McCormack Speaks

September 28, 2018
by mccormackgradschool
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Saadia Ahmad, ’17 graduate of Master’s in Conflict Resolution, participated in the inaugural Muslim Jewish Interfaith Coalition Forum in Morocco

Saadia Ahmad, a 2017 graduate of the Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution, recently participated in the inaugural forum of the Muslim Jewish Interfaith Coalition (MJIC) in late August. The conference brought together 60 young adults who identify as Muslim or Jewish from over 30 countries to Essaouira, Morocco for a week of building relationships, learning about one another’s religions, forging new professional networks and possibilities for collaboration, and exploring the Moroccan city’s rich history as a place of peaceful coexistence among Muslims and Jews.

Saadia is also a Fellow with the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development, through which she worked with Darren Kew, Center Director and Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution, on a 5-year USAID project on creating faith-based mediation systems to mitigate violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.

She can be reached at saadia.ahmad001@umb.edu.

 

McCormack Speaks: What were some of the highlights of the program?

SA: The structure of the schedule, guest speakers, discussion groups, and visits to religious sites were immensely helpful in gaining content knowledge about the history and theology of Islam and Judaism and experiencing the culture, people, and hospitality of Morocco. That being said, what I often most benefit from and appreciate in these programs are the informal interactions and relationships that blossom in between all of the programming. It was during these moments of conversation, both serious and lighthearted, where I was able to learn more about the spiritual and political interests and questions around Muslim-Jewish matters that I came in with.

 

McCormack Speaks: Why was this interfaith program of interest for you to attend?

SA: I’ve been involved as a participant and as a facilitator with many interfaith programs over the last seven years that bring people together to talk, explore similarities and differences between traditions, build relationships and understanding across (and often within!) religious groups, and develop partnerships for working together in the long-term. This was my first interfaith program that focused specifically on relationships between Muslims and Jews. I’ve been looking for this for a while, as many of the programs and organizations I’ve been involved with thus far focus primarily on Muslim-Christian relationships and interfaith dialogue between multiple religious groups.

Depending on the religious groups that are present, there are different topics and questions on the table that are specific to those religious groups and those distinctive relationships. For Muslims and Jews, for example, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is the obvious and stereotypical example of a topic that is of special importance to Muslims and Jews and Muslim-Jewish engagement. Equally important issues are the shared experience of being minority religious groups in the West and, with that, the potential for collaboration and supporting one another through all the challenges that a minority status entails.

Additionally, I’m in a phase of exploring questions around my faith and have shifted in some of the ways I practice and identify with Islam. In conversations with some of my Jewish friends and reading the work of Jewish authors, I’ve come to appreciate how the tradition emphasizes intellectualism, asking questions, and creates space for those who identify as Jewish but who may not practice – something that is also present in my own tradition but is not mainstream in the same way. I was very interested in hearing how Jews as well as other Muslims engage with their faith and issues affecting their religious communities in ways beyond normative practice, ritual, and belief. In other words: what does it mean to be a Jew or a Muslim who identifies deeply with the religion, but not engage in some of the traditions and practices expected of someone who claims a religious identity? This program created the right space thematically, geographically, and logistically to explore all of the above.

 

McCormack Speaks: How did you first decide to pursue work and advanced studies in interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution?

SA: I first became involved with interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding during my undergraduate studies as a Muslim at a Catholic college, where I experienced the benefits of positive interfaith exchanges. Through regularly attending Catholic worship services, taking theology courses, participating in Campus Ministry, and serving on its Pastoral Council, I experienced my own Islamic faith sophisticating in unprecedented ways. I realized the potential for religion to unify and heal rather than to divide and harm and created the college’s first interfaith organization to facilitate such encounters and also to support non-Catholic members of the community.

As only 20% of the Muslim student population at the time, I also encountered hostility and misunderstanding around my religious and racial identities. I witnessed significant misunderstanding of Islam and realized the need for more Muslim public intellectuals and for greater interfaith community building efforts. These experiences – both the positive and the difficult – motivated me to facilitate and encourage positive interfaith interactions in our local and global communities.

 

McCormack Speaks: How have your affiliations with the Conflict Resolution program, the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development, and the McCormack Graduate School assisted with your work?

SA: Our classes, professors, and classmates push us to think critically and compassionately about conflict: to ask questions that others may not think or want to ask, to recognize the humanity of the other side, to suggest that there are alternatives to harmful and destructive ways of dealing with conflict. The field experience I gained through facilitating online with Soliya, mediating small claims cases in the Dorchester District Court, and meeting with Muslim and Christian clergy and leaders in Nigeria, have helped me further develop my skills and combine theoretical knowledge with practical application. The op-ed articles I’ve written over the years – including in The Boston Globe, America Magazine, and The Richmond Times – are also informed by this approach.

There’s a way in which studying and practicing in this field seeps into your bones, and you begin to view everything around you – both professional and personal matters – through the lens of what causes conflict, what may help manage or resolve it, and how you might play a role in that.

August 20, 2018
by saadiaahmad001
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MGS Associate Dean Edozie on African Studies at UMass Boston and Greater Boston Area

Professor Edozie was appointed last year as Associate Dean at the McCormack Graduate School and as Professor of International Relations in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance. Dr. Edozie is a prominently published Africanist scholar whose most recent appointment was at Michigan State University. Last year, she published her sixth book on a topic in African Affairs, Pan Africa Rising: The Cultural Political Economy of Nigeria’s Afri-capitalism and South Africa’s Ubuntu Business. In her first year at UMass Boston, she convened a university-wide academic programming initiative called the Africa Scholars Forum. McCormack Speaks sat down with Professor Edozie to learn more about her Africa initiatives.

 

SA: What is the Africa Scholars Forum, and where did the idea to develop it come from?

KE: Though newly appointed at UMass Boston, I’ve been a longstanding teacher-scholar of African studies and African affairs. My dissertation research was on the Nigerian democracy movement. I held my first post-doctoral appointment as Deputy Director of Columbia University’s Institute for African Studies. I have spent over 15 years in varying appointments in the professoriate as an Africanist, including most recently at Michigan State University for 12 years as a Professor of African Affairs and Director of African American and African Studies.

Last year, I was extremely excited to join UMass Boston as Professor of International Relations in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance and Associate Dean at McCormack. In meeting many faculty members, administrators, and students, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the deeply-seated yet invisible-to-the-public African studies vitality at UMass Boston. In conversing with my new fellow, Africanist colleagues, we all pledged to come together to establish a forum for collaboration in deepening, expanding, and enlivening the study of Africa at UMass Boston. That’s how we came to the idea to develop the now established Africa Scholars Forum here.

 

SA: What are some of the short- and long-term goals for the forum?

KE: We are happy to have established ourselves in late Spring 2018 as a university-wide academic platform for the teaching, research, and programming of Africa, having been convened by an informal network of Africanists at UMass Boston. The Forum serves many functions, including building a more formal educational presence around African studies, providing a collaborative hub for work on Africa at UMass Boston, and facilitating among Africanist faculty shared resources and existing initiatives in African Studies in a convened, organized, and institutional space.

We are currently working on a number of goals and objectives, including:

  1. Develop an undergraduate minor and a graduate certificate in African Studies
  2. Establish a formal speaker series on African issues at UMass Boston
  3. Engage student groups on campus who have Africa programming missions, and create undergraduate student research initiatives on African study
  4. Establish a platform for deepened African research study for graduate students at UMass Boston
  5. Promote existing and new exchanges with area African Studies programs and universities in Africa to facilitate faculty and student exchange, especially study abroad and community research
  6. Collaboratively achieve prestigious grant awards.

 

SA: How do you see this forum as connecting to the values and mission of MGS?

KE: One of the things that attracted me to UMass Boston was its cosmopolitan, internationalist, and diasporic student and faculty research thrust. Just walking across campus during my interviews here last year, I visibly came across students from all over the world, particularly from Africa – Cape Verdes, Kenya, Ghana, and even my native Nigeria. I remember one day on the commuter bus hearing Yoruba and Pidgin English spoken by students. Both languages are Nigerian. I later learned that there are several African student groups and there are quite a few graduate students, especially at McCormack, who are conducting Africanist doctoral research.

As you can see from the Forum’s member-initiatives, there are also several faculty members conducting research and projects in Africa. At least forty percent of international development policy work is conducted in the African region. McCormack’s policy and global mission stands at the frontiers of Africa study. In collaboration and consultation with other faculties at UMass Boston, including Africana Studies, Anthropology, Economics, History, the College of Social and Global Inclusion, the McCormack School is the appropriate host to lead this university-wide initiative.

MGS faculty members already conduct focused research projects in Rwanda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and are exploring other regions and countries. I have extensive field research and project-based experience working in South Africa, and I am an honorary professor at the University of South Africa (UNISA) in Pretoria. There, I work with the Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute, the African Renaissance Institute, and the Pan African Languages program; these are all intensive academic research programs and continental platforms for African derived and formulated public policy for the continent. Much of my own publications – including my recent book, Pan Africa Rising – have conducted research on these so called “Africa policies”! I would love to see MGS and UMB connect this faculty research to the continent and UMB students to foster cross-continental educational exchanges on Africa policy.

 

SA: You were recently appointed as the Co-Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee of the African Studies Association-Boston 2019 Conference – Congratulations! Can you tell me about your role and about the ASA and the upcoming Boston conference next year?

KE: The African Studies Association (ASA) is an association of scholars and professionals in the United States and Canada with an interest in the study of and engagement in the continent of Africa. Started in 1957, the ASA is the leading organization of African Studies in North America. Next November 20-24, 2019, the ASA will convene its 62nd Annual Meeting here in Boston. The presence of this conference in the region is significant, because it offers an opportunity for the ASA to engage academic institutions and their African Studies programs in the region, not to mention companies and organizations with an interest in Africa. With my colleagues – Professor Kwamina Panford at Northeastern and Assistant Professor Abel Djassi Amado at Simmons University – I am Co-Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee (LAC) for the Association’s meeting in Boston in 2019.

Along with volunteer members from the many African Studies program faculty in the Greater Boston Area and with Boston University’s African Studies Center as our executive office host, my colleagues and I are in the process of organizing several distinctive initiatives for the event. It is a great privilege for us to serve the ASA in this manner and to highlight our African, African Diaspora, and African studies community here in Boston. African peoples have a longstanding, vanguard, and deep revolutionary history of the city and the State of Massachusetts. Massachusetts was the first state in the union to abolish slavery. Today, diverse and expansive communities of peoples of African descent ranging not exclusively from Black Bostonians, to Cape Verdeans, Somali, Haitian, and many other African and African descendant immigrants make up the city’s dynamic majority-minority status.

June 6, 2018
by saadiaahmad001
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The Missing Voice

by Jack Whitacre, PhD Student in Global Governance and Human Security

Over the course of the last year, our PhD cohort in McCormack School’s Global Governance and Human Security program explored different international organizations from around the world. By studying the canon of global governance and international organizational theory, we acquired new tools for understanding factors that shape the world. Part of this journey involved adopting a more critical approach and questioning claims of international organizations, like the Arctic Council (AC), quantitatively. This reflection sheds light on unique findings that display UMass Boston’s encouragement for interdisciplinary work.

After learning how Arctic indigenous groups bear disproportionate environmental burdens in the High North, I started studying the Arctic Council in greater depth. The Arctic Council was designed in large part to uplift indigenous voices, heritage, culture, livelihood amidst a changing Arctic environment. The following organizations are Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council: Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and the Saami COuncil. The education at UMass Boston helped me ask whether the Arctic Council was truly living up to its environmental and human rights ambitions. First, analyzing digital archives revealed that indigenous considerations have significantly decreased in Senior Arctic Observer (SAO) meeting minutes from 1999 to 2017. Second, state and external organizations were twice as likely to spearhead indigenous projects and debates than the indigenous groups themselves. And third, indigenous issues appeared in only 0.0004375% of content in a typical SAO document. For this reason, it can be argued that indigenous people are more subjects than participants in the AC’s SAO.

By studying one of the most democratic and praised international organizations with a critical lens and expanded tool kit, I found gaps and areas for possible improvement. This research increased my capacity for literature reviews, statistical analyses, and writing. The quantitative story of the Arctic Council, indigenous participants, and missing voices is an important, but untold, history of non-state actors. It represents a vulnerability in the Arctic Council’s mission, and a factor that may shape the future of the forum. To borrow a phrase from the Japanese Ministry, my first year in the Global Governance and Human Security program taught me how to envision a world where people “live healthy, productive lives in harmony with nature.” Hopefully, sharing a snapshot from this journey helps make these aspirations a reality.

December 26, 2017
by McCormack Speaks
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Conflict Resolution Professor Publishes Book on Youth Encounter Programs in Israel

sketch of a peace doveRoss conducted more than 100 interviews with former participants and program staff and spent more than 200 hours observing their programming in order to understand the structure and pedagogical approaches of each organization. She also analyzed the impact of the youth meetings in terms of the depth of changes in their belief systems and their continued social change engagement.“Looking at impact in terms of continued engagement in significant in two ways,” writes Ross. “First, it shifts the discussion from an internal focus to one emphasizing externally oriented initiatives. Moreover, looking at impact in terms of social change engagement enables us to see how programs that aim to transform individuals can link to societal-level shifts.”Decades after the Oslo Accords, alienation and distrust has grown between Jews and Palestinians in Israel, and grassroots groups struggle to find funding to continue their important work to shape participants’ national identity, vision of social change, and motivation to continue to work toward the transformation of Israeli society.

Yet Karen Ross’ investigation and findings on how individual transformation can lead to larger-scale societal change provide not only new insights to conflict resolution methodology and practice but also bring renewed hope for the possibility of Jewish-Palestinian partnership. Continue reading.

 

December 22, 2017
by McCormack Speaks
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Mandela’s Chosen Successor: Ramaphosa’s Long Wait to Reignite South Africa’s Promise

by Padraig O’Malley, Moakley Chair of Peace and Reconciliation

Meyer, O'Malley and Ramaphosa (1993)

Roelf Meyer, Padraig O’Malley, and Cyril Ramaphosa, 1993

I met Cyril Ramaphosa on my first visit to South Africa in 1985. Ramaphosa was secretary general of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), fresh off leading the largest strike in South African history. I met him again in 1990 after I began to document the South African transition from apartheid to democracy, and interviewed him on several occasions.

In 1993, the University of Massachusetts Boston, where I hold the John Joseph Moakley Chair of Peace and Reconciliation at the university’s John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, awarded Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer, both of whom were the lead negotiators on the African National Congress (ANC) and National Party sides in the talks to end apartheid, honorary doctorates at its commencement ceremonies.

In 1997, at my behest, Ramaphosa and Meyer went to Belfast to meet with all the key negotiators in the Northern Ireland peace process. As a result, President Nelson Mandela hosted the Great Indaba (The Great “Gathering”) at Arniston, a secure military base in the Western Cape Province that same year. Negotiators from all parties in Northern Ireland and the principal negotiators from the multiparty talks in South Africa that ended apartheid participated. Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s lead negotiator, called it a “turning point.” A year later, the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was signed. Subsequently, Cyril Ramaphosa was appointed one of the two interim decommissioning commissioners and I advised him on things Northern Irish. Continue Reading →

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