LISD Convenes Annual PORDIR Colloquium in Vienna

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination’s Program on Religion, Diplomacy, and International Relations (PORDIR) convened its sixth annual colloquium from June 19-21 2014, at the Liechtenstein City Palace in Vienna, Austria, with the theme of "Religion and Revolution.” Previous PORDIR conferences have focused on religion, crisis, and the situation of women and the next generation (2013), religion and self-determination (2011), religion in crisis diplomacy (2010), religion in development (2009), and the influence of religion and religious beliefs in the conduct of international diplomacy and power politics (2008). Participation in the conference was by invitation only.

The objective of the 2014 PORDIR colloquium was to analyze issues pertaining to the nexus between religion and revolution within a historical context, in current global affairs, and through both theoretical and case study-based approaches. Twelve PORDIR fellows presented their research papers during roundtable seminar-style discussions and received feedback and questions from invited practitioners, diplomats, and scholars. In addition to the fellows’ presentations and ensuing conversations, the conference featured commentary and lectures from accomplished experts in diplomacy, religion, and academia. The colloquium was chaired by Wolfgang F. Danspeckgruber, Founding Director of LISD.

The first session focused on the role of feminism in the Arab world, especially in the post-2011 context. Post-doctoral fellow Alessandra Gonzalez presented her paper, “Islamic Feminism in the Arab Spring,” stemming from her extensive research and publishing focusing on the Gulf states. Ruwa Alhayek’s paper, “Islamist Feminism in Jordan,” was based on research and interviews carried out as part of her senior thesis in Near Eastern Studies. Celene Ayat Lizzio, a former PORDIR fellow, also presented a paper as part of her ongoing research as a doctoral candidate at Brandeis University. Ambassador Ursula Plassnik, former Austrian Foreign Minister, gave a luncheon talk on her experience and perceptions as a female diplomat.

A second session focused on “Religion, Media, and Social Media.” Thomas Seifert, deputy editor of the Wiener Zeitung, opened with reflections on his experience in journalism, particularly covering armed conflicts. Three PORDIR fellows then presented their papers. Rising sophomore Jenna Spitzer discussed media coverage of self-immolations in her paper, “Censorship and sensationalism in Tibet’s struggle for autonomy: the media’s effect on ethno-religious conflict.” Sophomore Brandon Scott highlighted the power of images and symbols in “Understanding Visual Mediation: A necessity for actors in diplomacy and religious affairs.” Finally, recent WWS graduate Yasmin Dagne discussed the ongoing conflict in Sudan and developments toward reconciliation with her research, entitled “New Sudan 2.0: Prospects for political reform in Sudan.”

A third session on Saturday, June 21, focusing on “Religion and Conflict,” opened with a presentation by Father Samuel Gümüs, Archpriest of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Germany. He stressed the need for interreligious dialogue and mediation in seeking a political and humanitarian solution to the ongoing crisis in Syria, particularly regarding the status of religious minorities and the Middle East’s ancient Christian communities. Ben Taub then presented his paper, “Irrelevant Foreigners Entering Syria’s War,” and discussed the dangers of foreign fighters and war tourists entering the conflict. WWS senior Rachel Webb’s paper, “The impact of the Syrian refugee crisis on sectarian tensions in the neighborhood,” particularly focused on the impact of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the political, social, and economic spillovers from the war. Shifting northward, rising senior Jesse Fleck discussed the historical and current ramifications of church-state dynamics in Russia with his paper, “The Resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church: Legitimizing the Russian State.” In the fourth and final presentation, junior Tucker Jones’s paper, “The origins of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s support and non-support for the Milosevic regime,” examined the complicated religious dynamics of the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

A final session on Saturday afternoon opened with a talk by Franz Fischler, President of the European Forum Alpbach and former EU Commissioner for Agriculture. He was followed by Dr. Johann Marte, President of Pro-Oriente, an international organization aiming to foster dialogue and interaction between the Catholic Church and the various Orthodox Christian churches to Europe’s east. The PORDIR fellows then presented their research on the theme of “Religion and Diplomacy.” Rupert Elderkin drew on his experience as a lawyer at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in discussing his paper, “The story of Jewish humanitarian aid during the siege of Sarajevo.” WWS junior Mia Rifai discussed the EU’s eastern prospects and pitfalls in “Turkey’s Democratic Revolution: Rise of the European Union.” Lastly, rising junior Douglas Wallack presented his research on the clandestine religious communities of North Korea, with a paper entitled, “Christian Religion in North Korea – Challenges to the regime?”

As part of the visit to Vienna, the PORDIR fellows and participants additionally were hosted at a private tour of the art collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein housed at the Liechtenstein Garden Palace.

LISD created the Program on Religion, Diplomacy, and International relations in 2007 in response to the increasingly important role of religion in interstate and intrastate conflicts, and in aspects of international affairs. Given this undeniable role, PORDIR aims to explore the influence of religion in the conduct of international relations, diplomacy and politics; facilitate discussions about religion and international relations in a neutral, non-ideological forum; encourage interdisciplinary, inter-generational, international and interreligious exchanges among students, scholars and policy practitioners; and promote research, teaching and publication relating to religion and international relations. The program offers students and faculty at Princeton the opportunity to study, reflect, and generate ideas concerning these multiple intersections. The project currently includes a student fellowship program, weekly seminar series, and an annual conference.