Hawwah Gambo of Nigeria and College of Liberal Arts Dean Chris Taylor
Hawwah Gambo of Nigeria and College of Liberal Arts Dean Chris Taylor

The goal? Providing tools for resolving conflicts.

July 2016 – Thirty-six emerging religious leaders from around the world participated in the second Drew Institute on Religion and Conflict Transformation on campus this month.

The Institute is designed to educate Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders about each others traditions and teach them techniques for mediating crises and transforming interfaith conflicts. This year’s participants included Egyptians, Indonesians, Israelis, Nigerians, Pakistanis and Palestinians.

For three weeks, they stayed at Drew and learned through discussion groups, trips, lectures and workshops. The trips took participants—and student interns—to New York City, where they visited the National September 11th Memorial & Museum, a synagogue, church and mosque. On campus, experts and experienced peacemakers spoke on topics such as religious freedom, scriptural and textual reasoning, interfaith mediation, dispute resolution and gender inclusiveness in religion.

Minahil Mehdi of Pakistan
Minahil Mehdi of Pakistan

“Our purpose is not to solve any specific conflict, but rather to provide the participants with a set of tools that they can use and adapt as appropriate for their own individual contexts,” explained College of Liberal Arts Dean Chris Taylor, who conceived and directs Drew’s Institutes. “The opportunity to meet and learn from each other is also a critically important aspect of the Drew institutes.”

Jonathan Golden, director of the Center on Religion, Culture & Conflict, under whose auspices the program runs, added, “We’re sending them back to their home countries with a sense of optimism and a sense of hope. And that is the most important thing that we can possibly give them.”

The three-week institute ended with participants outlining projects that they’re developing to continue their work back home. One project, in Indonesia, seeks to combat racism through interfaith training and events like an interfaith festival, while another, in Egypt, aims to improve religious intolerance through changes in the school curriculum and animated videos for children. Yet another project, in Pakistan, promotes inclusiveness.

Pakistan’s Muhammad Rashid and Sarel Rosenblatt of Israel

Held at Craig Chapel, the final presentations featured slides projected on a giant screen that helped tell their stories. A group from Israel and the Palestine region of the Middle East outlined plans for starting a high school student exchange and a joint business. Nigerians, meanwhile, talked about bringing together Islamic and Christian non-governmental organizations to achieve the “common solidarity of humanity.”

“We want a Nigeria that co-existed like before, like what we knew before. But it’s going to take time,” said Hafsat Maina Muhammed, a facilitator at the Institute and founder of an NGO called Choice for Peace, Gender and Development. “We need to do something [because] people are dying. This is what we can do. This is where we can start.”

Drew’s student interns played an active role during the three weeks, helping to execute the daily schedule and participating in workshops and trips.

One intern, junior Gina-Anne Cameron-Turner, attended sessions on textual and scriptural reasoning and women’s agency and gender inclusiveness in religion. She made personal connections too.

“Most of the educational experiences were from talking informally one-on-one with the participants,” said Cameron-Turner, a junior majoring in psychology and French. “That definitely was a learning experience.”

The first Institute took place in 2013 and the next one is scheduled for 2018, according to Golden. To date, some 60 religious leaders have participated in the program, which is funded by grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and Endeavor Foundation.

The Interns

Here are the Drew students who interned at the Institute this summer, under the direction of Institute Manager Melanie Robbins C’11:

– Aishat Adeyemi C’18, a neuroscience major

– Molly Bohman C’19, undecided

– Gina-Anne Cameron-Turner C’18, psychology and French

– Leah Nadel C’18, biology

– Siobhan Quinlan C’19, undecided

– Arti Sunder C’18, neuroscience