How are religion, conflict and peace related? How does globalization affect local religious traditions? How do religious and secular actors interact in local and global debates on migration and gender?
Within the modern world, it is clear that religion has a major role in many conflicts occurring at multiple levels and locations. Religion has also become one of the main ways in which people connect with each other around the globe. However, the role of religion in contemporary societies is not well understood in academic research, nor in the work of those responsible for policy and action. NGO’s, governments and journalists alike have misguided understandings of religion’s role in the modern world and the meaning that it holds for various peoples.
The Religion, Conflict and Globalization Master’s track aims to address the pivotal place of religion within the dynamics of a globalized world, and how this relates to conflicts that shape modern societies. The course is interdisciplinary, wide-ranging, and broad; including political, social, psychological, cultural and legal dimensions.
Sophisticated academic analysis made diverting and fun
I read Theology at the University of Durham in the UK for my Undergraduate Degree and following two years of working in the media industry in London I decided that I wanted to know more about the interplay of religious belief, modernity and theories of conflict- which has led me to study Religion, Conflict and Globalization here at the University of Groningen.
Religious choices and religious thinking are so close to the hearts of many millions of people around the world and religion’s interaction with modernity and secularism has formed the basis and breeding ground for many of the challenges faced by governments, international organisations and policymakers around the world. Religion is a very fluid concept, which almost always adapts to its contextual situation and so being taught its role within diverse modern societies and in relation to theories of conflict, intersectionality, culture and peacemaking is incredibly important when hoping to develop a better understanding of the world.
The course is multi-faceted, drawing in influences from the social sciences, religious studies and political theory (and much, much more!). The course designers have worked incredibly hard to ensure that all the readings for classes are relevant, interesting and appropriate to the topic. Most pertinently, academic theories are applied to real-world case studies and many of the teaching staff in the department are leading experts in applying theory to practice. The Theology and Religious Studies Faculty at UG has a brilliant teaching style, where independent study is encouraged but expert advice and support is only a short e-mail, coffee or chat away!
Religion, Conflict and Globalization has a diverse range of focus topics; I chose ‘Religion, Violence and Conflict Transformation’ and have really enjoyed the mixture of topics - having had tasters of the other focusses (migration and gender) I can quite happily state that all of the focusses are equally interesting and well-taught.
The University has a focus on the real-world application of your degree programme and part of that is and internship. I hope to undertake my internship within Groningen and work with one of the Non-Governmental Organisations that have clustered around the exceptional university.
As a place to live and study in, Groningen is unmatched. It is vibrant, everyone is very friendly and there is a vast array of things to see and do. There is a festival, or university-led event nearly every weekend and I hope to extend my time in Groningen further than my 1-year programme. I cannot recommend my course highly enough to anyone who would like to gain a more sophisticated understanding of our highly interconnected world, develop their thoughts on religion in the public domain and experience life at a renowned university in a beautiful city.
Important to show the impact religion has on people's lives
I graduated from the University of National and World Economy in Sofia, Bulgaria with a Bachelor's degree in Sociology. After my Bachelor's, I was wondering how to continue my education. I started browsing different European universities' websites in search of a Master's programme. The University of Groningen, one of the best educational institutions in the world, appealed to me.
I am interested in politics, social affairs and conflict resolution, so the programme ‘Religion, Conflict and Globalization’ was the perfect choice. It is really interesting to see how religion engages with both the public and the private spheres, and to study its role in past and present conflicts. I think it is important to show the impact religion has on people’s lives. Perhaps religion could provide answers in some of the biggest debates, ironic though this may sound to some.
I like learning about different scholarly perspectives through the academic literature. The discussions in class are also beneficial and motivate students to formulate their ideas in a friendly environment. The most challenging parts for me are the assignments and the academic analysis. I find it challenging to conduct my own research, and I am learning every day. At first I found it difficult to reflect critically on the literature, especially since I did not have a religious background, but the lecturers are really good at helping us to develop our thinking.
I will do a placement at the Foreign Ministry in Sofia next year. In the future I hope to work with people. I like analysing a situation and being a buffer between two or more conflicting sides. At the moment I am looking at politics for my future career.
So far, my stay here has been quite an adventure. The Netherlands is a colourful and vibrant place with a multicultural atmosphere.
Looking at the world without a Eurocentric lens
After gaining my Bachelor's degree in History, I applied for admission to the Research Master's programme in Theology and Religious Studies. I chose to specialize in Religion, Conflict and Globalization because I wanted to study the role of religion in the contemporary world.
In this programme, you do not try to ‘prove’ the existence of religions, but rather focus on religions as phenomena that influence people’s lives, identities and behaviour. You are encouraged to observe the world from a non-Eurocentric perspective. We may have become secular nations here in the West, where religion doesn’t play a large role, but that is not the case for the rest of the world. My fellow students have various backgrounds. This makes the discussions in class very interesting. I believe this Master’s programme not only helps you to expand your knowledge, but also transforms you personally.
My thesis focuses on the role of religion in international development programmes. Since Western Europe dominates international politics, the development agenda is highly secular, and local religious and cultural systems are often not taken seriously. In my thesis I look at religious NGOs, and inquire whether they bring something new to the table in this regard. After graduating, I would like to pursue a PhD degree in order to learn more about this topic. In the future, I hope either to work as an academic or to establish my own NGO, one that strives to serve the interests and goals of local communities, not those of politicians or big companies.
Reconciliation is both a social and a political process
The links between religion and conflict, peace and reconciliation in pre-modern and modern times are undisputed. However, recent religiously articulated violence and conflict both locally and globally has added another layer of complexity to the role of religion in the public sphere. Although religious motifs can be used to promote peace, religion can also be used to justify conflict and violence.
The Religion, Conflict and Globalization track provides an opportunity for the interdisciplinary study of the role religion plays in socio-economic and political conflicts, as well as in promoting sustainable peace and reconciliation. You will study how religion around the world influences people’s lives and connects them. Our teaching philosophy allows you to study and to conduct high level research that has a practical impact in the public domain.
I am the Coordinator of this track and am responsible for the Thesis seminars and Methodology clinics. I teach the course unit ‘Religion, Violence and Conflict Transformation’. This course unit examines the discourse and practice of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. We will address topics such as the history and development of religiously articulated violence and religious peacebuilding, religion and reconciliation, transitional justice and religion, religion and conflict, fundamentalism and religious violence, women, religion and peacebuilding, and religion, ritual and peacebuilding.
My own research is conducted where religion, conflict, politics, peace and reconciliation intersect. It’s very important for me to conduct research that has a practical influence in the public sphere. A specific example of the practical application of my studies and research into reconciliation and transitional justice is my work as a consultant for various civic organizations in Zimbabwe. I’ve given workshops on peace, recovery and reconciliation, following two decades of political conflict, and have developed policy documents on these themes. I consider transitional justice to be part of the reconciliation process because I believe that reconciliation is both a social and a political process. So if you talk about reconciliation, you need to include events from the past and administer both retributive and restorative justice. My teaching is research driven, so students benefit from my past, present and on-going work.
The role of religion in contemporary societies is still not sufficiently understood
Many disciplines do not explicitly address the role of religion in conflict, in the ways present-day societies are shaped, and in the ways people themselves shape their lives in a globalised world. This is puzzling but understandable given the dominance of the narrative of secularisation: social scientists long expected that the world would become less religious, following the example of Europe.
Although the recognition that this is not happening has begun to sink in, the persistence and prominence of the role of religion in contemporary societies is still not sufficiently understood either in academic research or in the work of policy-makers, NGO's and journalists. This is what we are trying to do in this MA programme.
Within this programme, I am involved in the course unit Global Dynamics and Local Cosmologies. This course unit is intended to give a broad background to the confrontation between different - religious and cultural - ways of ordering, perceiving and acting in the world that have taken place throughout history. We look at the confrontations between explorers and local populations, at the experience of colonialism, the globalisation of capitalism and our current, thoroughly globalised society. What has changed as a result of these confrontations and what remains the same? The Fundamentalism and Religious Violence course unit has a focus on more contemporary issues: what is fundamentalism and what are its causes? What are the consequences of labelling a certain group 'fundamentalist'? Is there something specific to religion that is connected with violence?
My own research in recent years has focused on a form of 'religious globalisation' radiating from Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the most religiously dynamic countries in the world, especially in the south where there are many Pentecostal churches that are very ambitious: they want to convert the whole world to Christianity. They use the most modern methods of evangelisation, media, and organisation. To many people, these kinds of churches form a gateway to a globalised, modern lifestyle. Several of these churches have established a presence in many different countries worldwide. The church I have been following has 'parishes' in most countries of the world, and is also present in the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands and Europe in general, religion and modernity are often thought to be antithetical - religion should be a private affair. This is very different from the way these Pentecostal churches see things. How do these opposing ways of viewing religion in relation to modernity interact and perhaps conflict, for example when it comes to gender and sexuality? That is what interests me.
Enhancing the knowledge and skills of the humanitarian sector
After I graduated from the University of Stirling, Scotland, I chose to study Religion, Conflict and Globalization as I have always been fascinated with how religion plays a role within societies and cultures. I wanted to explore this further by doing a master's degree. I was also very aware about the negative attitudes held by many in my home country (the UK) towards religion, with the assumption that it causes conflict.
I also felt this assumption relates to the fear people have about the migration ‘crisis’ Europe is experiencing, with this fear particularly aimed towards Islam. I felt the Religion, Conflict and Globalization programme would satisfy my interests as it explores the role of religion within the context of globalization, conflict and peace, and migration.
In my master’s thesis, I researched Faith Based Organizations (FBO) within the local setting, paying specific attention to the religious narratives used by the Dutch FBO, the International Network of Local Initiatives with Asylum Seekers (INLIA) and how this – if at all – affects the day-to-day practices and decision making processes of the organization. I explored how FBOs operate in assisting displaced persons and elaborated on current literature by applying theory to my personal experiences of working as an intern at INLIA.
After graduating, I started as an intern in Research and Development at the Humanitarian Academy for Development (formerly Islamic Relief Academy), based in the UK. Now, I am Programme and Grants Coordinator at that same institution. In this role, I am responsible for developing relationships with institutions and funding agencies and I develop proposals and reports based on the funder's requirement. The projects I am involved in, aim to enhance the knowledge and skills of the humanitarian sector through capacity building, applied research, and leadership development.