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Filmmakers explore alternatives to religion, conflict


April 12, 2011

The campus community is invited to attend a special film festival and symposium at Arizona State University: “Living Conflicts in India, Pakistan, Israel and Palestine: Religion, Secularism and the Search for Peace,” which takes place at 1:30 p.m., April 14, in West Hall room 135 on the Tempe campus. The films are available for viewing online prior to the symposium by registering at http://csrc.asu.edu/ or at several special campus screenings.

The film festival features three films on the dynamics of religion, conflict and peace in these regions: “In the Name of God” by Anand Patwardhan, “Pakistan’s Taliban Generation” by Fazeelat Aslam,  and “Little Town of Bethlehem” by Jim Hanon. Each of these filmmakers will be on hand for the symposium, along with cultural commentators Farrukh Khan, a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, and Issam Nassar, an associate professor of history from the University of Illinois.

Yasmin Saikia, the Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and a professor of History, has organized the symposium.

“We need to begin a conversation about the powerful role that the visual media plays in our society today,” Saikia says. “Too often the focus is on conflict. The greater challenge is how the visual media might help in promoting new narratives and a new language of peace activism.”

Critical to this undertaking is exploring the way in which religion and secularism work to promote conflict or peace.

According to Saikia, in each of these regions the secular nation-state was originally viewed as a way to overcome religious divisions. But in the context of weak, incomplete or unrealized states, violent religious extremism has become a way to attempt to alter the social, political, regional or global landscape.

“This raises important questions,” Saikia says. “Is secularism the only way to guarantee ideals such as peace and human rights? Are there new forms of religious moderation that can operate in the public sphere as a counter-weight to religious extremism? How can documentary filmmakers help us to see what is really taking place on the ground in these communities?”

The films and filmmakers were chosen based on the deep way that each engages the historical and cultural roots of peace and conflict in their regions through the stories of people in their communities.

Anand Patwardhan made his first major documentary in 1974 and has gone on to make over a dozen films for which he has won a number of international best picture prizes, including In the Name of God/Ram Ke Naam, War and Peace/Jang aur Aman and Father, Son and Holy War/Pitra, Putra aur Dharmayuddha.

Fazeelat Aslam is an Emmy award-winning documentary film producer, freelance journalist and human rights activist currently based in Pakistan. She has worked on documentaries for international organizations such as PBS Frontline, Channel 4 UK, and the New York Times Online.

Jim Hanon left a career in advertising to take up documentary film as a way of telling stories that would communicate stories of human meaning, value and reconciliation. His films include "Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Miss HIV," and he recently completed filming "The Grandfathers," part of a trilogy that also includes "Beyond the Gates of Splendor" and "End of the Spear."

Clips of the films will be shown at the symposium in order to provoke discussion about the search for peace in each of these regions.

Participants are encouraged to view the complete films prior to the symposium. Films can be viewed online – links and access codes are provided upon registering for the symposium at http://csrc.asu.edu/forms/ticket-request.

Films are also being screened on campus at the following times and locations:

"In the Name of God," 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., April 12, Coor 195.
"Little Town of Bethlehem," 4 p.m. to 5:15 p.m., April 12, West Hall 116.
"Pakistan's Taliban Generation," 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., April 14, Coor 195.

This event is presented by the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict with support from a Ford Foundation grant for a multi-year project on religion, secularism and democracy.

For more information, see http://csrc.asu.edu/ or call 480-965-1096.