Sugar Cookies, Dialogue, and the Ethics Behind Beauty

April 28th, 2015

April 28, 2015

Author: Sophia Warren, member of Ethics Center Leadership Council


With chairs structured in a circle, sugar cookies by the door, and a panel of three Brandeis students, Morgan Brill from The Photo Department of The Justice newspaper, Cassidy Tatun from Active Minds at Brandeis University, and Lauren Nadeau from Women, Inc., our discussion began. The goal was to connect an Ethical Inquiry, both an active opportunity and resource of the Ethics Center, to the Brandeis community. To some, we hoped to introduce the Ethics Center itself, the various resources, communities, classes, and opportunities it offers to Brandeis students and the outside community. To others, we aimed to introduce to the concept of an ethical inquiry, those who knew the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, but had not interacted with the Ethics Center through this opportunity.

For those who don’t know, an Ethical Inquiry is a written piece of research, analysis and exploration. An inquiry addresses an ethical challenge of our time, be it local, political, or global. It is designed to be nuanced, complex, and the result of critical thought, and genuine attention. Anyone within the Brandeis community can apply (undergrad and grad); alumni from any school and field may apply, as well. Individuals of completed and approved Inquires are provided with a paid honorarium.

As the Ethics Center Leadership Council, we had spent serious time combing through Ethical Inquiries, selecting topics, cultivating questions, and establishing a date, time, and advertising strategy, so much so that I honestly hadn’t processed how I might benefit from this event I had helped to design. I hadn’t realized the power of dialogue, present even in a space where I was to act as more of a facilitator than participant.


With this event, we found ourselves interested in engaging with elements of social justice in relationship to media and standards of beauty. We wanted to create a space for discussion of ethics in relationship to the standards and world stage media presents on. We were led to this by the Ethical Inquiry: ‘The Ethics of Digital Photo Manipulation: Alterations in Pursuit of ‘Beauty’, by recent Brandeis graduate Hailey Magee ’15. The piece balances juxtaposing the unrealistic pressures of womanhood, personhood, and the artistic and social norms of digital manipulation. We are left with the closing set of thoughts here: “Photoshop and similar software and applications for altering images have become cheaper, easier to use and more widely available. Techniques discussed in this inquiry were once limited largely to industry, government, and professionals. As the opportunities for digital photo manipulation grow, what do the practices of industry, in the pursuit of “beauty” have to teach us about our responsibility as individuals? Should mathematical formulas be used to determine “[h]ow much is too much” retouching of a photo?”

From the moment the event was called to order, where we began with an introduction of the Ethics Center, its various resources, and an overview of the Ethical Inquiry we had selected, we knew as an ECLC the complexity of the topic we were dealing with.

Throughout the discussion, various perspectives and patterns in thought emerged, contradicting importantly to gain some new perspective of this ethical dilemma. Some thought any photograph technically had the ability to manipulate and deceive, even unintentionally. The angle of a photograph can make a poorly attended basketball game appear full. Others applied the theory that we understand, and can even often spot today, alterations of individuals in our commercials. We don’t need laws or Dove beauty campaigns to tell us this. To that, others pointed out that the Ethical Inquiry itself stated: “A study conducted by University of Alabama professor Kimberly Bissell ‘compared college women’s visual literacy – defined in terms of their knowledge of digital manipulation in fashion and entertainment images – to their desire to be thin.’ Even if participants were aware that the subject of the photograph had been altered, their desires to look like the model did not diminish. Bissell used this data to further establish the relationship between the ‘thin ideal’ within the media and ‘disordered eating patterns in women.’”


The talk branched out into a couple valid, differing points. One was the influence of media standards of beauty on eating disorders and disordered eating, these two concepts maintaining important distinctions. Says the Inquiry: “Carrie Arnold, writing for Psychology Today, was generally pleased with the AMA press release, but disputed the AMA’s statement that media images contribute to eating disorders, contending instead that media images contribute to disordered eating. ‘It’s a common mistake, confusing disordered eating and eating disorders,’ she explains. Arnold cites Dr. Sarah Ravin, who explains, “disordered eating ‘comes from the outside,’ whereas eating disorders ‘come from the inside’…. Environment plays a huge role in the onset of disordered eating… In contrast, the development of an eating disorder is influenced very heavily by genetics, neurobiology, individual personality traits, and co-morbid disorders.”

Another key point was in asking which narrative of beauty is being projected, and ultimately commodified as the universality in definition of beauty. This was understood by some to be defined more broadly, the discussion of a European standard of beauty was importantly discussed. This standard is one found horribly destructive to many individuals worldwide, with notions of colonialism and patriarchy oppressing and marginalizing races and ethnicities across national lines. I believe these two branches of conversation are vital to the narrative of digital alteration. When we are altering, we are altering in the pursuit of certain ideals and normalities of thought and action. What we are creating is a unified story marginalizing nuance and perpetrating the idea of one “normal”. While photo editing has the potential to be technically impressive and certainly a work-of-art to create (I am an editing photographer myself), we must be honest about what these alterations, angles, lighting, and shadow are creating and attempting to create. To create change, we must understand the ethics of letting industry and markets and media tell us what is beautiful.

This talk opened my eyes as to how time, space, and evolving perspective enhances and transforms Ethical Inquiries to a strong reference, a helpful guide, a passionate plea in an evolving world. I thank the Ethics Center for creating this space and opportunity to write these Ethical Inquiries and to have this dialogue. I thank the author of this piece, Hailey Magee. I thank my fellow ECLC members. I thank finally those who came, who interacted with one another in this space so respectfully and so openly.


What to know more about Ethical Inquiries?

Check out Ethical Inquires here:

Email, or call 781-736-2115

Want to know more about the services the Ethics Center provides?

Check us out here:

Reflections on the Ethical Inquiry “The Ethics of International Aid: Who should direct international aid efforts?”

February 3rd, 2015

same Nasa url as the last one please

This post is a response to “The Ethics of International Aid: Who should direct international aid efforts?”

International aid is a highly contested topic. In 1648, when the treaty of Westphalia was passed, it made state sovereignty supreme and gave authority and priority to the state. Governments typically didn’t want to contribute resources to recognize international organizations because it involved giving up some of their power.

When the concept of humanitarian intervention developed, it became a challenge because of the law of state sovereignty. Individuals argued that such intervention would be a direct violation of the UN charter, that intervention simplifies the situation, produces a negative affect on the country being intervened in and is not successful, has alternative motives to yield resources for the country intervening, and is racist. But, humanitarian intervention has lived on; why one might ask?

Personally, I would advocate that international aid is ethical when the other country requests assistance, and when the indigenous population believes that it will not infringe on their society. The problem is that when a genocide or ethic cleansing occurs, countries might feel obliged to intervene based on human rights accords (Helsinki Accords 1975).

Human rights can triumph state sovereignty, but other than that state sovereignty prevails.

Also, I was stuck by the idea that it is more important to work with the people and not just hand out cash. It’s easier to distribute cash, then to commit yourself and dedicate time and resources to go abroad and try to implement the change that you want to invest money in. They are two separate things. People want to help (or get tax credit) and typically don’t have the time/financial stability to drop their lives to try to change the world. That might be a cynical view of aid, but in my mind those who physically go abroad and attempt to implement policies and change the world, are more likely to affect lasting change, rather than those who occasionally donate. It is important to find out what a community wants and needs.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire argues that the only way to help the oppressed is for the oppressed to realize that they are oppressed. As outsiders, and hopefully humanitarians, we go into countries and want to make a difference without using cultural invasion (imposing our values, beliefs, education, and background onto others). As anthropologists, it’s crucial to essentially be re-born and discard our previously ascribed identities in order to fully integrate with a community to impact social, political, and economic change.

Allowing the oppressed to engage in open dialogue with one another not only generates trust between the alienated population, but it can also greatly strengthen the group should they decide to stage a revolution to overthrow the oppressors. “The revolutionaries can’t treat the oppressed as their possession,” rather they must become “oppressed” in order to fully empathize with their situation, which means that they need to strip themselves of their title or position of authority and truly live like those who are oppressed. The revolutionaries sometimes view the oppressed as incompetent or lazy and want to change the system without them, however Freire argues that the oppressed are ultimately responsible for achieving their own social change.

“Analysts like Tomohisa Hattori do not see international aid as the straightforward story of simple philanthropy, but rather as a far more complex structural system based on dominance and indebtedness, with socio-political implications beyond the act of aid distribution”

“Gilbert Rist suggests, however, that this flow of aid from the governments of richer nations to poorer nations is “genuinely hegemonic, because it appeared to be not only the best [solution] but the only possible one.

Both of these quotes above utilized in this article relate to my Anthropology of Development class this semester. We talked about theories of development and the way in which governments operate. In addition, these quotes emphasized how international aid might not be based on genuine intentions; rather it could be to foster a power hierarchy.

In Seeing Like a State, James Scott argues that states use international development as a way to control the population and try to simplify situations in order to make it easier on themselves; it allows governments to manipulate society to make the administrative system more efficient for collecting taxes and regulating policies, enables them to control the population through peaceful coercion or violence, and provides an opportunity for states to collectivize the population with regards to agriculture and production. By simplifying states, development leaders and politicians create a predetermined, more rigid, and potentially violent society, typically without the consent of the people.

Even though international aid is a topic that is the subject of much debate, I would argue that to some extent aid is necessary in creating a better future.

-Kira Levin ’17, Fall 2014 ECLC Member

Getting To Know The Ethics Center

January 24th, 2014

What is the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life? Can you give a clear, comprehensive explanation about what the Ethics Center is? Prior to accepting a position on the Ethics Center Leadership Council last June, I sure couldn’t.


It’s easy to become involved with the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.  The Center is incredibly multifaceted in its programming and offers plentiful leadership opportunities for both students and professionals alike. On the other hand, however, it’s also really easy to involve one’s self with a specific program and forget to take advantage of the other areas the Center has to offer.


The Ethics Center is such a multifaceted organization that coming up with one, comprehensive explanation about the inner workings of the Center is really difficult.  The official mission of the Ethics Center is “to develop effective responses to conflict and injustice by offering innovative approaches to coexistence, strengthening the work of international courts, and encouraging ethical practice in civic and professional life.”


You can read all about the six guiding principles of the center, “an international focus,” “the public square,” “across the disciplines,” “a bridge between scholarship and practice,” “the perspective of the arts,” and “connections to communities” right here.


As a Politics major, the international justice programming acted as a catalyst that inspired me to become involved with the Ethics Center.  When I came to Brandeis as a midyear freshman last winter, I was immediately drawn to ‘DEIS Impact.  Judy and Eliza Dushku, who founded THRIVE Gulu—an nonprofit organization based in Gulu, Uganda that aids Ugandans in healing from various traumas by enhancing their self-sufficiency and self-esteem—gave the Keynote Address. Hearing their inspirational stories ignited a fire that ultimately led me to apply for the ECLC.


After learning more about the Ethics Center as an ECLC member, I became intrigued by Peacebuilding and the Arts and Campus Programming. As a Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies minor, promoting peace by means of creating art was really inspirational to learn about. And regarding campus programs, who doesn’t want a $4000 grant to carry out humanitarian work anywhere in the world?!


For me, the most rewarding part about being involved in the Ethics Center is having access to an incredible network of motivated students and faculty who are all working to promote justice and better the world. Whether it’s learning about student initiatives to promote peace by creating art, reading the work of international judges discussing contemporary issues in international justice, or speaking with Sorensen Fellows who just came back from a summer-long fully funded internship abroad, I am constantly in awe of the resources and programming offered through the Ethics Center.


Starting this February 1, the Ethics Center is sponsoring ‘DEIS Impact 2014, a weeklong festival of social justice. Rumor has it, Nelson Mandela’s grandsons will be speaking at the keynote address! Be sure to check out the schedule of events for a complete breakdown of the entire festival!


If you’d like to become involved in the Ethics Center, please check out our upcoming events. We’d love to see you there!


-Talia Lepson, ’16

International Justice 101

November 12th, 2013

Brandeis provides several avenues for undergraduates to get a taste of international law. Students have unique access to a variety of opportunities from a semester-long immersion to a three day internship. Whether living in Europe or interning in Africa is your style there are resources at Brandeis to help you get there. Check out how you can get involved below!

#1. Brandeis in The Hague

From biking cobblestone streets and shopping at farmer’s markets to tulips and canals the Netherlands is possibly the most amiable country in which to learn about crimes against humanity. The Brandeis in the Hague Program offers students the opportunity to spend their Spring semester or summer immersing themselves in international justice. Students gain hands on experience by visiting tribunals, participating in mock trials, and interning at prestigious institutions. Past internships include: the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the International Criminal Court, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and various defense teams for leaders convicted of war crimes. Approximately 10-15 rising First-years, Sophomores, and Juniors are accepted each year.

Several students have chosen to complement the Hague Program with a second study abroad experience in countries such as Brazil, Senegal, and Uganda. The Brandeis in the Hague Program offers an incredible opportunity for students to immerse themselves in international criminal law while living and traveling in Europe.

Here’s The Hague program website for more info:

Click here to learn about student internships in The Hague:

#2. Sorensen Fellowship

Have a particular project or organization you’re passionate about? Consider applying for the Sorenson Fellowship next year. Sophomores and juniors selected receive a $4000 stipend for a summer internship. ($3500 for domestic internships.) After returning to campus, students take a course to reflect and publish an article based on their experience. The Sorensen Fellowship offers an incredible opportunity to intern domestically or abroad in an area of interest and a holistic approach of both pre-departure preparation and post-internship reflection.

Learn more about the Sorensen Fellowship at:

For an example of how this fellowship can lead to a future career in international law check out Daniel Koosed’s (’08) reflections on his internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania as a Sorensen Fellow:

#3. Brandeis International Institute for Judges

Students looking to get a glimpse of how the international judiciary functions can apply through a competitive process to intern at the annual Brandeis International Institute of Judges, held every 18 months. Interns have the opportunity to document the conference and help it run smoothly. The BIIJ is attended by judges serving on international courts and tribunals from across the globe. Past interns have greatly appreciated the experience to interact with professionals in the field.

Check out this link for more information on BIIJ:

Click here to read the BIIJ interns’ reflections on their experience:

Need more?

Subscribe to the newsletter International Justice in the News published by the Ethics Center:

Ethics in Business

December 14th, 2011

For just over a decade now, Enron has been a symbol of corruption, greed, and everything wrong in the American political and business sphere. In October, the Brandeis campus had the opportunity to learn more about how this giant corporation fell to its knees when Sherron Watkins visited to discuss her experience blowing the whistle.

Watkins spent much of her day here discussing ethics in business with classes at the InternationalBusinessSchool. Her whistle-blowing event, targeted towards students in the journalism program, focused on her personal experience with the Enron scandal.

One of the most poignant points she made over the course of the night was that unethical behavior is not gone from American business culture. It is, however, much harder to identify. Enron cooked the books in the late 90s and early 2000s, and scammed the stock market with false projections. Once this was out in the open, no one could deny that this was unacceptable behavior.

Watkins personally shared an experience she has had in recent years to provide contrast; asked to speak at an event, a company flew her entire family in, and provided them with a free week-long stay at the hotel. Watkins spoke for twenty minutes and that was the entirety of her participation. It’s difficult to say something is unethical when benefiting directly from it, but today this is standard practice. Sherron Watkins herself struggled with her own feelings on receiving such perks, and so did her audience.

Ethics are hard enough to define, putting them in the context of running a business leaves a lot of leeway, and in the past decade we’ve seen a lot of attempts to both cheat the system and find a good balance. Despite the evolving system, Watkins had solid ideas for change.

Consistently, she discussed her frustration with a law that former President Clinton passed in an attempt to curb excessive salaries. Essentially, the law limited executives from receiving more than $1 million as pay unless specified performance goals were met. Businesses found a loophole for this stipulation quickly: through stock options. As Watkins explained it, in order to match the previous salary the executive was making, the company would provide the equivalent amount in stock. Due to the unpredictable nature of the market, however, in order to match that difference in salary, more than the defined amount of stock would have to be offered. For instance, if an executive had previously made $4 million per year, he would now need to be provided with $3 million in stock options. To ensure that the options actually resulted in $3 million, the executive would need to be provided with more like $7 million in options.

This, Watkins emphasized, has led to the giant gap between the rich and poor today, as all of the stock options have been utilized to make much more than the executive would have been able to previously. Repealing this law is a key to closing the income gap, and will also lead to a more ethical society where the potential to make money is not the paramount thought of the heads of our most important corporations.

Contrary to the most accepted definition of “whistle-blower”, Sherron Watkins did not choose to go to the press. She went to her boss to report what she saw to be an injustice, and she knows now that the only reason she was not taken down by the company was that they did not have enough time to ruin her.

As she discusses the fall of Enron with a decade of perspective behind her, she recognizes the struggle that still exists to create and maintain a truly ethical business model. As the generation responsible for taking over, I ask to all of you: what do you think an ethical business is? And what practices are needed for such a model?

Our Welfare State

June 24th, 2011

Beneva Davies

America: Country of Opportunity, Land of Success, and Home of the Great.  Conversely, this is the place where, one in every eight people is now suffering from poverty (Greenberg, Mark, Indivar Dutta-Gupta, and Elisa Minoff. “From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half.” Center for American Progress (2007). Print). That is to say, one in eight is now fighting hunger, fighting homelessness, fighting the desperate call of crime, fighting to survive; make no mistake, this is the life of poverty.  Though America is home to some of the wealthiest people on the planet it also has the greatest income inequality amongst developing nations, with the top 1% possessing nearly a third of the country’s net wealth (Johnston, David Cay. “Income Gap Is Widening, Data Shows – New York Times.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 29 Mar. 2007. Web. 13 Apr. 2011. ). Most Americans, approximately 58.5%, will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75(Johnston, David Cay). For the world’s super power and largest national economy this is a staggering statistic.  Something must be done. However, in a country built on the basis of individuality and meritocracy how much of this burden lies on the government? Our nation’s president once said, “If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists—to protect them and to promote their common welfare—all else is lost” (Barack Obama). But the question still remains, where do we draw the line between lending a hand and giving a hand out?

The truth is that I’ve seen both sides of the argument.  What are your views on America’s welfare system? Here are a couple of websites I checked out that all gave me interesting insight. For the conservative view, check out: . For the less conservative view, check out the link above for Johnston, David Cay. With the 2012 elections creeping around the corner, it’s time to start evaluating, once again, where we stand.


Find Your Fire

April 6th, 2011

Beneva Davies

It was St Ignatius of Loyola who said, “Ite Incendite Omnia,” a literal translation is “Go, set everything ablaze.” This was St Ignatius’ order to his followers- to spread their knowledge like fire and change those who they happened to encounter.  As a constant witness to it, I can say with ease that there is something so fundamentally recognizable about Brandeis students–fire. There’s a fire, a passion, a certain strive in us all; we are the warriors of change. My interest in justice, human rights, ethics and public life is probably not rare to this campus, but the following is the memory of how I came to find my fire.

After the tragedy of 9/11, like many people, my family fled to their religion. As we arrived at church on Sunday morning it was packed and there was a certain feeling of not just unbearable grief but ironically deep community—as is usually the case, sorrow had brought us all together. The sermon was to have the message of hope, community and courage in the face of overwhelming pain and fear. Half way through the closing remarks the priest said “Lord, for those evil men who run around screaming and praying to their false idol Allah, show them the errors of their ways and protect us all from their savage behavior.” As the church echoed with amens, my father quickly pulled my family out enraged.

At the time I was confused of the implications of that priest’s words. I didn’t understand the anger that had suddenly possessed my father to pull us out of a crowded church mid-prayer. As we drove home he tried to articulate to the little, unaware, eleven-year-old girl I was then, what exactly the problem was. He explained that the priest had blamed all Muslims for an attack of a few, that had the priest done his research before spreading hateful words, he would have known that “Allah” is just the translation of the word “God,” and lastly he seriously pointed out how Muslims in this country would now suffer the consequences of not only association with this terrorism but the ignorance of those who hated blindly. He told me that I should never stand for or accept the mistreatment or blind hatefulness of other people, because as human beings they grieve and feel pain as I do. He repeated the golden rule, as he always had: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” Only this time it meant so much more. I was young, but my father walking out taught me to always stand up. That is the day I caught my fire; the birth of my interest in justice, human rights, ethics and public life.

I Stand With Planned Parenthood

March 16th, 2011

Beneva Davies

On Friday, February 18, 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to bar Planned Parenthood from federal funding in an effort to combat the huge budget deficit. As a woman, an advocate, a feminist, and most importantly, a concerned citizen of this country—I am offended by this decision. Planned Parenthood is the biggest advocate of the pro-choice movement, comprehensive sex education and access to affordable health care in the US. In response to the vote, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President, Cecile Richards released the following statement:

For 95 years, Planned Parenthood has provided medical care and family planning services to women across the country.  One in five American women has received care from a Planned Parenthood health center during her lifetime, and last year three million patients came to one of our more than 800 health centers.  We are trusted by millions of women and families, and we deliver care to those who need it most (Cecile Richards).

Planned Parenthood stands with those who have no other options, they provide access to breast and cervical cancer screenings, annual exams, family planning visits, birth control, HIV testing, federally funded education programs for thousands of young people and much more. Planned Parenthood posted on their website “every day, our work prevents more unintended pregnancies than anyone else in the country. Planned Parenthood has a huge impact on the lives of women and families”(Cecile Richards, House Votes to Cut Off Funding: Vital Health Services in Jeopardy, 2011, (February 2011)). If the intent was to help alleviate the tremendous budget deficit, there are a few inconsistencies to be addressed: this move will cause a loss of jobs for health professionals and, even sadder, a loss of health care for some of this nation’s most needy. Without their education and supply of contraception, unintended pregnancy numbers will rise amongst the people they serve. The cost of cutting Planned Parenthood seems to be a lot more expensive than the cost of keeping them, and yet this amendment was voted through the house. If the decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood becomes final, the families they represent will pay the ultimate price.

Former President George W. Bush, once said “families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream” (George W. Bush, Bushisms, 2011, (February 2011)).

The grammar may be off, but the message is precious all the same. Families are the foundations of a nation and their protection should be of the utmost importance. The well being of some of our nation’s most at-risk families is in grave danger here; they need the help and support of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood stands with these families and so, I stand with them.


Religion as a Basis for Aid: Balancing the Useful with the Controversial

March 7th, 2011

Rachel Gillette

The Ethics Center upcoming event “Religion and the Quest to Contain Violence” ( has gotten me thinking about the use of religion in different stages of conflict, including aid.  Though this is by no means a comprehensive assessment of the uses of religion, I just wanted to share a story that got me thinking on the topic.

While studying abroad last year in Gulu, Uganda, I was sent out one day to learn about local NGOs.  I visited one NGO that focused on rehabilitating women abductees.  After being kidnapped by the LRA between the ages of 6 and 12, living in the bush as a wife to a commander, and being thrown out when too old, these women were left with nothing.  With their children – the sons and daughters of LRA soldiers – their home communities refused to re-accept them and the stigma leaves these women isolated from all support.  As a result, these women have low chances of survival and even lower self-esteem.  The program I visited held several components: childcare, education, vocational training, and Christianity.  With the children taken care of, the women are taught to read, trained to sew, and given simple lessons in how to run a business.  With all of these great initiatives, why was religion necessary to add into the shuffle?  As I learned, introducing Christianity actually added something that the beneficiaries felt was otherwise unattainable: a solid basis for self-esteem.  Through teaching that all were created in the image of G-d and the telling of Bible stories with similar themes, the women gained an enthusiasm for self which was otherwise less tangible.  Through rooting these lessons in scripture, the women began to hold themselves in higher esteem.  This is not only something gained from the introduction of religion, but specific to a religion: the local Acholi religions do not have this same grounding.

Ultimately, this is a question of whether the ends justify the means.  I inherently disagree with proselytization, any organization or individual that withholds aid without the acceptance of religion, and am even uncomfortable with non-profits that mention religion in their programming.  I do not find it inappropriate to have a religious inspiration or a church-based organization, but it seems tangential to then translate that religion into the actual dispersion of aid.  However, in this case, I am forced to re-evaluate my blanket opinion that religious-based aid programs are needless.  As I hope Carroll will discuss, religion can serve as an incredible base for finding common values and peace processes are often enhanced with a departure from the secular; however, this experience has also forced me to broaden my thoughts on appropriate uses for religion in development-at-large.

Religion: a Basis for Peacebuilding

March 4th, 2011

Rachel Gillette

Peace.  Peace-building.  Living in Peace.  Peaceful Societies.  Those of us interested in International Relations, development, and other related fields often consider our work in its capacity to bring the world greater peace.  But what does that mean? And where does that begin?

Peace can certainly mean many things, but the definition that is most often given is ‘the absence of war.’  This is a negative definition (speaking of something that is not there, rather than something that is), however, and I much prefer to aim for peace that includes ‘the presence of cross-cultural collaboration alongside equality.’  But how does one go about this aim?

I think most would agree that peacebuilding is not simply one action: it requires a holistic approach to a general concept that is adapted to each situation.  Coexistence International (CI) – an organization that was formerly housed in the Ethics Center – focused on what they define as a “Coexistence Lens” to read different situations and grow to a place where equality, diversity, and interdependence is the norm (Visit to read the whole paper).  As stated in the paper, “a more strategic and complementary approach [to peacebuilding] is now emerging – one that recognizes the different spheres that need to be linked up to help a country successfully move away from war.”  Valuing inclusion and participation, CI’s work aimed to bring all individuals from different sectors, backgrounds, and standing together to collaboratively develop plans for peace-building in their community.  But from where does common ground stem?  What is the launching platform for these greater ideals?

As my next post will discuss, and as the upcoming “Religion and the Quest to Contain Violence” will address, religion – though often a cause for war – could provide a strong basis for togetherness if utilized in the appropriate manner.  Oftentimes, after years of inter-sect/inter-tribal violence, language divergences, and disparities in control over resources, the similarity of values in religion may be the only thing that can leverage a group to a place of trust, cooperation, and discussion.  I feel as though religion is often dismissed as solely a source of conflict, or as an inappropriate means of achieving secular ends; what must not be ignored, however, is the capacity for religion to pervade the material and encourage listening, cooperation, and mutual respect.

I hope to see you all at the upcoming event – “Religion and the Quest to Contain Violence” – featuring John Carroll (, and I look forward to your comments.

Protected by Akismet
Blog with WordPress

Welcome Guest | Login (Brandeis Members Only)