Pope Francis in Armenia

ecuminism

Pope Francis and Patriarch Karekin II of the Armenian Church (Crux)

Last weekend, Pope Francis made an apostolic journey to Armenia, a small, landlocked country of three million in the South Caucasus, bordering Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The official motto of his journey was “Visit to the First Christian Nation,” a reference to Armenia’s being the first state to adopt Christianity as its official religion, in 301 A.D., a matter of great national pride. Only a small percentage of Armenians are Roman Catholics; more than 90% belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, a member of the Oriental Orthodox communion. Yet Francis received an enthusiastic reception from the Armenian Church hierarchy, the government, and the everyday people who crowded his public events. It’s worth focusing on the reasons for the warm welcome, and on the diplomatic and ecumenical significance of his journey.

Armenia is in a rough neighborhood. To the east, the country is locked in a frozen conflict with Azerbaijan, a majority-Muslim country, over Nagorno Karabakh, a region populated by Christian Armenians that seeks independence from Azerbaijan. A ceasefire has been in effect for about 20 years. In April, Azerbaijan renewed the conflict; Armenians successfully resisted the Azerbaijani attack, and the ceasefire was restored, but nerves remain on edge. To the west, Azerbaijan’s ally, Turkey, another Muslim-majority nation, has closed its border with Armenia, preventing needed economic development. To the north, relations with Georgia are peaceful but mixed; Georgia has its own breakaway regions and leans towards Azerbaijan in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. The only strategic partner Armenia has in the region is its neighbor to the south, the Islamic Republic of Iran, which, somewhat surprisingly for outsiders, cooperates with Armenia on a number of issues. Armenia also has close relations with Russia. Indeed, the US typically thinks of Armenia as Russia’s proxy in the Caucasus. But the situation is more complicated than that. Russia plays both sides of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh—it sells weapons to Armenia and Azerbaijan–and Armenians increasingly distrust it. As I say, a rough neighborhood.

The pope’s visit was a welcome sign that the outside world, and especially the West, has not forgotten Armenia. Even more, in Armenia, Francis once again went out of his way to use the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey during World War I. Before the visit, the Vatican had suggested Francis Continue reading

“Violence, Religion, Peacemaking” (Irvin-Erickson & Phan, eds.)

In May, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Violence, Religion, Peacemaking,” edited by Douglas Irvin-Erickson (George Mason University) and Peter C. Phan (Georgetown University).  The publisher’s description follows:

This volume explores how religious leaders can contribute to cultures of peace around the world. The essays are written by leading and emerging scholars and Unknownpractitioners who have lived, taught, or worked in the areas of conflict about which they write. Connecting the theory and practice of religious peacebuilding to illuminate key challenges facing interreligious dialogue and interreligious peace work, the volume is explicitly interreligious, intercultural, and global in perspective. The chapters approach religion and peace from the vantage point of security studies, sociology, ethics, ecology, theology, and philosophy. A foreword by David Smock, the Vice President of Governance, Law and Society and Director of the Religion and Peacebuilding Center at the United States Institute of Peace, outlines the current state of the field.

“The Oxford Handbook of Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding” (Omer et al., eds.)

This March, Oxford University Press will release “The Oxford Handbook of Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding” edited by Atalia Omer (University of Notre Dame), R. Scott Appleby (University of Notre Dame), and David Little (Harvard Divinity School).  The publisher’s description follows:

Oxford HandbookThis volume provides a comprehensive and interdisciplinary account of the scholarship on religion, conflict, and peacebuilding. Looking far beyond the traditional parameters of the field, the contributors engage deeply with the legacies of colonialism, missionary activism, secularism, orientalism, and liberalism as they relate to the discussion of religion, violence, and nonviolent transformation and resistance.

Featuring numerous case studies from various contexts and traditions, the volume is organized thematically into five different parts. It begins with an up-to-date mapping of scholarship on religion and violence, and religion and peace. The second part explores the challenges related to developing secularist theories on peace and nationalism, broadening the discussion of violence to include an analysis of cultural and structural forms. In the third section, the chapters explore controversial topics such as religion and development, religious militancy, and the freedom of religion as a keystone of peacebuilding. The fourth part locates notions of peacebuilding in spiritual practice by focusing on constructive resources within various traditions, the transformative role of rituals, youth and interfaith activism in American university campuses, religion and solidarity activism, scriptural reasoning as a peacebuilding practice, and an extended reflection on the history and legacy of missionary peacebuilding. The volume concludes by looking to the future of peacebuilding scholarship and the possibilities for new growth and progress.

Bringing together a diverse array of scholars, this innovative handbook grapples with the tension between theory and practice, cultural theory, and the legacy of the liberal peace paradigm, offering provocative, elastic, and context-specific insights for strategic peacebuilding processes.

Event at Fordham Law School: “Beyond Extremism” (Jan. 27)

On January 27th, Fordham Law School’s Center on Religion and Culture is hosting a forum entitled “Beyond Extremism: Reclaiming Religion’s Peacebuilding Capacity in an Unstable World.”  The panelists include R. Scott Appleby (University of Notre Dame), Shaun Casey (U.S. State Department), Robin Wright (Journalist), and Eliza Griswold (Author):

In the post-9/11 world, where boundaries between faith and global politics are fluid, religion is often criticized for stoking extremism and underwriting violence. But can the enmeshed relationship between faith and politics also be the starting point for a new era in peacebuilding and conflict resolution?

How can religious leaders and foreign policy makers work together to lay the foundations for peace in hotspots around the globe? Join us for a forum on the intersection where secular politics and the world’s faith traditions meet.

Details can be found here.

Brewer, Mitchell & Leavey, “Ex-Combatants, Religion, and Peace in Northern Ireland”

In February, Palgrave MacMillan Publishing will publish Ex-Combatants, Religion, and Peace in Northern Ireland: The Role of Religion in Transitional Justice by John Brewer (University of Aberdeen, U.K.), David Mitchell, and Gerard Leavey. The publisher’s description follows.

Much has been written about the influence of religion on the Northern Ireland conflict and the part played by ex-combatants in the peace process. Yet we know very little about the religious outlook of ex-combatants themselves. Are they personally devout? Is religion important to their political identity? Did faith play a role in their decision to take up arms, or lay them down? And now that their war is over, does religion help them cope with the past?

Based on original interviews with ex-combatants from across the political and religious divide, this book addresses these questions, shedding new light on the interplay of religion, identity and violence in Ireland. It also shows how the case of Northern Ireland illuminates the current international debate around religion and peacemaking. Arguing that advocates of religious interventions in transitional justice often naively exaggerate its influence, a theoretical model for understanding the role of religion in transitional justice is proposed.

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