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Peace by Piece

(Posted March 27, 2013)

Polly Walker, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies.

It is very easy to instantly write off the possibility of peace. Human history reeks of war while peace has always remained a theoretical "nice idea," a seemingly unattainable state shadowed by the reality of conflict that constantly surrounds us. But a new form of peace building is beginning to take hold in the forms of performance and ritual. Last Monday and Tuesday, the Baker Institute brought speaker, Tatsushi Arai to Juniata for peace-building workshops and a talk. Arai is an associate professor of peace-building and Conflict Transformation at the School for International Training. Peace and Conflict Studies Professor, Polly Walker, explains peace building through performance, her experiences with Dr. Arai and her reactions to last week's workshops.

Q: How is performance and ritual-based peace-building different from dominant intellectual analysis-based peace-building approaches?

A: The current dominant forms support linear analysis and personal interest while performance and ritual-based peace-building use embodied knowledge, spiritual beliefs and spiritual expression, all of which are impacted by violence, to bring about fuller measures or more sustainable peace. They create spaces for people to engage more deeply with the underlying issues of the conflict and spaces for people to envision a world beyond the current conflict situations.

Q: What activity or talk was most influential of the conference/workshop you experienced with Tatsushi Arai in Washington, D.C.?

A: All the performing aspects of his week-long workshop were very influential. He told us that out of everything we talked and read about, we would forget most of it, but we would remember the engaging interactions -- and that is true. We did this activity where we walked through a timeline of events with people from Pakistan and officers of the U.S. and I can still feel how people were holding their bodies. My sense is that I remember that part best because we tend to recall what involves our minds, our bodies and emotions.

Q: Have we been able to see the positive effects of performance based peace-building in a particular conflict?

A: One of the most exemplary examples is in Peru. A theatre group was chosen to accompany the Truth and Reconciliation commission to help families with the disappearances of loved ones throughout the Dirty War. The government was one of the parties contributing to the disappearances, so the theatre group helped the people create their own rituals, ceremonies, and performances, creating safe spaces for people to acquire symbolic and restorative justice.

Q: What is most compelling to you about Dr. Arai's work?

A; I first became aware of his work through cross-cultural conflict resolution, talking about the importance of delving deeper into cultures. He frequently uses the metaphor of an iceberg and he says that to build peace we need to learn about our own cultures and be open to learning about other people's worldviews. He speaks out very clearly about the role of creativity in peace-building. He also says that conflict can have its own kind of stability and to break out of that cycle we need many resources and the belief that it can even be done.

Q: Were you surprised by the students' reactions to the workshops and talk?

A: I was so proud of the students' reactions. I think that speaks for the peace-building knowledge the students learned here and for their own creativity. The strength of his workshop was that it presented conceptual frameworks and got us to stretch a hypothesis, but then he allowed us to do hands-on activities to challenge us.

-Hannah Jeffery '16 Juniata Online Journalist

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.