A Discussion with Scott Appleby, Kroc, Notre Dame
Background: This exchange between Scott Appleby and Katherine Marshall in July, 2010 focused on the USIP/Berkley Center/WFDD review of women, religion, and peace but also on Appleby's longstanding work on peacebuilding and how religion is woven through it. Appleby's pleads for us to stick to the term peacebuilding (in contrast to peacemaking or conflict resolution): “Peace is never fully made, but always being built”. We need to avoid essentializing gender roles. Fragmentation of the subfield is to be avoided as separation of genders and disciplines is detrimental to the society as a whole. We should undertake the research that is needed to understand better the work that women, especially in religious communities, are doing to promote peace. Women, he believes, instinctively dig deeper into the roots of a conflict situation, and thus are naturally far more adept at peacebuilding than men. Women embrace the concepts of healing, restoration, and reconciliation, and are ready to counter the forces of violence and destabilization by combining their forces with male peacebuilders. He gives examples of leading women who have been part of the Kroc program, all of whom have been inspired by faith and recognize religion as an important part of the lives of the people in the communities they serve. Appleby stresses that religious belief is an important factor in the peacebuilding methods he sees as most creative and significant. The discussion concludes with reflections on how the Notre Dame Kroc program on religion and peacebuilding has evolved and what makes it distinctive.
Interview Conducted on July 7, 2010
You place great emphasis on the term peacebuilding, to the point of being annoyed when the terms peacemaking or conflict management are used interchangeably with it. Why is that?
As people who have been explaining the difference between “sex” and “gender” for a generation know all too well, getting terminology and conceptualization right is essential, so I have a terminological and conceptual plea: the encompassing term is peacebuildingnot peacemaking, or conflict resolution, or even conflict transformation. This is not simply a pedantic issue but a substantive matter. My insistence on this point stems precisely from the fact that women are particularly adept at seeing the big picture, at perceiving connections and forging bonds, at refusing to isolate and preferring to integrate, and at understanding that new or renewed possibilities and hope unfold over the long duration, not in the six weeks or six months of a State Department’s timeline or a conflict resolution practitioner’s “getting to yes” agenda. Women, or those blessed with the aptitudes typically associated with that gender, instinctively go deeper, reaching beyond the presenting issues of a conflict, to the deeper wounds, the ruptured relationships and scars of violence and injustice that require years, decades, and lifetimes to heal.
Building cultures of peace that foster healing, restoration, and reconciliation, cultures that offer new patterns of relating, that is the essence of building “peace,” which is nothing if not the envisioning, nurturing and sustaining of compassion-filled human relationships that are essential to authentic human flourishing.
What do you really mean by peacebuilding?
“Peacebuilding” as a distinct concept and theory now has a shelf life. We use it to refer not only to the post-accord period of a conflict cycle, but to all phases of the cycle, because so many of today’s deadly conflicts are cyclical, so much so that it seems arbitrary and ahistorical to presume a starting and ending point, or even discrete, self-contained stages. Just as violence and repression move from latent to realized to contained to dormant phases, so too must the constant building of peace, a set of practices that must be understood as the accompanier of and constant alternative to the forces of violence and dehumanization, not their full and final replacement. We live, sadly, not in Utopia but in Sri Lanka and Detroit and Congo and even Northern Ireland, where war of a sort is an imminent possibility at any given moment. The building of peace does not ignore these phases or conflate them, but rather adapts to them so that measures of prevention are not those of negotiation and measures of resolution are not those of transitional justice, but all are organically related. So peace is never fully made, but always being built.
So what does this mean in practice?
First, peacebuilding in itself is not enough; it must be strategic. Maintaining strong and nurturing and peaceful personal relationships is not enough; personal transformations must engender structural transformation. And strategic peacebuilding must be gender-inclusive in every dimension. Women alone must not be the nurturers and healers, and men alone the power-brokers and politicians; women and men together must practice mercy and compassion, and carry a big stick when doing so, as necessary. Building peace is not a pastime for those who have no voice and demand none, or for those content merely to bind the wounds that others create.
Peacebuilding is a dangerous, life-threatening, politically risky and utterly consequential vocation, as the women and men currently practicing it will tell you in a New York minute.
And where do you see women’s special roles?
A central dilemma is how we can avoid gender stereotypes while acknowledging different aptitudes, experiences, and skill sets, some of which, fairly or not, get attached to a particular gender. I do have an admonition: let’s not get stuck in the gender trap or paralyzed with soft power panaceas. There is no dichotomy to be honored between claiming a voice and healing those who have been victimized, between organizing and lobbying for political change and building relationships across religious and ethnic divides, between mothering and fathering the family, and demonizing the structures that render equal access to education remote in the priorities of the state. We must not essentialize gender by leaving the structural questions to the men alone.
My colleague Myla Leguro stresses that such essentializing of feminine and masculine identities makes women’s (and men’s) varying experiences invisible but also often works as an ideological tactic to mobilize support for war and for peace. That is true as peace activists and peacebuilders capitalize on so-called women’s capacities for peace as an entry point for women to gain more visibility and participation in peacebuilding processes.
So to insist that peacebuilding at every level must be strategic is also to insist on deconstructing this essentialist discourse. That is: peacebuilding must leverage constructive personal relationships into political change and social transformation and calculate the impact and risks of certain kinds of actions; it must draw shrewdly on resources and partnerships at the governmental and national and international as well as the grassroots and local levels. All this is the work of women as well as men.
Women do excel at grassroots organizing but are often isolated from centers and tables of power. Addressing this situation and changing it must be the first priority not only of strategic peacebuilders but especially of religious peacebuilders, owing to the fact that religions are often the buttresses of the patriarchal culture and social order.
So I emphasize that the relationships that comprise peacebuilding must extend beyond the personal to the cultural and structural, so that they parallel and challenge the forms of violencepersonal, cultural and structuralthat besiege men and women alike, and that underwrite the gross injustices that lie at the heart of deadly conflict today. Gender stereotypes are a real danger, especially if marginality, invisibility and the absence of voice are somehow seen as women’s special virtues and gifts. Women as well as men must be power brokers, senior mediators, development czars, and religious prophetesses within their own religious traditions.
And what about religion? How is it germane to this discussion?
In much of the discourse about religious women as agents of peace, religion is presented as primarily an interior, private, devotional matter. My colleague Atalia Omer highlights this tendency. Notwithstanding the recognition that what brings women of all colors, nationalities, religion, etc., together is their common experience of patriarchy, the current theorizing about women, religion and peacebuilding amplifies the role of women as the paradigmatic nurturers.’ Once again, religion is recognized as relevant only insofar as it represents an available resource located in a private or distinct sphere of social life. While it is important to explore how and why certain religious practices intensify during times of urgent conflict, it is also critical to interrogate how religion may be implicated and entrenched in the underlying structures of injustice and imagine ways of conceptualizing the connections between those two sets of inquiries.
In our study of global fundamentalisms, women appear in religious leadership positions, if at all, as surrogate males, or as world-weary survivors of an embittering secular patriarchal culture seeking refuge in a different, more noble style of submission, religious style. More than one scholar argues that fundamentalisms, associated with hard religion, consequential religion, are best understood as “patriarchal protest movements.”
Is there no room in hard, consequential, public religion for women who relentlessly demand gender equity as the sine qua non of authentic human flourishing and thus of peace? What possibilities would be opened if scholars and practitioners engaged one another on the following questions: How is religion itself being construed as a space for women’s agency? What kind of religious agency or “representation,” to use Marc Gopin’s preferred term, is available to women, and under which sets of conditions?
What kinds of activism are relevant to the centralizing of peacebuilding agency, male or female, within the religious sphere? And, not least: ought we not to hinge our definitions of “peace” on how gender relations are configured within a society conducive to authentic human flourishing?
And what about the roles that women play within religious communities (that is, the broader congregations and communities that bring people of different faiths together?
I am hopeful that recognizing women’s peacebuilding work can position women within the religious community. It may stimulate, or be stimulating, the internal transformation of religious sensibilities and religious communities. This is not a fanciful question, but an empirically sound one. That is: I claim, here and now, that internal transformation of religious spaces and religious identities as a result of women’s peacebuilding agency is already evident in some settings. And for now my claim will have to stand, because you have no real hard and fast evidence to counter itor me to support it.
What is your leading action priority?
We need first-rate social scientific studies of what is actually happening in these so-called invisible realms of peacebuilding, conducted by women standing in some critical but positive relationship to the traditional religious community. One self-described Catholic peacebuilder observes that “if the general challenge is to expand women's role and participation in peacebuilding and to combat invisibility and women's limited access to key decision making structures, we cannot overlook the implications of this goal for our own religious community structures of authority and indeed for our own religious identities and agency within those structures.”
Scholars need to engage in serious theoretical reflection on the intersections of religion, women and peacebuildingand resist replicating dichotomies already debunked in other contexts of research, not least in feminist studies. And practitioners need to connect questions of gender to structural violence, highlighting the gendered discourses of nationalism and war.
Can you point us to women playing special roles in peacebuilding who you believe merit special attention and study?
There are many remarkable women who have been part of the Kroc Institute’s M.A. program in peace studies over the years. We identified at least 40 who have a special engagement with religion. I can point to several that I know personally to be involved in path breaking work.
Bina d’Costa, a faculty member at the Australian National University, originally from Bangladesh, is one of our prominent graduates who works on gender, religion and peacebuilding. She is the author, most recently, of an essay entitled “’You cannot hold two watermelons in one hand’: Gender Justice and Religious Identity Politics in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” In a related vein, another recent Kroc grad, Alicia Simoni, could be called a “publicist for peace,” in that in her role with the Washington DC-based NGO, with PeaceXPeace, she contributes to the influential “Gender across Borders” blog.
Two friends from the Kroc M.A. class of ’09 are now leaders of the International Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable Peace. Dareen Khattab is the agency’s coordinator for Palestine and is based in Ramallah. Christina Shaheen, based in New York City, is the agency’s International Coordinator. Both of these women are highly gifted and effective peacebuilders.
Burcu Munyas (class of ’06), originally from Turkey, is another remarkable peacebuilder, whose work for Catholic Relief Services in Jerusalem has been profiled on the television program “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.” Like other relief and development agencies, CRS has struggled with the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The profile of Burcu focuses on their culturally and politically deft efforts to negotiate the patterns of the blockade and deliver needed assistance to the Palestinians.
The Kroc Institute has recently developed a peacebuilding apprenticeship under the supervision of John Paul Lederach, and one of the senior apprentices in this vocational training program is Maria Lucia Zapata, who is working now in Colombia with communities affected by violence. She networks with colleagues such as Pilar Rueda, another Kroc peace M.A., who is introducing peace studies programs to Colombian universities.
Some of our M.A. grads, such as Shabnam Siddiqui, who worked in Indian security services, went on to obtain doctorates in order to pursue policy studies, research and teach. Shabnam is currently a PhD student at the National University of Singapore. Others dive right into civil society leadership. Shamsia Ramadhan, who graduated from Kroc in May, has returned to Kenya, after writing a thesis on the post-election violence that recently rocked Kenya, and the role of Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic religious groups and leaders in tempering (or exacerbating) the ethnic and religious dimensions of that violence. Shamsia is a respected Muslim leader herself, and is working with NGOs to forge effective religious alliances for peacebuilding.
What has piqued your interest in these topics of peacebuilding, women, and religion?
It is these women who have inspired me. In the ten years I have been director of the Kroc Institute, 180 students have gone through the Master’s program and approximately sixty percent of them are women. Their remarkable stories and talents are a graphic illustration of the work women do and can do. These women have been my tutors and associates in teaching peace studies; I have learned a great deal from them and their experiences.
How far is religion an explicit element in these master’s candidates and their work?
They come from very different religious backgrounds (or none) and relate to religious faith in very different ways. Many of these women have an active faith commitment and draw part of their inspiration from their religious identities or communities, especially from other women in those communities. Others may see religion as the problem. But most recognize that religion shapes the lives of the people whom they serve, and they are sensitive to its dynamics.
How often have nuns been part of the program?
Rarely, rather surprisingly. Over the decade I have been director, we have enrolled two African sisters, from Kenya and the Congo. Other applicants from Africa or Asia have struggled with the English language requirement.
Can we step back to your earlier incarnations. How did you get involved in the Fundamentalism Project and how long was that your central focus?
Working with Martin Marty and a cast of about 75 other scholars on the project was indeed the center of my professional life for some time. I started working on “fundamentalisms” in 1988 and worked full time until 1993. When I moved to Notre Dame in 1994, I was still involved in the project. Over the first five years we produced five encyclopedia-size volumes of case studies and essays, as well as several public radio and television documentaries and spin-off books, and held three conferences a year, in Chicago, Jerusalem, Boston and elsewhere. Those years were intense, to say the least. We began the project just as the internet age was dawning!
The Fundamentalism Project was controversial, perhaps unavoidably so, in that folks to our right thought we were too hard on the fundamentalists, and folks on our left thought we were too soft. The study was a sort of Rorschach test of how people approached and pre-judged “public religion.” And there was quite enough “bad news” generated by these militant religious groups and actors.
But I did not originally choose to study religion primarily to demonstrate how violent it is or can be. Indeed, both Marty and I saw our role as educators who were partly trying to explain “without prejudice” the dynamics of religion and its struggles for identity in secular society. It became clear that this was far more complex than putting things into a box labeled “liberal,” conservative,” or “fundamentalist.” The project opened my eyes both to the more nuanced, constructive and complicated contributions of religion, and also to the steep hill educators must climb to overcome entrenched stereotypes.
What took you to Notre Dame?
I joined Notre Dame’s faculty in January 1994. Having taken my undergraduate degree here, I was intrigued by the mission of the university, to be unmistakably Catholic and also a world-class research university, thus disproving George Bernard Shaw’s maxim that these two goals cannot co-exist. At the time I joined the faculty, after several years studying religious extremism of various kinds, I was beginning to be interested in religion’s constructive roles in ending conflict, reducing violence and building peace. In 1997 the Kroc Institute asked me to run a conference on the topic, and the assignment led me to research and eventually write The Ambivalence of the Sacred, which attempts to analyze both religious violence and religious peacebuilding as emerging from similar religious dynamics. That book was commissioned by The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Violence.
In 2000, as Kroc director, I established a religion, conflict and peacebuilding program, supported by a Rockefeller grant, that brought scholars of religion to Notre Dame annually to work on these issues. One of the products was a book cited in your material: Women and the Contested State: Religion, Violence and Agency in South and Southeast Asia, edited by Monique Skidmore and Patricia Lawrence, who were Kroc fellows at the time.
Finally, this November, we are launching a project entitled “Contending Modernities: Catholic, Muslim and Secular,” which brings scholars, practitioners and leaders from these traditions to collaborate on research and education projects on development, climate change, youth, gender and other topics.
How did the Catholic Peacebuilding Network emerge?
It was the result of conversations initially between some of us at Kroc and Catholic Relief Services’ peacebuilding program. Based at the Kroc Institute, it now includes over two dozen partnersNotre Dame, CRS, Georgetown’s Berkley Center, Boston College, Maryknoll, Pax Christi and many other Catholic organizations and institutions. Over the first five years of the network (2004-2008), we held conferences in Mindanao, Burundi, Colombia and the U.S. that brought together Catholic peace and justice practitioners from these regions to share best practices and reflect ethically and theologically on the merging concept of a “justpeace.” In November, Orbis will publish the fruits of those consultations, Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics and Praxis. CPN is well into its second phase, which features the establishment of peacebuilding teams and educational programs in each of these regions.
Have women been a central focus in this effort?
There has been important participation by sisters and laywomen working primarily in Catholic peace and justice networks, especially schools. For example, Sr. Rosette is an impressive primary school teacher in the Philippines who presented her curricular innovations at the CPN conference in Mindanao and then traveled with us to Burundi to consult on peace curricula being planned for the Great Lakes region. But to date, we have not focused on women’s issues as such.
How does the Kroc program work? And where does peacebuilding fit?
The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies offer degrees at all levels of higher edB.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in peace studies. We also sponsor and staff major research programs; currently, one of the most exciting is our study of comparative peace accordswhat works, what does not, in structuring and implementing peace accords. We are developing an interactive data base called the Peace Accords Matrix for researchers as well as negotiators and other practitioners in the field. We also specialize in security and sanctions, the causes of government repression, deadly violence and human right abuses, and, of course, religion, conflict and peacebuilding. Contending Modernities falls in this category; our new Luce professor, Emad Shahin, is a central player. Dan Philpott is directing a new project on Religion and Reconciliation in politics and society. In all, there are seven faculty members who specialize in religion and peace. The Masters program enrolls 40 students, 20 a year for the two year program, which includes an internship option abroad. The PhD program, now in its third year, will soon have 25 students in the program. The students earn a degree in History and Peace Research, Political Science and Peace Research, Sociology and Peace Research or Psychology and Peace Research. Thus our doctoral graduates are fully accredited both in a traditional discipline and in peace studies.
Why are so many women attracted to the program (sixty percent are women, consistently over the years)?
It may be that the attraction lies in part in the fact that the program takes religion seriously. And the course work is clearly attentive to gender-related issues. At the same time, I must confess that we have not succeeded in hiring an appropriately gender-balanced T&R faculty. Male faculty outnumber female faculty by more than sixty percent. We are trying to address this problem, which is a challenge also for Notre Dame more broadly, as it is for some other universities.