Academics, practitioners, and local and national government representatives from near and far assembled at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School for a two-day symposium on April 7-8 on "Bridging Global Religious Divides."
In celebration of the 100th birthday of Benjamin Slomoff (Conflict Resolution ’97), the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance and the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development expanded their annual Sylvia and Benjamin Slomoff Lecture on Conflict Resolution into a two-day symposium to honor their distinguished benefactor who traveled from California to be in attendance.
In his welcome, Provost Winston Langley applauded the symposium agenda to expose students and community partners “to our academic, translational approach to build understanding … and to link meaning, beliefs, human loyalty, and identity.” Department Chair Eben Weitzman also offered opening remarks noting that the conference planners wanted “to bring together practitioners, policymakers, and academics to explore new research questions and field practices in inter- and intra-religious conflicts.”
The free event drew approximately 200 attendees who listened to three keynote addresses and five sessions, participated in a facilitated group dialogue, and contributed to a wrap-up report on key themes.
Bruce Hemmer from the U.S. State Department Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization delivered the first keynote on religion, conflict, and U.S. policy. Also from the State Department, former Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith shared lessons from U.S. efforts to engage Muslim communities in inter-religious peace building. On the second day, award winning journalist and poet Eliza Griswold spoke on Christian and Islam conflicts from the Tenth Parallel.
In addition to McCormack’s own faculty experts, panelists included academics from Drew University Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict; Seton Hall School of Public Service; and Boston Theological Institute, as well as local and federal government representatives from the Massachusetts Office of Public Cooperation and the U.S. Institute of Peace. Charles Sennott, co-founder and editor-at-large at GlobalPost, also participated.
Symposium participants shared personal narratives, proven strategies from the field, and research outcomes on dozens of themes related to overcoming global religious conflict. David Smock from the U.S. Peace Institute pointed out the theme of the role of technology in conflict resolution, noting, “We need much more work on the role of social media and where we stand with it in promoting religious peace building. We are very behind [using these communication tools].” He also acknowledged the neglect of women in conflict resolution, the importance of forgiveness, and the extent to which we involve religious content like scripture and rituals when we are involved in interfaith dialogue as recurring themes.
In the closing session, Charles Sennot enumerated three things that the community could take from the Slomoff symposium: listen, act, and tell. First, he noted the value of listening “to the wisdom and the voices assembled here,” including voices from religious leaders and those that understand religion. Next, he suggested we “take the ideas here beyond the conference and act on them” explaining that “there is so much more than can be done.” Finally, Senott asked everyone to widely “tell the narratives” shared at the symposium explaining that these stories empower people to work through conflict resolution.
Dean Ira A. Jackson proudly summarized the special event. “Speaker after speaker at the Slomoff symposium congratulated Professors Darren Kew and Eben Weitzman for putting together a great group of cutting-edge thinkers and on-the-ground pioneering practitioners to discuss a timely and largely misunderstood topic. Several praised the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development for their work with the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Nigeria and the Bridges Project in our own backyard. Two journalists, who combine 50 years of coverage and serious writing about conflict zones, independently praised the Interfaith Mediation Centre with whom we partner as the single most effective force of its kind anywhere in the world.”