Current Journal

Special Issue in Partnership with Harvard Divinity School’s Religions and the Practice of Peace Colloquium

Issue 24
December 2018
Guest Editor: Elizabeth R. Lee-Hood

Dean David N. Hempton, Diana Eck, Jeff Seul, and Elizabeth Lee-Hood with students and working group members in Religions and the Practice of Peace (RPP) and guest speakers Imam Muhammad Nurayn Ashafa, Pastor James Movel Wuye, Fania Davis, and sujatha baliga. (Photos provided by Harvard Divinity School photos/Laura Krueger, Evgenia Eliseeva, Angela Counts, Bridget Power, Maggie Krueger—upper left to lower right)

Dean of Harvard Divinity School, David N. Hempton, along with Elizabeth Lee-Hood, the Research Associate for the Religions and the Practice of Peace (RPP), introduce the RPP colloquium in this substantial introduction. The RPP at Harvard Divinity School was established in 2014 to serve as a hub for cross-disciplinary engagement, scholarship, and practice at Harvard University and beyond focusing on (1) how individuals and communities around the world, past and present, have drawn on religious, spiritual, and cultural resources to cultivate positive relationships, well-being, justice, and peace across differences; (2) how such efforts can inform contemporary conflict transformation, peacebuilding, and leadership; and (3) how spiritual and human values, positive engagement across religions and cultures, and nonviolent approaches can help humanity solve shared problems and create sustainable peace for all. As readers may be considering developing programming on this topic in their own contexts, we would like to share with you a bit of our RPP story: how we came to establish RPP at Harvard Divinity School; the RPP Colloquium and other major activities of RPP thus far; some of our experiences and lessons learned to date; and our most recent undertaking, the emerging Sustainable Peace Initiative (SPI).

Keywords: religions and the practice of peace, peacebuilding, harvard divinity school, religious peacebuilding, conflict transformation

Recent social scientific research sheds new light on the relationship among religion, conflict, and cooperation. Religion itself does not cause conflict; rather, religious groups are subject to the same us-them dynamic that can generate conflict between other types of identity groups, including ethnic groups. Religions are particularly adept at promoting cooperation within groups, however, which helps explain the unique capacity they have demonstrated throughout history to support the development of and sustain large groups. Recent research regarding religion’s capacity to promote cooperation within groups also is yielding insights into how religion can help promote cooperation between groups—a development that has received scant attention among experts in the emerging field of religious peacebuilding, or within the broader international relations community. This article provides a synthetic, analytical overview of this important line of research and offers examples of its implications for policy making and practice.

Keywords: religion, religious actors, conflict, peacebuilding, religious prosociality

Formal interfaith associations are an emerging frontline of conflict early warning and early response systems. While early warning systems and peace negotiators at the national level may be successful in addressing structural issues and war, the article points to a need to build more localized or “organic” intrafaith and interfaith mechanisms that can be mobilized to prevent violence at the source. Faith-based early warning systems can be a valuable tool for identifying early signs of violence and for controlling in-group members in order to quell religious and ethnic violence in deeply divided societies. The examples of cases from Sri Lanka and Nigeria demonstrate the usefulness of sustaining local or community-based early warning and early response mechanisms, and the merits of building on new or existing community associations, particularly faith-based associations for early warning and early response. The study is based on the author’s own experience directing a community-based conflict early warning system in Sri Lanka from 2002 to 2006 and designing a similar system for Nigeria in 2013.

Keywords: conflict early warning, early warning systems, religious violence, interfaith dialogue, intrafaith dialogue, religious peacebuilding, violence prevention, violence interruption, Nigeria, Sri Lanka

This article explores the TanenbaumPeacemakers in Action Network. The authors discuss how the Networkorganically formed and how itis structured, as well as itsevolution and effectiveness. Theauthors also review the ways in whichEtienne Wenger etal.’s “Communities of Practice” model is reflected bythe Network’sconcepts of domain, community, and practice. The Network’s32 religiously motivated Peacemakers(28 now living) work across various conflict zones throughout the world. Together, they inspire one another, feel less isolated, develop new ideas, and collaborate through Tanenbaum-facilitated “Interventions.” Hind Kabawat’s story, alongside other Peacemakerstories, is woven throughout to illustratehow the Networkserves as an effective model for structuring peace vis-a-vis peacebuilding writ large.

Keywords: peacemaker, religious peacebuilding, Syria, network, network theory, women in peace, interreligious, peacemakers in action

As our country and world become urbanized and connected to an unprecedented degree, we hear of trends on a sweeping, large scale: we may know that anti-Semitism is on the rise in America, but we rarely hear about the people, the relationships, and the networks that are working to combat that anti-Semitism. I remain steadfastly convinced of the integral importance of the local as a foundation for America’s interfaith infrastructure. In this article I will trace the roots of the Pluralism Project, which I founded over twenty-five years ago to explore the ways in which new religious immigrant communities were changing the fabric of America and becoming changed themselves. Since its beginning the Pluralism Project focused its research on the particularity of the local, and from that emphasis on the local we have been able to understand interfaith work and its infrastructure in a comprehensive way. I will present salient examples of interfaith efforts that are steeped in the local context of their home communities and encourage readers to consider the ways in which specific local context is foundational to interfaith infrastructure within the United States.

Keywords: interfaith, case study, case learning, interreligious studies, pluralism, Harvard University, multireligious, America, United States, research

The Color of God: Race, Faith, and Interreligious Dialogue


“Fè – Faith” — Anse-à-Foleur, Haiti (2015) (Credit: Régine Romain)

This photograph was taken during a Vodou ceremony for the deity/lwa of Saint Anne and is part of “Brooklyn to Benin: A Vodou Pilgrimage,” a mixed-media project documenting the survival, beauty, and power of Vodou in the Americas to Africa.

Issue 23 is a special issue guest edited by Funlayo E. Wood, PhD. Her introduction follows the Managing Editor's.

This paper offers a glimpse into some of the author’s life experiences as an African American Ifa priestess and interfaith minister who finds meaning working in interfaith education in spite of the intersecting dynamics of racial and religious bias that often go unnoticed. It explains which religions were present at the first Parliament of World Religions gathering in 1893, who was excluded based on race and religion, and how the history of that event may influence who we consciously or unconsciously see and value in interreligious and interfaith spaces today.

Keywords: Yoruba, Nigeria, Ifa, African traditional religion, interfaith movement, interfaith ministry, racism

In the 1930s, two African American Muslims committed shocking crimes that led newspapers across the country to declare that the Allah Temple of Islam (the precursor to the Nation of Islam) was a “voodoo cult” and its members were practicing human sacrifice. These allegations resurfaced multiple times in the media and scholarly literature over the next forty years, damaging the Nation’s reputation during the height of their popularity. This article is the first attempt to analyze these sensationalized depictions of the origins of the Nation of Islam within the context of contemporaneous understandings of “voodooism” and the racialized rhetoric of human sacrifice.

Keywords: voodoo, voodooism, Allah Temple of Islam, Nation of Islam, Wallace Fard, Haiti

This paper takes up Gil Anidjar’s concept of hemophilia—the love of blood—as a defining relational feature of Christianity and expands his critique through an examination of what blood as symbol, construction, and fiction reveals about the role of the racialized human body in contemporary theological and U.S. secular cultural imaginations. It discursively traces how the symbolism (and reality) of blood informs, sanctions, and responds to notions of race and racialized state violence by thinking through the epidermis and the making of race anthropologically, paying attention to the history of science. It moves on to epidemiological and social constructions of blood purity—emblematized in concepts of disease and contagion—and finally draws on the works of contemporary theologians to examine what it might mean to love blood ethically rather than violently and perversely.

Keywords: racialization, black religion, history of science and medicine, police violence, anthropology of religion, African diaspora, Christianity

Embedded in a global Black consciousness and spiritual power, dance is a cultural expression that demonstrates and legitimates a universe operating in sacred terms and a site of spiritual memory and resistance. Adapting to the adverse conditions in America, Africans wielded spiritual culture as an ontological imperative. Through dance, Africans in America established familiar and intelligible patterns to preserve their identities and ancestral heritage, expressed their beliefs and values, and related to others within the circle of community as well as to those external to the circle. This paper seeks to highlight the living dynamic of African–derived belief systems grounded in dance practices and the intersections of Black existentialism and resistance in these sacred enactments. I argue that dance allows Black people as a collective to defend their sacred existence, repair and control their bodies, and project their futures. To advance these assertions, I blur the lines between the sacred and the profane and examine forms of popular culture dances, using Beyoncés half-time performance at the Super Bowl 2016 and her video “Formation,” to trace Black ontology and the sacred fractal patterns requisite for spiritual transcendence.

Keywords: dance, memory, resistance, resistance aesthetics, Black ontology, collective practices, coded language, African diasporic culture, African American expression

In this paper, I construct a Neo-African religious history of activist, essayist, poet, and writer Audre Lorde from her essays, poetry, and memoirs. I trace Lorde’s cosmology through her writings, locate her within two larger American religious cultures, and place her in posthumous conversation with two of her strong socio-religious critics. I advance biographical and creative writings as critical axes for a Neo-African spirituality that Lorde inherits outside of American religious history canons. My analysis ultimately becomes a platform to think through how a religious history emerges from Lorde’s multiple genres. Considering more recent scholarship that sheds light on African gender and sexuality diversity within African religious cultures, this paper asks what, if any, literary license African descended persons have to claim and adapt African religion qua African religion in the diaspora.

Keywords: Audre Lorde, Africa, rites, African diaspora religion, Africana spirituality, art and religion

This article explores selected scholarship, understandings, and practices utilized in Hip Hop culture and Hip Hop Based Education (HHBE) as they relate to conceptions of race and spirituality, ways in which scholars describe the relationship of HHBE to spiritual experiences, and how HHBE connects to racial identity and spiritual development. The article also explores the past and promise of these understandings and recent scholarship on the intersections of HHBE, spirituality, and race. The article closes by highlighting the emerging fields of hip-hop literacies, racial literacy, and spiritual literacy.

Keywords: hip hop, Hip Hop Based Education, hip-hop culture, hip-hop literacy, racial literacy, spiritual literacy

In the 1940s, Ukrainian American filmmaker Maya Deren traveled to Haiti and became initiated as a manbo (priestess) in Haitian Vodou. How did Deren become drawn to Vodou, and how did she cultivate relationships with fellow devotees? Further, what does her experience as a Vodouizan reveal about other North American whites converting to “exotic” religions practiced largely by people of color? In an exploration of race and religious belonging, this essay offers a theoretical framing of “whiteness,” and considers the history of North American conversions to Buddhism as a precursor to white initiation to African Diasporic traditions. The paper examines Maya Deren’s identity as an immigrant artist, resulting in an alternate experience of whiteness, and allowing her to conceive of her journey to Haiti as a spiritual homecoming. Ultimately, I argue that Deren became enmeshed in a ritual kinship system whose bonds reached far beyond the boundaries of mortal geographies.

Keywords: Haitian Vodou, Buddhism, comparative religion, conversion, whiteness studies

With all of the violence and death that occurred in America in the summer of 2016, it seems that the discussion of the issues surrounding these and similar events has failed to lead us out of the current predicament. By analyzing the myths, rituals, and traditions of the Yoruba deity Ogun, this paper seeks to provide an indigenous Yoruba perspective on the current issues of violence, death, social isolation, social inequality, and sexual assault and harassment in American society and institutions of higher learning. With American society’s emphasis on progress, hard work, technology, and force in the form of guns and military might, it argues that we are living in an “Age of Ogun,” but will need to learn to interact with him properly in order to resolve these terrifying and related issues.

Keywords: Ogun, Yoruba, guns, violence, sexual assault, injustice, United States, universities

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