July 15, 2019

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination (LISD) at Princeton University convened the 12th annual colloquium for the Program on Religion, Diplomacy and International Relations (PORDIR) in Jerusalem on June 9-12, 2019. This year’s program theme was “Religion and Mediation”. Hosted in a city rich with history and ripe with political relevancy, the meeting of PORDIR fellows, Princeton University resident scholars, and LISD associates was both important and memorable. Key themes that captured participants’ interest, prompted by the student fellows’ written work, included an array of topics ranging addressing (1) the role of religion in humanitarian response from the global community to the Rohingya Crisis; (2) the role of ritual in global networking and multilateral information sharing; (3) an examination of the recent formation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s autonomy from the Moscow Patriarchate, to name a few.

Throughout the two-day colloquium, student papers grappled with the very tension that exists between religion and negotiation. As the first session began, session chair, Professor Uriel Abulof, begged the question: how does sanctity factor into negotiation? To begin to answer that question, the discussion touched upon the role of religion in society, public policy and in contemporary life. Student fellow Conor Wilson’s paper addressed the tension between public and private religion in the Republic of Ireland and the ways in which institutional religion and spiritual religiosity can coexist. His paper explored the ways in which various conflicts between society and the church have affected Irish public life. Ultimately, leading to the question: can values of Catholicism survive if there is no institution?

Taking another approach to the intersection of religion and institutions, student fellow Will Nolan’s paper addresses a key issue on the battleground of religion and secularism. Will’s paper asked the question: is the treatment of religion as an irrational or private affair driving conflict between state actors and religious adherents? His paper addresses the ways in which the government of California’s Bill 360, which requires Catholic clergy to report knowledge of abuse they hear within the sacrament of confession, demonstrates that religious interests are not necessarily sufficiently protected and that the vagueness of the term “religion” has facilitated ignorance of actual theological claims by government leaders, allowing them to prioritize secular prerogatives against religious ones.

Both days of discussion were also marked by a recurring dialogue on the intertwining of religious and ethnic identity in various geopolitical spheres. In particular, the conversation shifted focus during an outdoor session with a local community leader to discuss the power of embracing religiosity as a source of peace. The dichotomy between religiosity and secularism as sources of peace and power serves as an interesting point of discussion and analysis. In particular, students discussed the manner through which religious folks from varying backgrounds could come together to show the harmony of unified worship - most especially, in Jerusalem.  


Students sit around a table outside