Peace Lecture Report

NOVEMBER 20, 2013


The Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group (DAIG) was formed in the wake of the events of September 11th 2001, out of a spontaneous expression of goodwill between leaders of the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the police, and the Dunedin City Council. The group has purposefully sought to bring together members of the Abrahamic faiths to foster relationships of respect and bridges of understanding. They have adopted a peace education focus.

Beginning in 2004, DAIG, in partnership with the Otago University Chaplaincy, has annually hosted a peace lecture. The annual peace lecture follows a three year rotation in which representatives of each of the three Abrahamic faiths are given a chance to speak on the topic of peace respectively. To date there has been ten peace lectures. While some lectures have a distinctively strong ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ dimension not all do, some chose to focus on other dimensions of peace and conflict.

The following report will reflect on the 10 peace lectures. They are reviewed from the position of a Christian student, with a background in theology, and a current focus in the discipline of Peace and Conflict Studies. Further, they are reviewed via written record. The report will offer a summary of each lecture and include reflections, discussion of similarities, themes, perspectives, and differences, and finally assess the worth of the lecture series - especially as an educational resource.

Lecture 1 - “Old Faiths, New World”

David Lange 2004 (Christian)


The inaugural peace lecture was delivered in 2004 by the late David Lange. Lange approaches his lecture by first stating that his values are “the values of a secular society, where religious faith is a private matter.”* Lange belonged to the Methodist Church, and was brought up to see the church as an agent of change and social reform. Further, Lange acknowledges that he is not what could be called a pacifist, he advocates the use of force as long as it is in proportion to the threat which is offered.

Lange states that there are numerous cases of mass crime and genocide in which religion is a variable. He points to the events of 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq as tests of the nature of humanity and human relationships.

He lists a variety of issues which shape the world today, including: the justification of the use of force, the radical new doctrine of preventive warfare, the revolution in international affairs, the ‘war on terror’, power politics, security, and patriotism. These issues highlight the adversarial nature of current systems of governance and point to “an age of instability.”* This ‘age of instability’ is marked by discredited international institutions, globalisation, and the weakening of the state.

Lange points out that in times past, when secular authority has weakened, religious authority has stepped in. Religion is “reassuring” and “reinforces traditional social structures.”* It is conservative - offering protection against destructive change, and so it is a political force. However, religion may also be a “justification for brutality and aggression.”* Terrorism has unfortunately darkened the lenses through which many view religion. However, Lange believes that faith itself is not the issue, preferring to view the issues as political.

He addresses in conclusion the question: how might people of good will, make a difference? Through respect and acknowledging there is a limit to understanding, is his answer. Through making sure that differences do not become barriers. An individual must first understand their own faith and be true to their beliefs. Lange is adamant that faith, as a political force, should not be silent: “it matters, when faith has become an issue, that people of faith say very plainly what that faith is”.* Lange offers “the rule of behaviour” found in many faiths, as the classic and simple guide for people wishing to make a difference: “we must treat other people the way we would like to be treated ourselves.”*


What is interesting about this lecture is that Lange, in acknowledging that religion is a political force, breaks with the status quo, which has since the Enlightenment advocated a separation between the state and religion. In acknowledging the political influence of religion, Lange lays a challenge to all people of faith to speak up and be examples of what true faith is. Faith could then become a tool for justice. Further, he calls upon the commonality that is our humanity, as a means to relating to and interacting with one another - if a common ground for peace can be found, it in our common humanity.

Lange approaches his lecture from the standpoint that many secularist New Zealanders would find themselves. He is not a pacifist, and though he is a member of the Methodist church his lecture does not come across as particularly ‘religious.’ Nonetheless, Lange is able to recognise the adversarial nature of world politics and the significant influence different faiths can have in shaping the world for peace. His lecture as an educational source is perhaps more appropriately valuable to a secularist audience, though it does lay challenges for those of faith.

In the end Lange’s lecture has a simple yet profound answer to the question of how we as individuals and faith communities might undertake the challenging task of working toward the goal of peace. That answer, summed up in one word is: respect.

Lecture 2 - “Creating Space for Grace and Peace in Hiroshima, New York, and Dunedin”

Rev. Greg Hughson 2005 (Christian)


Rev. Greg Hughson is a Chaplain for the University of Otago. Affiliated with the Methodist Church, he speaks from a Christian position, and therefore, his lecture is offered from a perspective of faith in God.

As the title suggests, his lecture is about creating space for grace and peace - a challenge he suggests exits for peacemakers of all faiths. The concept of creating space for grace and peace is delivered through reflecting on a recent trip to Japan and the USA, where he visited both Hiroshima and Ground Zero. He also gives a Christian reflection on the life of Christ as a space maker and the events at Calvary. He advocates that spaces for grace and peace need to be created in theological, geographical, architectural and dialogical terms.

The question “what is peace?” is asked, and is answered through relating the concept of peace to how we understand God. Drawing on all three Abrahamic faiths, ‘peace’ (and ‘grace’), is defined by God. He believes that how we understand God will colour how we as a people of faith will decide to live our lives.

Rev. Hughson speaks of a “human peace impulse” - the deep desire and longing for peace that originates in a biological concern for self-preservation.* He notes that humans are bound together in their desire for self-preservation. As humans we are an international community, interconnected and forming one human family. Grace and peace, then, are essential to our common survival. The issues that Rev. Hughson puts forward as standing in the way of following a commitment to grace and peace are: human frailty, sin, weakness, and political rivalries.

In conclusion Rev. Hughson suggests that creating space for grace and peace is about creating the right environment. An environment of humility, trust, and respect. “What matters ultimately is that we don’t let our differences become a barrier between us.”* We have the capacity to create space for peace and grace and to love and care for one another.


Posing the question “what would God have us do?” I believe, lays a challenge to members of the three Abrahamic faiths. The challenge requires a deep level of engagement with the topic and requires an authentic consideration of what God would in fact have us do. A shallow level of engagement or a pushing aside of the issue would reflect negatively on our character as individuals and our faith communities, and so reflect negatively on God.

The concept of creating space is, I believe, highly valuable to the pursuit of peace. It allows for the existence of a reminder of past atrocities. The stark contrast in spaces of peace, between the negative past and the presence now of peace and grace, proves to be powerful testimony to the power of peace. As a Christian I find the concept intriguing and was able to relate the creating of a space of peace with the work of Christ at Calvary in creating ‘space’ for peace between a fallen humanity and a gracious God.

The idea of ‘creating’ a space for peace involves bringing into existence what was not there before. It implies action. Peace does not necessarily automatically reign in the aftermath of dark acts, often it requires action, and hence, when spaces are designated for peace and grace, it reflects engagement with what has gone before, and the fact that the engagement results in peace, is a testimony to the healing nature of action for peace.

I thought that the point made concerning the need for spaces of peace and grace to be created in theological, geographical, architectural and dialogical terms, is very important and reflects a sound understanding of the scope in which peace must be pursued. Albert Einstein advocated:

“The importance of securing peace was recognized by the really great men of former generations. But the technical advances of our times have turned this ethical postulate into a matter of life and death for civilised mankind today, and made the taking of an active part in the solution to the problem of peace a moral duty which no conscientious man can shirk.”*

Peace is a matter that concerns all of creation, it is the linchpin of survival, and the ultimate state of existence. It is crucial that peace be sought in all spectrums of relationship and understanding.

Lecture 3 - “The Role of Interfaith Activities in Building Peace”

Paul Morris 2006 (Jewish)


Paul Morris’s peace lecture addresses the role interfaith activities play in building peace. He states that the fact that different faiths exist is reason enough for interfaith activity.

Contemporary interfaith dialogue is, he suggests, not primarily about conversion or assertion of truth and error, but about “different religious communities recognising the fact of the other, learning about each other’s faiths and pragmatically rather than theologically agreeing to develop strategies to live together not without disagreement but with limited violence and, hopefully an absence of bloodshed.”* Morris affirms that we do not have the luxury of simply refusing to dialogue. The existence of more than one faith and the effects of globalisation demand dialogue.

Morris acknowledges that the history of interaction between faiths has been largely adversarial, but also that a history of religious pluralism developed in the aftermath of colonialisation. In having said that though, he suggests the models of the past represent “prejudicial pluralism” - that is “they have the merit of the recognition of others but they do so in a way that is prejudicial to the integrity, humanity, autonomy of other individuals and communities.”*

Morris points out an issue confronting interfaith dialogue - the first rule of dialogue: “whatever I might say you will not kill me.”* He observes that this is not a reality yet fully realised - “all too often we respond to opinions that we disagree with threats of violence, punishment and even death.”*

He makes the point that education is vital in fostering and promoting understanding. Furthermore that governments cannot develop religious diversity education without the involvement of religious communities. New Zealand being bicultural has a history of tolerance and openness to difference, and so is a perfect setting for interfaith activities.

What is the role of interfaith activities in the pursuit of peace? Morris notes that the biblical language links two verbs to shalom - baqash and radaf - to ‘seek’ and ‘pursue’. Also that “shalom is not simply the absence of war but a positive quality, a life that is complete and full.”* Peace is a journey, especially in a world dominated by ideologies of conflict - peace requires action. It begins at the grassroots level within our own faiths. He insists that we rethink our own teachings about others and reclaim and promote our faiths’ visions for peace. Interfaith activities he argues allows us to meet and share our visions and concerns.

Interfaith action must likewise begin at the grassroots level - “getting to know each other and our families, sharing, building trust and working together in pursuing our common tasks.”* The significance of interfaith activity for Morris is that “while we can begin with our own families and communities we cannot pursue peace without the other faith communities and those beyond.”*


Paul Morris’ peace lecture is very interfaith focused and relatively easy to follow. From his lecture I took three lessons or values: the importance of education, the importance of right relationship and community, and, the need for action to change current adversarial paradigms.

He defines the Hebrew word for peace, ‘shalom,’ as not simply the absence of war but a “positive quality, a life that is complete and full.”* I found that this correlates with what peace scholar Johan Galtung terms ‘positive peace.’ Glatung defines positive peace as the absence of violence obtained by on-going cooperation, “the integration of human society” and the presence of conditions that eliminate the causes of violence.* That absence of all forms of violence, the presence of positive peace, would reflect a world where every human can reach the same level of potential - a life that is complete and full. I thought that Morris’s introduction of the two verbs to further define shalom - ‘baqash’ and ‘radaf’ - to ‘seek’ and ‘pursue,’ demonstrate important aspects in achieving peace. They suggest that peace needs to be sought out and found at all costs and chased no matter the odds. The achievement of a state of positive peace, since it is clearly not a current reality, requires action.

It was interesting that he raised the issue of dialogue not being able to happen because the first rule, the rule that ensures safety and respect, is not widely enough established. It reflects a serious obstacle to peace and a need to shift from the adversarial nature of much of the world’s systems of interaction and negotiation.

I thought the need to begin peace education at a grassroots levels, within our own faiths, linked positively with David Lange’s challenge to individuals to understand and own their own faiths first.

Lecture 4 - “Towards a More Inclusive View of the Religious Other”

Professor Abdullah Saeed 2007 (Muslim)


Professor Abdullah Saeed focuses his lecture on Islam and how over time Muslims have struggled with the issue of inclusivism. He believes that “…how Muslims understand the ‘other’ is of fundamental importance to establishing peace among the people of the world.”*

He advocates that more inclusivism will better the chance for peace in the domain of religion. By inclusivism he means: recognition of the equality (regardless of religion) of all people as beings created by God; recognition of mutuality and interdependency of all people; recognition of all human beings as having access to God and truth; recognition of the need to be humble in one’s claims to superiority of one’s faith over that of others that may lead to discrimination or dehumanisation of the religious other; and, recognition of the need to respect other people’s faiths.

Saeed points to the Quran as an authority in Islam which promotes inclusivism. The foundations for inclusivism and peace in Islam, he argues, are based on four basic ideas: (1) all humans are part of one family; (2) God does not want people to be replicas of each other, differences are part of God’s vision; (3) God provided guidance to all people on earth, not just a select few; (4) human beings are commanded to conduct their affairs based on fairness, justice and equity. He notes however that Muslim scholars have adopted a range of exclusivist positions.

Exclusivist positions are deemed by Saeed to arise simply from a lack of familiarity and perceived threats. “The higher the degree of perceived threat and the lower the degree of familiarity with other religious traditions the more exclusivist the positions become.”* He argues that “the socio-political context in which exclusivist positions were developed in the pre-modern period is no longer feasible in the modern environment.”* Subsequently, he notes that we are beginning to see in Islam a process which marginalises exclusivist interpretations and advances inclusivist interpretations.

‘Progressive Ijtihadis’ are pointed to as an example of Muslims who are rethinking, reassessing, and reinterpreting key ideas and doctrines in an effort to be more inclusive. Their vision includes the need to recognise other faiths, build familiarity, and create better relationships.

In conclusion Saeed believes that the more inclusivism that is present, the more religious traditions become conducive to peace. Inclusivism does not aim to make one faith out of many, but, rather, draws together faiths on the common ground of a shared humanity - “…joining as human beings, first and foremost, before they are labelled as Muslim, Jewish, Christian or any other term.”*


Professor Saeed’s peace lecture is firmly grounded in an Islamic approach to interfaith activity. He calls upon the authority of the Quran as a force in changing the views of Muslims in particular toward the religious other. I thought his lecture provided a sound introduction to the issue of religious exclusivism and clearly advocated the necessity of inclusivism.

As a strongly Islamic presentation the lecture is perhaps best suited to a Muslim audience. It challenges Muslims to step back and assess the degree to which they have pursued inclusivism. Nonetheless, the lecture is valuable to others because it breaks prejudices through educating why and how Muslims have struggled with inclusivism. It also challenges other faiths to step back and reflect on their own practices, assessing the degree to which they themselves strive to be inclusive.

The lecture is valuable because it recognises the right for different faiths to exist, acknowledging that inclusivism does not strive to make one faith out of many but rather it enables faith communities to draw together on what common ground they do have, namely their shared humanity.

Lecture 5

Dr Kate Dewes 2008 (Christian)


Dr Kate Dewes begins by acknowledging that “today we live under the threat of so called ‘terrorism’, and the urgency of the devastating effects of climate change.”*

Dr Kate Dewes’ peace lecture offers a brief overview of the ‘peace history’ of Aotearoa, New Zealand, which has “a proud history of peace and disarmament.”* She points first to the Moriori and Waitaha peoples, and the conscientious objectors of the First and Second World War. Dewes proudly notes that New Zealand paved the way in its defiant anti-nuclear movements in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Dewes advocates that there is ongoing oppositional movements within New Zealand to international alliances such as ANZUS and that peace movements are still objecting to the presence of US military bases within New Zealand; the Waihopai Spy Base instillation; and the purchase of ANZAC frigates. She praises the government’s opposition to the illegal invasion of Iraq. Not all her comments however shed a positive light on New Zealand’s peace history. She scrutinises New Zealand’s voting on disarmament at United Nations councils.

She briefly recognises peace movements outside of New Zealand, and mentions Barak Obama and his desire to end the war in Iraq. Most of the lecture focuses on a desire to see an end to nuclear warfare through advocacy and disarmament. She notes efforts that have appealed to international law, and global campaigns such as ‘Mayors for Peace’ and the ‘Cities Are Not Targets’ project.

Dewes calls for continued efforts in peace-making and peace education, recognising that not all initiatives will be successful but that persistence will force governments to respond. “Government-level peacemaking initiatives are building on a myriad of grassroots peace education and conflict resolution activities around the world.”*

She concludes with some examples of how the United Nations can create a forum and focus for healing and peace for the planet, including the UN’s Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, and UN International Day of Peace. She states that “finding non-violent solutions to all conflicts is an ongoing challenge for us all, but there are many leaders and models to emulate and draw strength from.”* Finally she quotes Barak Obama, ‘a world that stands as one,’ underlining that we all have in common the fact that we are human. Advocating that walls must be torn down so that we might stand together in our common humanity.


Dr Dewes lecture is not explicitly focused on interfaith activity, and though a Christian, her lecture has no ‘religious’ dimension. I would suggest that her lecture is useful primarily in that it has a wealth of information about national and international peace advancing efforts. Only near the end of her lecture does Dr Dewes begin to put forward concepts and challenges that may be taken on board by those wishing to see more peace in the world. Therefore her lecture is really only an introductory overview of a wide spectrum of topics.

Lecture 6 - “Interfaith Interdependence in a Post-Modern World”

Rabbi Johanna Hershenson 2009 (Jewish)


Rabbi Johanna Hershenson, believes that discourse, in particular the belief that “there is a particular strength in diversity that cannot be mined from homogeny,”* is the reason for attendance at the Peace Lecture. She believes that across a wide spectrum of disciplines, teamwork promotes an overall better result than individuals working separately toward the same goal.

Rabbi Hershenson states that in her experience of congregational life, ‘synergy’ takes a definite role in visioning and realizing events and actions. She states that the role of synergy in multicultural and interfaith work is however insufficiently explored and articulated.

She clearly believes that we can agree that mutual understanding and mutual respect are essential to building and keeping peace among nations, but, that this is part of the bigger picture of “moving humanity forward in its evolution.”* She identifies that humanity has evolved in many capacities and poses the question: “Will spiritual evolution be the next frontier of our development and growth?”*

Her next step is identify what spirituality and religion are all about. Spirituality, she believes, is about exploring purpose and meaning, while religion is about developing spiritual identity and a community in which that identity can be contained and experienced.

“Human beings seek purpose and meaning” and our various religious traditions, our collective wisdom and rituals, provide us with a shared language.* She believes that initially in homogenous communities, religion and governance were one and the same, and that later, when we encountered each other this was challenged. She states that in the pre-modern era religion was a zero-sum game, but that in the post-modern world religion is not a zero-sum game. Religion reflects one community’s journey through time, it is a “treasure trove of experience, reflection, and wisdom.”* Hence: “Imagine sharing experiences and wisdom of our particular religious traditions with one another. What might we learn? And with that knowledge, what might we achieve? Isn’t this pursuit what our interfaith relations are all about?”*

Rabbi Hershenson concludes by noting that our own particular faith communities constitute only a part of the whole of humanity. As such mere tolerance of one another is not enough, nor is it enough for us to cultivate mutual respect. “Each of us are, and all of us are, crucial to the health of humanity as a whole.”* As humans we are interdependent and shalom, peace, means wholeness.


Rabbi Hershenson clearly views synergy, co-operation, relationship, and diversity, as issues, and also means to advancing peace in a multi-faith context. Her lecture is not as strongly focused on the beliefs of one faith group as some of the other Peace Lectures have been, and hence I would think that it would be relatively easy for faiths outside of Judaism to engage with her content.

In reading her lecture I could not shake the feeling that she was leaning toward the idea of making one faith out of many. I accept that faiths should share their collective wisdom with one another. However I think there are significant differences between the faiths which will insure that many faiths remain. Further the idea of sharing knowledge and wisdom with one another, though a good idea, would probably prove to be quite hard. Differing understandings of concepts such as love, peace, and holiness, would I think, for example, mean that one faith could become highly frustrated with the other’s inability to understand or engage truly and deeply with the wisdom of another faith. The wisdom of each faith is founded on fundamentally different core beliefs, so I am not sure how effectively collective wisdom could be shared or accepted between faiths.

Lecture 7 - “The Jahiliyya Factor?: Fighting Muslims’ Cultural Resistance to Nonviolence”

Chaiwat Satha-Anand 2010 (Muslim)


Chaiwat Satha-Anand begins his peace lecture by introducing the concept of ‘jahiliyya’ (ignorance). He believes that Muslim societies are presently facing a new kind of jahiliyya regarding their reluctance to employ the language of nonviolence in characterizing their own actions. This is due to: (1) an inadequate understanding of both power and nonviolent action, (2) a lack of nonviolent language to identify most present-day fighting against injustice, and, (3) the bypassing of Islam’s own legacy of nonviolence.

He delivers his ideas through an attempt to understand an event on April 28, 2004, when a group of young Muslims in Thailand attacked police posts and stations in ten different places in three Muslim-dominated provinces. He attempts to show why deadly violence has become the preferred choice of action amongst some Muslims, asking the question: “Why are Islamic imperatives for nonviolence ignored?” Satha-Anand believes the answer to this question is probably best addressed through exploring the justifications used by some Muslims in their use of terror to realise their objectives. He argues that there is a need to reconceptualise ‘jahiliyya.’

He points to the redefining in the past of ‘jahiliyya,’ commonly understood as a historical moment which existed before the rise of Islam in Arabia, into “a state of human affairs freed from the chain of time which is antithetical to the Way of God.” This redefining has forced Muslims to choose between two ways: Islam or jahiliyya. The latter is of course un-Islamic. Therefore Muslims choose Islam and then fight the enemy of Islam to change the world to be in accordance with Islam

Satha-Anand suggests ignorance is like an ‘inner blindness’ and poses the question: “How then could ignorance or blindness in the area of nonviolence be accounted for?”*

He proposes that many Muslims criticise nonviolence as an imported ideology that lacks compatibility with Islam. This results partially from a linguistic incompatibility when nonviolence is translated into Arabic. ‘Nonviolence’ translates to ‘la-unf’ which means “no violence.” Semantic issues mean that nonviolence is generally held as negative and uninspiring - connoting passivity, weakness, and lack of courage. Violence becomes the weapon of choice for Muslims because of its general power to deliver desired results. Violence is considered the language of the enemy, so it is the language the enemy best understands.

The linguistic complexities and conceptual issues surrounding nonviolence, has, amongst Muslims, produced a widely held belief that there is an absence of nonviolent resistance in Islamic and Arabic history. Yet, Satha-Anand, suggests the world has historically learnt practically nothing from the Arabs in the field of warfare. He points to the fact that Islam in Arabia did not succeed through the use of force as evidence. He also suggests that there are many examples of Muslims nonviolent actions around the world, both in history and at present.

For Satha-Anand overcoming the jahiliyya factor will promote nonviolence amongst Muslims. In trying to overcome the jahiliyya factor, he suggests that it may be useful to “look back at the original meaning as appeared in the Quran and prophetic traditions.”*

In conclusion he points to female infanticide as a clear case where Islam has fought against jahiliyya. The case against female infanticides in Islam, as an example of overcoming the jahiliyya factor, is instructive for many reasons. Firstly it shows that Islamic cosmology has a place for innocents and there rights. Secondly, it shows that killing innocents is categorically wrong. Thirdly, cultural violence, which exists to legitimize such abominable acts, needs to be called into question and considered unacceptable. Satha-Anand suggests that in using the injunctions against female infanticides as guidelines, nonviolence becomes an Islamic imperative for Muslims, and refutes the increasing acceptance of violence against innocents.


Satha-Anand’s lecture is very informative as to the reasons why many Muslims have adopted a violent pattern of action in attempting to have their voices heard. It presents an academic argument that calls for Muslims to reassess their understanding of ‘jahiliyya’ in light of (1) the teachings of the Quran (especially the injunctions drawn from the issue of female infanticide), and (2) the linguistic incompatibility of the word ‘nonviolence.’

He tried to make the point that history has a lot to say about Muslims engaging in nonviolent action, yet I had the impression he did not have a lot of evidence he could point toward to back such a claim. Therefore I think it would be of value to provide more clear and substantial evidence of Islamic nonviolent action in times past, first to legitimise his own claims, and secondly, to provide education to Muslims and the wider community.

All this, I thought, also pointed to the importance of needing to understand one’s own faith, and to act and think truly in accordance with our religious traditions, especially so that false understandings are not given a foot hold on which to corrupt the peaceful visions of religions. The effectiveness of religious activity in advancing peace is dependent on the successful integration of theology, ethics, and practice.*

The idea that violence is the language of the enemy reflects the adversarial nature of a lot of current relation theory. It reflects the ‘eye for eye’ mentality held by many people of faith, and which I would argue does not align with, at least in the New Testament Christian scriptures, the will of God. I believe that to love your enemy despite the evil of their actions is a far more remarkable concept than to seek a balancing of wrong-doing with further wrong-doing. The idea of returning one wrong for another is observed in many conflict cycle theories. The issue with returning one wrong for another is that it creates a cycle of revenge which can greatly exacerbate and entrench a conflict.

I believe Satha-Anand’s main objective is to re-educate the Muslim majority by challenging the dominant paradigms of understanding, and introducing (or re-introducing) practices of nonviolence. I view this as a worthy cause, especially given the proven effectiveness of nonviolence. This lecture proves then to be highly valuable in educating Muslims as to why there is a cultural resistance to nonviolence.

Lecture 8 - “Compassion, Justice and the Pursuit of Peace: Ten Years On from 9/11”

Chris Marshall 2011 (Christian)


Chris Marshall begins by acknowledging that his peace lecture marks the 10th anniversary since 9/11. With an interest in peace and reconciliation, he speaks from the position of a devout Christian. He considers peace-making to be a religious obligation that is deeply rooted in the primary sources of Christian tradition.

Marshall observes that the religious sensibilities of terrorists and their handlers have “heightened the anxieties in the public mind about the potential - even the predisposition - of religious piety to promulgate and perpetrate acts of unspeakable horror and violence.”* Further it has raised concerns about the relationships between the world’s great faiths. Religion is commonly exonerated as a singular cause of conflict, it is much less common to hear about the unique power of religion in advancing peace and justice.

The common ground of the Abrahamic faiths, found in their respective texts, is the unity of God, the commitment to love God, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself - this “furnishes a constructive basis for forging interreligious understanding and peacemaking.”* Yet, Marshall acknowledges that even though the three faiths share this common word, differences of definition remain.

For Christians, love derives from God’s very own being, so how we understand God will shape how we understand love. Here Trinitarian doctrine is an obvious distinctive framework. The challenge for the Abrahamic communities, Marshall argues, “is to develop, not simply a passive toleration of one another’s idiosyncratic views, but a positive appreciation of what each brings to the table.”*

Mutual appreciation will arise from an open hearted and sympathetic encounter between the most sincere believers of each tradition. Marshall argues that interfaith engagement - by those most deeply committed - allows the possibility of “each encountering in the religion of the ‘other’ aspects of what is good and true and holy.”* Marshall believes that when dedicated believers of one tradition, experience in the other, facets of truth and beauty and goodness and holiness they cannot deny, there lies the prospect of lasting peace.

Marshall then goes on to expound the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan. The common word here arises. Marshall notes that in the variations between the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there is the idea that love of God and love for neighbour are inseparable. God cannot be loved in isolation, but only through loving other people.

Marshall notes that the parable suggests that love is an ethical obligation. “After all, if God commands us to love, then love must be, first and foremost, a matter of formal obedience.”* The parable suggests that neighbours are discovered through love; that with the presence of love, identification of neighbours takes care of itself - love means that we are in neighbourly relationship with every person we encounter. “Jesus… maximises the category of neighbour because he refuses to limit the demands of love.”*

The parable is relevant to peacemaking because it is a story of enemy love. By portraying a despised enemy as a vessel of compassion “Jesus effectively expands the meaning of neighbour love to include enemy love; and he nullifies the identification of religious opponents with the enemies of God or the instruments of Satan.”* The parable suggests that Jesus views the love of friends as ethically unremarkable, but that he views the love of one’s enemies as a “true sign of fidelity to God.”* It shows how love can transcend boundaries and reservations.

Marshall states two take home lessons for interreligious peacemaking. First, that if our faiths were to truly love God with all our being, and modelled our love of neighbour on our love for God, then peace must result. No one can truly love God unless they love their neighbour. Second, the parable recounts a direct encounter between members of two mutually hostile religious communities and the emergence of an enduring relationship between them. “The deliberate fostering of interpersonal contact between individuals from opposing groups is an extremely powerful, though under-appreciated, tool for conflict transformation.”*

Marshall concludes by alluding to the authority of the parable as immensely powerful for Christians, because of the authority of Christ who tells the story. It is also powerful for other faiths because of its “intrinsic moral truthfulness.”* The words with which Christ concludes this story are: “go you and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). This is the challenge.


This peace lecture was the most devoutly Christian in its content. As a Christian myself I found this lecture very interesting. It introduced me to a new interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable. Because of its highly Christian content, and the authority of Jesus Christ who teaches the parable, the lecture has immediate implications for Christians. It teaches with authority as to how Christians should act ethically toward the religious other, and arguably, it demands that Christians, if even only out of obedience to God, engage in interfaith activity.

Chris Marshall was very aware of the power of the parable in not only guiding Christian action and attitude, but also in enlightening other faiths with a message of moral truthfulness. The parable of the Good Samaritan, taken simply at the level of moral storytelling, offers something to all. At the level of interfaith activity it instructs people of faith to live a life devoted to loving God and neighbour (and enemy), and it also demonstrates the power of deliberate interpersonal contact. As John Paul Lederach suggests:

“…the key to understanding conflict and developing creative change processes lies in seeing the less visible aspects of relationship …the issues over which people fight are important and require creative response, relationships represent a web of connections that form the broader context of the conflict. It is out of this relationship context that particular issues arise and either become volatile or get quickly resolved.”*

Issues of relationship at personal, cultural, and structural levels are at the heart of the parable. Relationships are at the heart of conflict and conflict transformation.

Marshall’s lecture is well thought and argued. The lecture builds a theologically based argument for interfaith activity, which I believe all faiths can find truth in. I think that of all the peace lectures to date this lecture in particular was best enabled to engage all faiths at a moral level. I thought the idea of encountering in the religious other aspects of what is good, true, and holy, was a challenging point to make, and personally I think it could go a long way in explaining my interest in people of other faiths.

I find it interesting how three faiths can share a ‘common word’ and yet can be so uniquely different simply because of the diversity of definitions ascribed to core concepts.

Lecture 9 - “Words, Concepts, Deeds. Peace as a way of living”

Rabbi Adi Cohen 2012 (Jewish)


Rabbi Adi Cohen starts his lecture by putting ‘peace’ into a Jewish framework, and acknowledging that he does not like the concept of the word ‘peace.’ For Rabbi Cohen, peace is “something that comes after war. It is the quiet days after the storm.”*

He views interfaith activity as a means to seeing the humanity, the human being, in the other. It is about relating on a human basis, acknowledging that behind every person is a narrative, and behind ever faith member there is a human being. He acknowledges that each faith holds their beliefs as ‘truth’ and the ‘others’ as ‘superstition,’ however he insists this is not a stumbling block for interfaith activity.

Rabbi Cohen proceeds to summarise an argument taken from the Babylonian Talmud, between two rabbis, who are debating the essence of Judaism. For one, Judaism, in one sentence is: “love your friend like you love yourself.” The other rabbi suggests “each and every person was created in G-d’s image” - this is the answer Rabbi Cohen prefers, and reflects our shared humanity as creatures of God’s creation.

Rabbi Cohen suggests that it is disagreements that drive humanity forward. He asks “how can I be in dialogue with someone of another faith?” Firstly, and importantly, he suggests we must have a firm identity of who we are. In order to achieve this we need first to deal with domestic problems. “We need to start to have dialogue between our own denominations in our own religion.”* Further, many of us need to expand our ‘Sunday school’ understanding of true faith.

He suggests that if we want to coexist peacefully, we need to understand that religion comes second to humanity. Rabbi Cohen suggests that if we walk together, play together, and have lunch together, then we will have the time to talk, and ultimately, to get to know each other. This is where interfaith dialogue starts - forming one to one relationships on the common ground of a shared humanity.

Rabbi Cohen observes one area we can immediately agree on - we can agree that we are all not the same. Through acknowledging our differences we can also recognise that we are individually unique.

Rabbi Cohen refers to his faiths celebration of Sukkot - during which Jews build a temporary house (Sukkah) in which to sleep, without doors or locks. The absence of a door and locks demonstrates trust in the public - trust that no harm will befall those sleeping in the Sukkah. Further Jews are obliged to invite others to eat with them in the Sukkah. Rabbi Cohen views this as ‘shield lowering’ and identity strengthening process.

He finishes with a story about a married couple - which attempts to demonstrate the importance of controlling the words that come out of our mouths. In conclusion, Rabbi Cohen advocates that the value of interfaith dialogue exists in the allowance for the existence of an open channel of communication.


Rabbi Adi Cohen’s lecture was one of the harder lectures to follow, nonetheless he raises some sound and thought provoking points. Rabbi Cohen is one of the only lecturers to acknowledge that conflict, even between faiths, is not necessarily a negative thing. We have in our differences a common ground; we can agree that we are different from each other. Cohen acknowledges that conflict can be a good thing in that disagreements drive humanity forward. This concept of conflict being viewed positively is not unfamiliar to peace and conflict studies.

“Life gives us conflict, and that conflict is a natural part of human experience and relationships. Rather than viewing conflict as a threat, the transformative view sees conflict as a valuable opportunity to grow and increases our understanding of ourselves and others.”*

In a sense conflict creates life, it is a vehicle of change that keeps relationships and social structures dynamically responsive to human needs. The existence and acknowledgement of differences gives us a basis from which further interfaith activity can be achieved. Acknowledging our differences is much healthier for relationships between people of differing faiths than pretending differences do not exist. It is in the raising of this positive view of conflict that Rabbi Cohen introduces one of the most significant points of his peace lecture - it is something that is valuable to all pursuers of interfaith peace.

Lecture 10 - “Of Fences and Neighbours: A Muslim Perspective on Interfaith Engagement for Peace”

Dr. Ingrid Mattson 2013 (Muslim)


Dr Ingird Mattson begins her lecture with two questions: (1) does Islam support the claim that interfaith engagement can contribute to peace? and (2) have Muslims themselves embraced this idea? She acknowledges that within her own faith tradition positions on these questions are greatly contested. Yet, she believes that most Muslims believe that interfaith engagement is important, with more becoming interested due to the rise of “extremist religious and political ideologies.”*

Dr Mattson is adamant that an authentic practice of Islam would foster peace. Interfaith activity for Muslims is necessary to fulfil some of their major religious obligations, including the prevention of harm and the promotion of the common good. She calls on the words of Muhammad in support of avoiding harm: “It is not permitted to cause harm or to reciprocate harm” (la darara wa la dirar).* This hadith was later adopted as one of the five major maxims of Islamic law.

She states that the cycle of harm could have in many cases been interrupted by the simple act of communication. Through communication she concludes that the “knowledge of needs, interest and motivations of one’s neighbour” can be attained. * Dialogue then, in our religiously diverse societies is necessary; it provides a line of communication.

Dr Mattson highlights that facing ordinary Muslims is the obstacle of removing the harm of being afraid and being feared. In the wake of 9/11 she suggests that ordinary Muslims have themselves greatly suffered at the hands of terrorists and that “Muslims have experienced the harm of the shame of having their religion being used to justify this violence.”* She acknowledges that amongst the efforts of some to promote hate there is a handful of non-Muslim faith movements seeking to confront prejudices and inform people about Islam. She notes that the general negative perception of Muslims held by others is not a solid foundation for building trusting relationships. These negative perceptions are compounded by negative media information and the de-contextualization of violence. Dr Mattson admits that the challenge to change perceptions of Islam is often overwhelming. This challenge is made more difficult by the all too common view held by Muslims that only other Muslims are to be loved as brothers and sisters. However, Dr Mattson shows that the Quran defines all people as children of Adam and so there is in the religious ‘other’ a common humanity that requires Muslims to love all people.

Interfaith engagement is about promoting the common good. It entails moving from merely avoiding doing harm to the religious other, to doing much good, for the common good. Dr Mattson suggests that Muslims “must expand our sense of a collective responsibility to include all others who are willing to engage in good works.”*

She states that interfaith engagement has “helped create meaningful relationships that are scripturally grounded and form the basis for our ethical action.”* These relationships are a means to engage in the good works our faiths promote and further they keep us mindful of God and so conserve religion in the ever secular world. She concludes that it is in relationships with neighbours near and far that peace is facilitated.


Dr Ingird Mattson’s Peace Lecture is delivered from a strongly Islamic perspective. It is definitely one of the more academic lectures of the 10 Peace Lectures given. In some respects it could be viewed as an Islamic witness of faith in regards to peace. It is delivered in a manner that suggests Dr Mattson is concerned primarily with informing people of non-Islamic faiths about Islam and what Islam has to offer to interfaith activity and peace.

Prior to reading her lecture I had not considered the obstacles that now face many ordinary Muslim people - which have risen in the post-9/11 world - especially the effects of shame and fear. I was aware that the media and others do tend to de-contextualise violence for one reason or another. The role of media in reporting (or not reporting) conflict, the power it has to influence opinion and understanding, and its ability to dehumanize whole people groups, is an important issue and highly relevant I believe to interfaith relations. There is in my opinion a far too high level of negative preconceptions concerning Muslims, among non-Muslim people that greatly effects the possibility of peace and puts to shame the integrity of some individuals’ faith.

An important area I thought Dr Mattson successfully raised was the emphasis placed on the importance of communication. Successful communication is of course dependent on the nature or relationships.

Conclusions -Themes, similarities, differences, and value as an educational resource


The lectures, from my point of view, fall loosely into three categories. They either (1) do not address religion and peace directly, or (2), they witness for a particular faith and what it has to offer for the advancement of peace, or (3) they address interfaith engagement for peace.

Several concepts were common throughout a number of the Peace Lectures. The use of ‘holy’ scriptures by the three Abrahamic faiths was one such theme. Each faith (Christianity and Islam more profusely) appealed to the authority of their respective sacred texts to lay a case for interfaith engagement for peace. The ‘golden rule’ which in essence generally conveys the idea that we should love our neighbours as ourselves was a common ethical imperative that appeared in a number of the lectures. Chris Marshall identified the rule as a ‘Common Word’ between the three Abrahamic faiths. The ‘Common Word’ is one common ground that the three faiths can to a certain extent agree on. The only apparent difference between the faiths, in respect to the common word, was in the definition of key concepts such as ‘love.’ Semantic issues within faiths and between faiths, over the definition of these core concepts, was observed as an obstacle in religious education and interfaith activity.

All three religions insist that peace has spiritual dimension which is reflected in sacred scriptures and concepts such as ‘shalom.’ Peace is held by the Abrahamic faiths to mean more than just the absence of violence. There is an understanding that peace represents some kind of ‘wholeness’ of life - not unlike the ‘positive peace’ concept common to peace and conflict studies. Peace is held as being defined by God, and, God defines peace.

Several lectures noted that the world seems to follow a violent paradigm which hinders any serious effort for peace. This violent paradigm has it seems been further entrenched since the events of 9/11. The change this terrible event provoked in international relations, especially the beginning of the ‘war on terror’ and the move to tactics of preventive warfare, are serious setbacks on the roadway to peace. What is unfortunate, is that, religion was drawn into this event as a conflict variable. Religion has suffered shame and fear as a result. However, not all hope is lost. The fact that religion has been involved in acts of great violence, means that religion must necessarily play a part in resolving the issues and making peace. Religion has been forced in to a peacemaking role, and religion itself has significant contributions to make in this field. Religion brings to the peace-building table unique tools such as prayer and spiritual healing which are not available to many.

A minor, but important theme taken from the lecture series is the importance for people of faith to be educated in the correct, or good, practices of their own faith first. The issue of separating ‘true’ religion from ‘false’ religion is a delicate and somewhat controversial process. Several lectures speak to the necessity of beginning education at a grassroots level. The importance of education itself is held in similar regard across a number of the lectures. Education that instructs oneself in one’s own faith, education that correctly teaches about the religious ‘other,’ and education that promotes interfaith engagement and nonviolence, were common challenges raised by the peace lecturers.

By far the strongest theme arising from studying the 10 Peace Lectures is the concept of a ‘common humanity.’ Arguably the lectures appealed more to humanity than to religion itself as a path in advancing peace. The feeling generated from the text of the Peace Lectures is that religion itself is not really what is of concern - at least peaceful religion practiced correctly. What is of concern rather is that one can recognise in the other a shared humanity. Religion is merely one of many variables that must be observed in defining humanity and working toward peace. Perhaps the issue is that religion colours the lens through which each faith respectively views humanity. Rabbi Adi Cohen made the point that “we need to understand that religion comes second, humanity comes first.”* Each person is a human being before they are a Jew, Christian, Muslim, or otherwise. However this idea itself has heavy theological implications as some faiths advocate that their faith is what defines humanity. The theme of a common humanity transcends the boundary of the Abrahamic faiths and is of value to all who call themselves human.

The annual Peace Lecture series is valuable to people of all the Abrahamic faiths, and it has some value for other faiths and secularists wishing to understand issues of peace - especially in an Abrahamic context. Despite the secularization thesis, which predicted that as societies progressed religion would lose authority and eventually disappear altogether, religion has proven it is here to stay. Adherents to a variety of faiths still represent numerically significant portions of society and faiths have the ability to command and influence great swathes of the global population. “78.3 percent of the global population adheres to one of the five largest religions.”* By this fact alone it is important that peace is sought by religions. Further, it validates the Peace Lecture series as a valuable effort and resource in the pursuit of peace.

The lectures individually are not equally valuable. Some are a lot easier to grasp and some are more thought stimulating than others. Nonetheless, the 10 Peace Lectures as a series are valuable because they reflect the energy of a select few good people trying to change the world in a small but significant way, through advocating by one means or another the goal of peace, and recognising that co-operation between people of differing faiths is an essential step in the process. As an educational resource they provide a good introduction to peace and interfaith activity from the perspectives of three of the world’s major religions. The lectures will be of use to Jews, Christians, Muslims, students of peace, theology students, and others, who are seeking to understand the religious ‘other’ and how different faiths can work together. The 10 Peace Lectures delivered by the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group and the Otago University Chaplaincy represent the efforts, at the absolute least, of a few ‘good people’ doing something good. They effectively encourage the fostering of relationships and building of bridges of understanding.







Peace Lectures:
David Lange, “Old Faiths, New World” Peace Lecture 2004.
Rev. Greg Hughson, “Creating Space for Grace and Peace in Hiroshima, New York, and Dunedin” Peace Lecture 2005.
Paul Morris, “The Role of Interfaith Activities in Building Peace” Peace Lecture 2006.
Professor Abdullah Saeed, “Towards a More Inclusive View of the Religious Other” Peace Lecture 2007.
Dr Kate Dewes, Peace Lecture 2008.
Rabbi Johanna Hershenson, “Interfaith Interdependence in a Post-Modern World” Peace Lecture 2009.
Chaiwat Satha-Anand, “The Jahiliyya Factor?: Fighting Muslims’ Cultural Resistance to Nonviolence” Peace Lecture 2010.
Chris Marshall, “Compassion, Justice and the Pursuit of Peace: Ten Years On from 9/11” Peace Lecture 2011.
Rabbi Adi Cohen, “Words, Concepts, Deeds. Peace as a way of living” Peace Lecture 2012.
Dr Ingrid Mattson, “Of Fences and Neighbours: A Muslim Perspective on Interfaith Engagement for Peace” Peace Lecture 2013.

Dubois, Heather. “Religion and Peacebuilding.” Journal of Religion, Conflict, and Peace 2. Spring 2008.
Galtung, Johan. “An Editorial.” Journal of Peace Research 1 (March 1964):1-4.
Lederach, John Paul. “Conflict Transformation.” October 2003. (Accessed November 15, 2013).
Powers, Gerard F. “Religion and Peacebuilding.” In Peacemaking in International Conflict, ed. I. William Zartman, 273-326. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2007.
Webel, Charles. “Introduction: Toward a Philosophy and Metaspsychology of Peace.” in Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies, ed. Charles Webel and Johan Galtung, 1-13. London: Routledge, 2007.


* David Lange, Peace Lecture 2004

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Rev. Greg Hughson, Peace Lecture 2005.

* Ibid.

* Charles Webel, “Introduction: Toward a Philosophy and Metapsychology of Peace,” in Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies, ed. Charles Webel and Johan Galtung (London: Routledge, 2007), 5.

* Paul Moriss, Peace Lecture 2006.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Johan Galtung, “An Editorial,” Journal of Peace Research 1 (March 1964):2

* Professor Abdullah Saeed, Peace Lecture 2007.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Dr Kate Dewes, Peace Lecture 2008.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Rabbi Johanna Hershenson, Peace Lecture 2009

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Chawat Satha-Anand, Peace Lecture 2010.

* Ibid.

* Gerard F. Powers “Religion and Peacebuilding,” in Strategies of Peace, ed. Daniel Philpott and Gerard F. Powers, (Published to Oxford Scholarhips Online: May 2010), 16.

* Chris Marshall, Peace Lecture 2011.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* John Paul Lederach, “Conflict Transformation,” October 2003.

* Rabbi Adi Cohen, Peace Lecture 2012.

* Ibid.

* John Paul Lederach, “Conflict Transformation,” October 2003.

* Dr Ingrid Mattson, Peace Lecture 2013.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Ibid.

* Rabbi Adi Cohen, Peace Lecture 2012.

* Heather Dubois, “Religion and Peacebuilding,” Journal of Religion, Conflict, and Peace 2 (Spring 2008), 2.