruptures in their multicultural fabric. In Denmark, cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist sparked intense controversy at home and abroad. France continues to struggle with ethnic, racial, and religious as well as economic differences; similar frictions in Holland have given strong impetus to anti-immigrant political organizing. In the United States, post-9/11 fears have led to increased discrimination towards members of Middle Eastern and South Asian minority communities, and a corresponding pressure within these communities to reduce the scope of engagement with the broader society. Even Canada, which endorses multiculturalism as one of the core values in its social contract, has seen ethnic and religious discrimination raise its ugly head.  

Recognizing the serious ramifications of these tensions, the CSRP seeks a way forward by inviting renewed reflection on the peace potential inherent in religious commitment. While religions can indeed by deployed for conflict as potent identity markers, as means of legitimising political authority, and as a vehicles for conflict mobilization, they also have a profound capacity to inspire peaceful behavior, restrain violence, advance social justice, foster community, and encourage reconciliation. Indeed, for a large proportion of the world’s people the deeper meaning and substantive content of “peace” itself is inseparable from religious beliefs and teachings. The CSRP therefore attempts to advance understanding of the peace-promoting capacity of religious and spiritual traditions, and to identify ways in which faith-based engagement with contemporary social and political issues can be used to construct bridges rather than barriers. The centre builds upon an existing area of strength at Conrad Grebel and in the surrounding greater Waterloo scholarly community, to provide a framework for collaborative research projects, training, and educational outreach. 

Programs

CSRP programs seek to advance factual and theoretical as well as practical knowledge about religious approaches to peacemaking and methods for transforming conflicts that include a religious dimension. CSRP takes a global, comparative, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of religious peace/conflict teachings and peacemaking methods, with an intent to foster greater understanding of ways in which religiously and spiritually motivated change agents can respond (and are responding) constructively and dynamically to great issues of our time, including ethno-religious and intercultural conflict, civil and international wars, economic and gender inequality, and ecological degradation. 

Through a range of initiatives and activities, the CSRP serves as a resource centre for religious peacemaking efforts, while also creating a forum for dialogue and relationship-building among people of diverse faiths, cultures, and nationalities. It also attempts to increase Conrad Grebel University College’s own capacity to equip undergraduate and graduate students with the tools they need to bridge cultural and religious divides as they pursue careers in development, conflict resolution, religious peace advocacy, and public policy.

Activities 

  1. Providing a context within the University of Waterloo for hosting discussions about crucial issues of  religion and peace, and how minority groups have survived in the midst of tension;
  2. Developing an academic as well as public forum for exploring and evaluating historical Mennonite perspectives and contributions to peacemaking, and for the development of realistic visions for future peace initiatives;
  3. Supporting the preparation of both academic and non-academic publications on Centre themes;
  4. Encouraging undergraduate as well as graduate students to engage with the field of religious peace-building, by offering academic courses on comparative religion, conflict, and peacemaking, with a special (but not exclusive) emphasis on current challenges in Islamic-Christian relations;
  5. Advancing public as well as professional education through:

  • Public lectures by respected scholars and activists in the religion and peace field;
  • Workshops with personnel from Mennonite and other service organizations, to explore opportunities for training and the development of “best practices”;
  • Seminars featuring community/academic/Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) resource persons;
  • Practical skills training workshops on interreligious dialogue, spirituality and peacemaking, and religiously based peace advocacy;
  1. Promoting broader academic and practice-oriented investigations of religion, conflict, peace, and human security by:
  • Hosting periodic conferences on these subjects;
  • Providing a framework for groundbreaking research;
  1. Enabling both students and interested laypersons to learn experientially by sponsoring a biennial study tour for academic and non-academic credit to an area where religion has been a source of conflict as well as a source of peace.

Context

As a liberal arts college founded by the Mennonite church and affiliated with the University of Waterloo, Conrad Grebel University College has a longstanding commitment to the advancement of scholarship, education, and service in the peace and conflict resolution field. In the late 1970s, Conrad Grebel initiated the first Peace and Conflict Studies program in Canada, and helped to establish Project Ploughshares, now a leading source of policy-relevant research on international peace and conflict issues. In the 1980s, Conrad Grebel became host to Conflict Resolution Network Canada, an NGO that played a leading role in the advancement of conflict resolution and restorative justice practices throughout the country. Launching the CSRP continues this legacy, and furthers the mission of the college to “seek wisdom, nurture faith, and pursue justice and peace in service to church and society.”

While drawing upon strengths of the larger Conrad Grebel faculty and of scholars at Kitchener-Waterloo’s two major research universities, the CSRP is housed in the Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) program. This location within the college reflects the centre’s intended approach and mode of operations. Like the Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) program, the CSRP adopts a value-explicit approach to social inquiry, pursued in a manner that invites contributions from multiple disciplines as well as efforts to enhance theory-practice linkages. Furthermore, the CSRP builds upon and augments existing dimensions of the PACS undergraduate curriculum (particularly the role of religion in conflict and peacemaking, and the relevance of faith to social action), while also providing a new venue for community education, scholarly collaboration, and dialogue. 

Themes for research and dialogue

  1. Mennonite peace position(s)
  • How has the Mennonite peace position developed/changed/evolved over time, and in different contexts?
  • What does the historic Mennonite peace commitment mean in our contemporary context?  What issues have sparked debate?
  • What are the parameters for discussion on contested issues?  What are some of the different positions of integrity?  How have these positions been derived?
  • How might ongoing dialogue be fostered?
  • Types of activities: speaker series, dialogue meetings, conferences, special issue of Conrad Grebel Review, etc.
  1. Religious voices for peace
  • What are some examples of religiously motivated peace-work in our own immediate and larger Canadian/North American contexts? 
  • What unique voices, visions, vocabularies, and vocational practices have escaped our attention?  What are their foundations? 
  • How have others (outside the Mennonite community) arrived at peace positions within their own traditions?  What are some of the personal journeys, communal conversations, and textual debates that shape these peace positions and practices?
  • Types of activities: speaker series, conferences, book projects
  1. Religious contributions to PACS
  • How have religiously motivated individuals and groups contributed to the development of the PACS field and to “real world” peace practices such as alternative dispute resolution, peace-building, disarmament, and restorative justice? 
  • To what extent have these contributions been properly documented and analyzed?
  • How does taking religion into account reshape the “story” of the PACS field?
  • Types of activities:  speaker series, conferences, special issue of Grebel Review, book project, etc.
  1. Religion as a catalyst for local, sustainable peace-building
  • How does religion inform the way in which members of local communities think and talk about peace?  What place does it have in the “local vernacular”?
  • What religious narratives, concepts, and understandings support peacemaking, social justice, and reconciliation?
  • What is the role of religion in traditional peacemaking practices?  How might indigenous practices be applied or adapted to meet present challenges?
  • What peace-building roles might be played by local religious leaders, networks, and organizations?
  • Types of activities: conferences, speaker series, book project, etc.
  1. Building community in multi-religious societies
  • The role of religion in conflict is often exaggerated, yet religious differences have often been sources of distrust and misunderstanding. In many ethnic and resource conflicts, religion becomes instrumentalized in the pursuit of political objectives that are not intrinsically religious in nature.
  • What forms of ecumenical and interfaith engagement are becoming more widespread in pluralistic societies? How are they contributing to peace? 
  • What are some challenges to peaceful multi-religious community, and how might they be overcome?
  • Types of activities: conferences, speaker series featuring Mennonite, ecumenical Christian, and non-Christian thinkers/practitioners
  1. Religion and global ethics
  • How have religious traditions informed various ethical positions on international affairs?
  • What positions are religious organizations and actors taking on some of the defining ethical issues of our day – issues such as common and human security, poverty alleviation, human rights, environmental balance?
  • What positions should religious communities be articulating on emergent frameworks for international cooperation and for the application of international law (e.g., the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, the International Criminal Court)?
  • What contributions can religious communities make to the creation of a better, more cohesive world?
  • Types of activities: conferences, speaker series, dialogue meetings, special issue of Grebel Review, book project, etc.

August 31, 2010