Skip to main content

Students use dialogue to address religion and conflict


June 04, 2010

A towering 26 foot wall is erected on Hayden Lawn. Luckily for students at Arizona State University, they can walk around it. But not everyone is so fortunate. Every year, the wall is erected by a student organization to inform passersby about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One of these students is Danielle Bäck.

Danielle Bäck is an economics major who is also pursuing certificates in Religion and Conflict and Arabic studies.  Believing that the only solution to such conflict is dialogue, and inspired through her active participation in programs such as the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict’s Undergraduate Research Fellows and last year’s Annual Lecture in Religion, Conflict and Peace Studies by University of New Mexico professor Sharon Nepstad, she decided to attend the Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation to Israel/ Palestine this summer.  To help her get there, she applied for the Hardt Undergraduate Scholarship in Religion, Conflict and Peace Studies…and won.

“After hearing Dr. Nepstad’s talk on the role of religious non-violent movements in bringing about peaceful change,” said Danielle, “I am determined to learn all I can about them, especially in the Middle East where such groups do not get media attention.”

During her time in the Middle East, Danielle will meet with a variety of Israeli and Palestinian groups working to develop non-violent solutions to the conflict. She hopes to work for an NGO, think tank, or human rights group that focuses on the problems of the Middle East when she graduates in 2012.

Scott Ross, an education and global studies major, also won a Hardt Undergraduate Scholarship in Religion, Conflict and Peace Studies. During his freshmen year Scott saw a film about the conflict in Northern Uganda in which the Lord’s Resistance Army has waged a 24-year long war in which countless children have been abducted, civilian have lived in constant fear of attack, and peace has been unforeseeable. Since learning of these events Scott has been working to raise funds for recovery efforts, advocating for the victims of this war, and lobbying congress for comprehensive legislation to help bring the war to an end.

Scott will use the scholarship to work at the “National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS” in Kampala, Uganda, examining how people rebuild their lives and promote reconciliation in the aftermath of war. After he graduates in 2011, Scott plans on developing a career in education and policy analysis, especially related to Africa.

Danielle and Scott, along with the winners of the Graduate Fellowship in Religion, Conflict and Peace Studies and students who earned the Undergraduate Certificate in Religion and Conflict, were honored at an awards ceremony held at the Center on May 10, 2010.

“Religion can be a powerful force for peace and the resolution of conflict as well as violence,” according to Linell Cady, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It is vital that we prepare students to understand and address these dynamics. This is why we are grateful to donors such as Ann Hardt and foundations such as the Ford Foundation who have enabled us to create programs such as the Initiative in Religion, Conflict and Peace Studies and the undergraduate certificate program, and why we take the time to honor student achievement.”

The two winners of the Hardt Graduate Fellowship in Religion, Conflict and Peace Studies are both doctoral students in political science.

• Alex Arifianto won a fellowship that will help support field research for his dissertation, “Political Theology andIslamic Activism in Indonesia and Nigeria.” Working under the direction of Dr. Okechukwu Iheduru, Alex’s project seeks to develop new insights on political Islam, specifically focusing on why some Islamic groups subscribe to a political theology that promotes democracy, religious pluralism, and peaceful social change, while others choose a political theology that promotes authoritarianism, religious intolerance, and violent political change.

• Matthew Bergman is working on a project entitled “Religion, Generosity, and State Welfare Policy” with his advisor, Dr. Carolyn Warner. Matt’s project is part of a new movement within political science to examine the mechanisms that promote generosity, altruism and empathy, especially the policies that state’s enact that help or hinder these mechanisms from working. Matthew’s research will be able to highlight what beliefs and policies help promote virtues, such as generosity, that foster peace.

The Undergraduate Certificate in Religion and Conflict was created to propel ASU students to the forefront of knowledge about the increasingly complex role of religion in today’s world. Students who earn the certificate take 18 credit hours of interdisciplinary course work on the regional, political and cultural study of religion and conflict in addition to their major.

“The undergraduate certificate, now in its second year, prepares students to enter professions in which an enhanced understanding of religion’s conflictual dimensions is increasingly vital and urgent,” says certificate director and associate director of the center, John Carlson. “We are extremely pleased to graduate eight students from the program this year.”
Students who earned certificates in 2009-2010 come from a range of majors including global studies, political science, molecular biosciences, and religious studies.  They are:

• Lewis Brownlee
• Timothy Bushnell
• Faraj Hamdan
• Mai Inabi
• Amy Lukau
• Hugo Ortega
• Rachel Stewart
• Aaron Ziskin

Over twenty other ASU students are currently pursuing the certificate in religion and conflict.  The certificate is open to undergraduates in any major, and may be of particular interest for students pursuing careers in journalism, law, policy work, diplomacy, the military, public advocacy, publishing, education, ministry, or other fields in which an enhanced understanding of religion and conflict is important.

To hear a podcast of Sharon Nepsted's lecture, "Peaceful Revolutions", see http://csrc.asu.edu/programs/peace-studies-lecture.

To learn more about student initiatives at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, see http://csrc.asu.edu/education.

Written by Richard Ricketts