PAX 140A Religion, Conflict and Peace

PAX 140A Religion, Conflict and Peace


PAX 140a – Religion, Conflict and Peace

Undergraduate Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Program, Brandeis University

Professor: David Steele, Adjunct Faculty in Coexistence and Conflict Resolution

Class Time: Th. 5:00-7:50 pm

Location: TBD

Contact information for Prof. Steele

Office hours – Wednesdays 10 am -12 noon in Pearlman 110;

Available through e-mail or by appointment when needed on ad hoc basis


Phone: (978) 897-5303

Course Description

This course examines the role that religious identity can play in both the escalation and mitigation of conflict. Students will study the role that ideology, belief, values, and faith-based relationships can play in developing and legitimizing, or in transforming and resolving, deeply rooted conflict dynamics. The focus of this course will be on both integration of religious identity factors into conflict analysis and an introduction to faith-based interventions skills, used by religious actors to foster coexistence. During the course, we will explore different types of contemporary conflict in which religion functions as a conflict driver, including how to understand and handle conflicts perpetrated by extremist religious groups. We will also explore the diversity of faith-based reconciliation processes (such as hospitality, healing ritual, apology, etc.) as well as the kinds of roles performed by a wide variety of religious actors (education, advocacy, mediation, dialogue facilitation, etc.). Examples and case studies will be drawn from a wide variety of religious traditions and diverse cultures. In addition to those cases presented in the readings and by the professor, each student will be required to select cases on which to make a class presentation and write a paper. The purpose of these assignments, and the course in general, is to provide students the opportunity to assess concrete conflict situations in which religious identity is a factor, know the potential contribution that faith-based actors can make to coexistence, and evaluate how best to function in faith-based peacebuilding roles and reconciliation processes that interest them.


Students who take this course will be able to:

  1. Assess what role religion plays, in comparison to other identity markers, as a driver of conflict within specific, concrete conflict situations in a variety of cultures worldwide,
  2. Articulate a framework for understanding, and responding to, conflicts driven by extremist religious groups from a variety of religious traditions,
  3. Understand and appreciate the potential contribution that all faith-based actors can make toward peaceful coexistence within/among diverse societies ,
  4. Identify specific, and sometimes unique, reconciliation processes which faith-based actors, from a variety of cultures, can use to assist conflicted parties to develop healthy, peaceful and cooperative relationships,
  5. Examine unique conceptions and approaches by which faith-based actors can fulfill traditional conflict transformation roles.


This course consists of 13 class sessions, taught once a week for 3 hours per class. Class sessions will include presentation, exercises, role plays/simulations, case studies, and discussion which will draw upon student’s own experience as well as the professor’s 20+ years of experience in the field.


If you have a documented disability on record at Brandeis University and require accommodations, please bring it to the instructor’s attention prior to the second meeting of the class. If you have any questions about this process, contact the administration.


Attendance, Punctuality, and Active Participation

In order to benefit from experiential learning, you are required to attend every class, barring documented illness. Please also arrive on time at the beginning of class and after the break. If you know you will be absent or late, for a legitimate reason, make sure you provide advanced notice to the instructor. Should you miss any classes without prior notice that will affect the class participation component of your grade (see below).

Participation involves more than just coming to class. You are expected to actively engaged. In order to ensure active participation in the best possible conditions, make sure you complete the assignments listed below on time. In preparation for each class session, it is recommended that you make notes from the assigned readings. In some cases optional recommended reading are also listed for some sessions. Please check on website before each class to see if extra readings have been added – or substituted. Based on any required assignments, you will be expected to provide thoughtful contributions to class discussions, share your perceptions, questions and any relevant experience, give periodic short class presentations as part of a small group, participate in exercises and role plays (as well as in assessment of learnings during debriefings). Since you may be assigned roles with confidential instructions in preparation for role plays, you are asked not to communicate before class with students who do not represent the same party as you.

In all class activities, you will of course enjoy complete academic freedom in the classroom, within the limits defined by mutual respect.

Case Presentation

Each student will be expected to participate, along with other class members, in one case presentation at the end of the course (during sessions 12 and 13). Each presentation group should include 3-4 students who can select their own case. A list of possible resources will be made available at the beginning of the course. Each presentation should be made using PPT and is expected to be 10-15 mins. in length. You are asked to:

·  Select a conflict situation in a particular country in which there is a clear example of efforts by a faith-based peacebuilder/reconciler

·  Describe the conflict context

·  Describe this religious actor. What kinds of faith-based interventions have they done in the past? What faith-based practices, reconciliation processes or peacebuilding roles did this person/group employ in the conflict you have selected?

·  Describe how their faith influenced what they did and how it impacted the results

·  Give your evaluation of the attempted peacebuilding process

·  Make any recommendations regarding what you think could have been done differently. Students should be as creative as possible at this point.

The presentation will be followed by a short time of feedback, given by other students and the professor.

Writing Requirement and Academic Integrity

There will be two short, three-page written assignments, both of which will be due prior to mid-term. The first one will be due on Jan. 28, the second one on Mar. 5. Students will be placed in small groups which will jointly compose these three-page reports. Each of these groups will also make short class presentations on their assigned topic. Further explanation of these assignments, both written and oral, can be found in the following descriptions of sessions 2-7. These assignments, together with assessment of overall class participation, will constitute the basis for determining each student’s mid-term grade.

Each individual student will also be expected to write a final paper of 8-10 pages due the end of the week following session 9 (i.e. Sat. Mar. 21). In the paper you are asked to pick a conflict in which religious identity plays a major role. The assignment is to:

  1. Describe the primary factors involved in the conflict
  2. Identify the specific role that religious identity plays, naming and describing the conflicted religious parties
  3. Assess the role that religious beliefs/ideology, values, and relational dynamics play in exacerbating the conflict
  4. Identify some actors (religious or secular) which have attempted to intervene (if there are any) and evaluating their degree of success/failure
  5. Present your own recommendations regarding the best way this conflict might be addressed by an intervener (religious or secular)

The writing of the final paper is intended to demonstrate your knowledge of, and ability to address, the challenges of religious identity when it is one of the major drives in a conflict situation. Its purpose is also to encourage you to approach reading materials critically, foster improved research and writing skills, and enhance your ability to conceptualize and advocate for change in a concrete setting. You are expected to devote careful attention to the technical quality of your written work, as well as its substance. A list of possible resources for these papers will also be made available at the beginning of the course.

This assignment must be typewritten, double-spaced, in 12-point font, and submitted electronically via e-mail to the instructor as a Microsoft Word attachment. You are asked to submit your paper on time. The grade for papers may be penalized if submitted late.

You must use the APA writing format, with appropriate endnote references to literature, readings, and lectures as well as a bibliography indicating the necessary breadth of background information and knowledge of the context. All written work for this course must avoid plagiarism and include appropriate citation of the sources used. If you have questions, check the Concise English Handbook, section 56c, on plagiarism and see the following webpages:

· - on academic integrity

· - in particular the section dealing with citations

The university policy on academic honesty is also distributed annually, in section 5 of the Rights and Responsibilities handbook. If you have any questions about this, do not hesitate to talk to your instructor, and to seek guidance.


Short group written assignments & accompanying class presentations 20%

Class participation (including participation in exercises, role plays, and class discussion) 20%

Case presentation 30%

Final paper 30%

Class Schedule and Reading Assignments

Session 1:

Contemporary Conflict & the Role of Identity

This session will cover:

·  The changing nature of modern war/violence: Types of actors, goals and strategies

·  The Nature of identity formation: primary and secondary identify markers, ascribed vs. acquired identity; individual vs. collective;

·  The role of identity markers in conflict situations: the place and nature of group boundaries; in-group/out-group relations; the influence of threat; tensions between group loyalty and treatment of the “other;” the need for balance between bonding dynamics and bridging dynamics.

·  Relationship of identity markers (e.g. religion, ethnicity, nationalism) to substantive conflict drivers (e.g. political, economic, resources).

Required Readings

Steele, David, Creative Approaches to Conflict transformation in Societies Affected by Extremist Religion, unpublished manual (San Diego: University of California, 2013), pp. 1-9

Korostelina, Karina, Social Identity and Conflict (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 74-87 and 134-54

Brewer, Marilynn, “Intergroup Identification and Intergroup Conflict: When Does In-Group Love Become Out-Group Hate?” in Social Identity, Intergroup Conflict and Conflict Resolution, ed. by Lee Jussim, Richard Ashmore, and David Wilder (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) pp. 17-41

Inman, Patrick and James Peacock, “Conclusion: Ethnic and Sectarian As Ideal Types,” in Identity Matters: Ethnic and Sectarian Conflict, ed. by Inman, Peacock and Patricia Thornton (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007), pp. 205-34

Session 2:

The Importance of Values within Identity Dynamics

This session will cover:

·  The role that values, spiritually-based or secular, play in identity formation, providing basic frameworks/world views that are distinct.

·  An examination of different value systems that exist in different kinds of cultures: collectivist and individualistic; shame-oriented and guilt-oriented

·  When values of different groups are antithetical, challenged, or imposed and how this influences conflict dynamics. How values frameworks relate to events that trigger conflict/violence.

·  Evaluation of the theory that there is an inevitable “Clash of Civilizations” due to value differences

Required readings

Steele, David, Creative Approaches to Conflict transformation in Societies Affected by Extremist Religion, unpublished manual (San Diego: University of California, 2013), pp. 11-13

Korostelina, Karina, “Cultural Differences of Perception of the Other,” in Identity, Morality and Threat, ed. by Daniel Rothbart and Karina Korostelina (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006), pp. 147-75.

Thomas, Scott M. 2005. The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, pp. 133-45.

Huntington, Samuel, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), pp. 40-72.


Three groups will be formed at the end of this session with the assignment of giving short reports on the highlights covered in each of the first three sessions of the course. The groups assigned to report on sessions 1 and 2 will cover material from both the readings and class sessions. The group assigned to report on session 3 will only cover material from the readings. Each group will write a three page report, due Jan. 28, the day before session 3. Each group will also make a 5-10 min. PPT presentation to the entire class, based on the highlights they have selected as most significant.

Session 3:

The Role Played by Religious Identity in Conflict Situations

The first part of this session will consist of 5-10 min. PPT presentations by each group, formed at the end of the last session. We will begin with the report on session 1 and end with the report on session 3. Each report will be followed by brief discussion involving the entire class.

This last part of this session will continue to cover, in greater depth:

·  The role sometimes played by religious identity in legitimizing and perpetuating conflict: sources of religious identity; links between religious belief/ideology and identity

·  The role often played by religion as an underlying world view/value system: identifying positive religious values and their impact on society; identifying the negative role religion can play in values conflicts

·  Types of contemporary conflict involving religion

·  Evaluation of religious fundamentalism in particular

Required Readings

Steele, David, Creative Approaches to Conflict transformation in Societies Affected by Extremist Religion, unpublished manual (San Diego: University of California, 2013), pp. 14-19

Appleby, R. Scott, The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence and Reconciliation (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000), pp. 57-63

Gopin, Marc, Between Eden and Armageddon: The Future of World Religions, Violence and Peacemaking (New York: Oxford university Press, 2000), pp. 51-64

Aslan, Reza, Beyond Fundamentalism (New York: Random House, 2010), pp. 3-33

Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2007), pp. 17-29

Recommended Readings

Appleby, R. Scott, The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence and Reconciliation (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000), pp. 64-80