How Does PAX 250
Embody Naropa’s Contemplative Mission
and Commitment to Diversity?
—Candace Walworth, fall semester, 2011
Peace Studies is an interdisciplinary field that openly states its bias, cultivating “being peace” on an individual level, developing interpersonal peacebuilding skills, and working to create cultures of peace on the global level. David Barash, editor of Approaches to Peace: A Reader in Peace Studies, refers to the field as “offering a kind of planetary medicine.” In the next 15 weeks, we will test out the practical applications of this metaphor in our personal lives, in the classroom, and in our communities.
I have selected readings, films, experiential exercises, role-plays, and writing assignments that cultivate a global perspective through an encounter with international organizations such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court and guest seminars with people working as peacebuilders in a variety of roles, such as citizen diplomats and as advocates, activists and service-providers. Through community-based learning at Mercy Housing, you will have an opportunity to meet and work directly with people who have newly arrived in the United States, fleeing war, violence and persecution in their homelands. Cultivating a global perspective is one way of addressing Naropa’s commitment to diversity.
The course texts (readings and films) represent a diverse range of authors and perspectives. We will read war diaries of two young women, one Iraqi and one Bosnian; the biography of a Brazilian envoy to the United Nations and an account of Kurdish sisters, refugees in Lincoln, Nebraska, learning their sixth language. One of our course readings (Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference) narrates the story of a Jordanian woman living on the outskirts of Atlanta, coaching a soccer team with boys from 12 different war-torn countries, highlighting the opportunities and obstacles of playing soccer —and peacebuilding— in a small, traditional Southern town.
As we consider the challenges and opportunities of “superdiversity,” we examine the ways in which our everyday lives are influenced by our locations, including race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. The words in italics are central to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR’s) definition of refugees. Our study of refugee resettlement in the United States is one site, among many, to develop your understanding of the rich and complex realm signified by the word “diversity.”
For most of us, the field of Peace and Conflict Studies stirs up powerful currents of emotion-thoughts. The field —and this course—explores human activity at its best (think of loved ones from whom you learned empathy, compassion, and nonviolence) and at its worst (genocide, child soldiers, rape as a weapon of war, etc). We will oscillate back and forth between attention to the root causes of war and violence and attention to individuals and organizations working creatively, courageously, and compassionately in ways that inspire awe and action. With as much gentleness and non-judgmental attention as we can muster, we will focus open-hearted attention on our experience of the course materials, including our experience of one another and extended communities around the globe.
The learning community we create as a class will strengthen our capacity to delve deeply into the field of Peace and Conflict studies. How we treat ourselves and one another matters and is at the heart of my approach to teaching, learning and contemplative education. We will explore tools and perspectives for community-building among ourselves at the same time we study community-building and development among refugee youth in Clarkston, Georgia, in the United Nations, and in grassroots peacebuilding initiatives.
Class discussions will include time to pause, check-in, and notice our own somatic and emotional responses to the material. Some of the writing assignments will ask you to attend to and critically reflect on your physical and emotional response to texts and classroom activities. Where and when do you notice a deepening capacity for empathy and connection? What happens when you consider multiple and/or competing points of view? We will exercise mindfulness “muscles” that may reveal habitual patterns of heart and mind as well as fresh insights. Reflective practice is yet another aspect of contemplative education.