KOREANENGLISH
- 연구원소식 - Jeju Forum Alumni Newsletter
Jeju Forum Alumni Newsletter
Titles [Jeju Forum Alumni Newsletter] (No.6 | November 2018) Assembling the Jeju Peace Mosaic: Locating the Piece of Religion
Writer JPI  (admin)
2018-11-13 오후 5:45:24

Assembling the Jeju Peace Mosaic: Locating the Piece of Religion 

 

 


 

Mahan MIRZA


Professor of the Practice, Contending Modernities

Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, Keough School of Global Affairs

University of Notre Dame, Indiana, United States

 


This was my first visit to South Korea. As a scholar of Pakistani origin, I am well aware that South Korea designed its five-year plans for development in the middle of the twentieth century with expert assistance from Pakistan. Ironically, South Korea succeeded in its development goals where Pakistan failed. This outcome is obvious for any traveler who has landed in both Islamabad and Seoul. Seoul is spectacular. Jeju is breathtaking. It was a privilege to experience firsthand the blend of technological progress and human courtesy that Southeast Asia is famously known for in my visit to the Jeju Peace Forum.


So how did South Korea end up doing so well, and why did Pakistan fare so poorly? One answer places the blame for failure squarely on religion. I’ve often heard this story repeated: years after the tables had turned and South Korea had pulled ahead, a Pakistani delegation visited South Korea seeking advice. They were told in response: “how does one guide a people who believe that life begins after death?” Whether or not this incident actually happened is not important. What is important is the sentiment that it conveys: religion impedes progress. By extension, religion impedes peace. If development is linked to peace, then it follows that religion can only help the cause of peace by getting out of the way.

 

Two seminal works in peace research challenged this thesis toward the end of the twentieth century: Doug Johnston’s Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft (1994) and Scott Appleby’s The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation (1999). Religion can and does play a vital role in peacebuilding, both through dialogue and action. The role of religion in peacebuilding can be theorized, and further, play a pivotal role in the framing of policy. This perspective is at the heart of the teaching, research, and practice that emanates from the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame. This piece of religion can be strengthened in the conversations at the Jeju Peace Forum.

 

The Jeju Peace Forum aspires to be the equivalent of the Davos World Economic Forum in the area of peacebuilding. If the forum wishes to be successful, there are at least two areas that require some attention: 1) The scope of the forum must expand from its present regional focus to a global one and 2) Religion must find its comfortable place in the peace mosaic of the conference. The partnership of the Jeju Peace Institute with the Kroc Institute is an excellent step in that direction. Our panel on “Restorative Justice and Peace Education,” for example, included perspectives on peace education with madrasa graduates in India and Pakistan.

 

A conference that takes religion seriously will have some of the following elements: 1) There will be attendees from diverse backgrounds of differing religious persuasions who are visibly religious, perhaps even in traditional attire (imams, priests, rabbis, monks) 2) The conference will make accommodations for prayer, something like an interfaith prayer room 3) One could think of offering halal or kosher options for those who would prefer something more than vegetarian 4) Some of the panels and keynotes may be thematically framed around religion and include religious scholars and peacemakers as authoritative contributors whose voices and perspectives are taken seriously.

 

These reflections are offered with love and by way of constructive criticism. Regardless of whether the Jeju conference is able to take these notes to heart, it remains a most impressive venue. This year’s conference was special because of the buzz around reconciliation between North and South Korea at the heels of the symbolic border crossing of the two presidents followed by the Singapore summit with the United States. The program clearly capitalized on these momentous shifts. The presence of international dignitaries, top officials in major agencies of the United Nations, and programming on future economic developments such as cryptocurrencies, which included the participation of local schoolchildren in the audience, made the conference vibrant and special. By chance, I was able to meet and briefly interact with international students from different parts of the Muslim world, which introduced me to the Korean Government Scholarship Program that invites students at all levels to study in South Korea at the expense and hospitality of the Korean people. The visit enriched my understanding of the region in many different ways, and I hope to visit again.

 

I would like to conclude with this anecdote. When I arrived at the airport in Seoul, I learned that I must transfer to Gimpo, the domestic terminal, a 40-minute bus ride across town. I was able to navigate, with the help of friendly airport staff, without any trouble at all. While at the gate for my next flight to Jeju from Gimpo, watching a world-cup match on the screen, I heard an announcement that our departure would be delayed to allow incoming passengers on another flight enough time to transfer. Instead of boarding at 5:50pm, we were going to board at 5:55, just five minutes later. The announcer offered apologies as she notified the passengers of this five-minute delay. Needless to say, such a minor delay would not even be considered worthy of an announcement in any other part of the world, let alone with an accompanying apology. We ended up boarding at 5:53. Such courtesy and humility. This is an incident I will never forget for the rest of my life. It was a privilege to be at the “Island of World Peace,” and I pray that it develops a legacy that is worthy of that name.

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Mahan Mirza is a professor at the University of Notre Dame and lead faculty in a project to advance scientific and theological literacy in madrasa discourses in India and Pakistan. Dr. Mirza was previously at Zaytuna College for five years, serving as Dean of Faculty from 2013-2016. He holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from UT Austin, MA from Hartford Seminary in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, and Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University. He has taught a range of courses in Arabic-Islamic studies, western religions, and history of science, along with foundational subjects in the liberal arts including logic, rhetoric, ethics, and politics. In 2017-18, Dr. Mirza directed a peace research lab involving Notre Dame undergraduates and madrasa scholars from South Asia. His doctoral research was on the intellectual world of the 11th-century scientist from Central Asia al-Biruni. Dr. Mirza has edited two special issues of The Muslim World and served as assistant editor of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought.