Neuroscience and social psychology are shedding light on violent conflict and conflict transformation. Listen to neuroscientist Emile Bruneau of the University of Pennsylvania discuss these new findings in the field.
- View the video “The Role of Religion in Conflict Transformation” at more than once, and have students write down keywords as they watch the second time, whether they understand the concepts or not. As a group or in breakout groups, try to answer the guiding questions below.
- Use the website and the page on the Reptilian Brain to understand how the unconscious mind operates in different ways than the conscious mind. How is the “reptilian brain” similar to the “elephant” in the video analogy, and how is it different? How is fear related to the reactions of the reptilian brain?
- Discuss the “problem” of religion and violence. There are two possibilities for religious ideas in this arena: to encourage viewing others as hostile outsiders, and to encourage viewing all human beings as brothers and sisters, and therefore not as outsiders. What role does fear play, and how can religious difference be used to create fear, or to minimize fear through universal understanding and empathy toward others?
- The second part of the lesson gives examples from Christian and Islamic scriptures that focus on universal teachings about human brotherhood and peacemaking. Discuss how internalizing these ideas can affect people as individuals and groups.
- Finally, discuss how St. Francis’ life and his encounter with Al-Kamil in the midst of war relate to these ideas.
- What does Emile Bruneau describe as the dual role of religion in conflict?
- In the analogy of the elephant and the rider, why does the elephant represent the unconscious mind, and the rider the conscious mind?
- What are the two ways to overcome the negative drivers of the unconscious mind to mitigate violent impulses toward others?
- How can religious ideas be used to encourage conflict?
- What kinds of religious ideas and teachings can overcome violent impulses toward others?
- How did the encounter between St. Francis and Al-Kamil represent conflict transformation?
Read the following passages from the holy books/scriptures of Christianity and Islam. Discuss how they employ universal language that appeals to believers to erase the lines between “us” and “them”. How does this language try to control violent impulses toward others, and substitute empathetic and compassionate behavior?
Statements from the Bible
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”(Matthew 5:9)
“Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, But counselors of peace have joy.” (Proverbs 12:20)
“So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”(Romans 14:19)
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18)Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit” (1 Peter 3:8)
But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17)
“In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35)
“Thus has the LORD of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother” (Zechariah 7:9)
Statements from the Qur’an
“O people of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but the One God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not from among ourselves Lords and patrons other than God.” If then they turn back say: “Bear witness that we (at least) are embracing God’s will.” (Surah Al `Imran, 64)
O you who believe! stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to God even as against yourselves or your parents or your kin and whether rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts) lest you swerve, and if you decline to do justice, indeed God is well-acquainted with all that you do. (Surah Nisa’, 135)
O you who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for God in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you from justice. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty . Be conscious of God: indeed God is aware of what you do. (Qur’an, Surah al-Ma’idah, 8)
The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel evil with that which is better, then he between whom and you there was enmity will become like an intimate friend. But none is granted it save those who are steadfast, and none is granted it save the holder of great happiness. (Qur’an, Surah Ha Mim, 34-35)
“… To each of you [communities of scripture] We prescribed a law and a method. Had God willed, He would have made you one nation, but He intended to test you in what He has given you; so race to do good. To God is your return all together, and He will inform you concerning that about which you used to differ.” (Qur’an, Sura al-Maidah 5:48)
- Address the tension in religious ideas and scriptural sources that encourage human brotherhood and those that permit or seem to create hostility and sanction violence against others of different beliefs
- Can religious teachings really have an effect in taming violent impulses between groups? Is it a choice (see rider/elephant) and how does one set of scriptures temper the other seen in a holistic context vs. cherry-picking quotes to either support religion or condemn it.
- How does the psychological explanation help us to understand the choices we have to overcome the impulse of the reptilian brain stimulated by fear and reveal and act upon our inborn response of empathy toward others—to control the elephant. What role does information and learning about others play in making this choice?
Handout: Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, enters Jerusalem after concluding the treaty with al-Malik al-Kamil
“Then al-Malik al-Kamil and the Emperor [Frederick II] swore to observe the terms of the agreement and made a truce for a fixed term. In this way they arranged matters between themselves, and each side felt secure in its relations with the other. . . After the agreement the Emperor asked the Sultan for permission to visit Jerusalem. This the Sultan granted, and ordered the qadi [head jurist] of Nablus. . . to be at the Emperor’s service during the time of his visit. . . Ibn Wasil says: ‘The Qadi of Nablus Shams al-Din of blessed memory told me: “I took my place beside him as the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil had ordered me to and entered the Sacred Precinct with him, where he inspected the lesser sanctuaries. Then I went with him into [the Mosque] of al-Aqsa, whose construction he admired, as he did that of the Dome of the Rock. When we came to the mihrab [prayer niche] he admired its beauty, and commended the pulpit, which he climbed to the top. When he descended he took my hand and we went out in the direction of al-Aqsa. There he found a [Christian] priest with the Testament [Bible] in his hand about to enter al-Aqsa. The Emperor called out to him: ‘What has brought you here? By God, if one of you comes here again without permission I shall have his eyes put out! We are servants of al-Malik al-Kamil. He has handed over this church to me and you as a gracious gift. I do not want any of you exceeding your duties.’ The priest made off, quaking with fear. Then the King went to the house that had been prepared for him and took up residence there. “ The Qadi Shams al-Din said: “I recommended the muezzins [prayer callers] not to give the call to prayer at night, out of respect for the King. In the morning I went to him, and he said: ‘O Qadi, why did the muezzins not give the call to prayer last night in the usual way?’ ‘This humble slave,’ I replied, ‘prevented them, out of regard and respect for Your Majesty.’ ‘You did wrong to do that,’ he said: ‘My chief aim in passing the night in Jerusalem was to hear the call to prayer given by the muezzins, and their cries of praise during the night.’ Then he left and returned to Acre.”
Source: Francesco Gabrieli, Arab Historians of the Crusades (Dorset Press, 1957), pp. 270-272.
A Turkish chronicler: “They [the Franks] are good corsairs; they are men; and as such they behave…Were they not cross-kissing Christians, and so much our enemies as they are, they would be very worthy of our esteem; nay the best of us would take pride in calling them brothers, and even in fighting under their command.” (Ernie Bradford, The Sword and the Scimitar: the Saga of the Crusades (Milan, Italy: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1974), p. 55
Salahuddin on the Frankish army: “Regard the Franks! Behold with what obstinacy they fight for their religion, while we, the Muslims, show no enthusiasm for waging jihad!” (Amin Maalouf (Jon Rothchild, transl.), The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (New York: Schocken Books, 1984), p. 1.
Gesta Francorum, Account of a Christian Chronicler: “Who is so wise that he can afford to decry the skill, the warlike gifts and the valor of the Turks? Indeed they claim that none but the Franks and themselves have the right to call themselves knights. Certainly if they kept the faith of Christ, they would have no equal in power, in courage, and in the science of war.” (Ernie Bradford, The Sword and the Scimitar: the Saga of the Crusades. Milan, Italy: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1974, p. 54.)
From the primary Latin biography of King Richard: “The Turkish warriors, hurriedly seizing their arms, came thronging up and flung themselves upon their assailants. The men-at-arms strove to get in; as the Turks [tried] to hurl them back. Rolled together in a confused mass, they fought at close quarters, hand against hand, and sword against sword…Never has there been such a people as these Turks for their prowess in war.” (Based on Itinerarium et Gesta Regis Ricardi by an unknown 12th century chronicler, in Ernie Bradford, The Sword and the Scimitar: the Saga of the Crusades. Milan, Italy: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1974, p. 157)
An account by Fulcher of Chartres, a 12th century inhabitant of Jerusalem: “Those who were strangers are now natives, and he who was a sojourner now has become a resident”; “We who had been Occidentals [westerners] have become Orientals [easterners]; the man who had been a Roman or a Frank was here become a Galilean or a Palestinian; and the man who used to live in Reims or Chartres now finds himself a citizen of Tyre or Acre. We have already forgotten the places where we were born; already many of us know them not or at any rate no longer hear them spoken of. Some among us already possess in this country houses and servants which belong to them as a hereditary right. Another has married a wife who is not his compatriot—a Syrian or Armenian woman perhaps, or even a Saracen who has received the grace of baptism [i.e. a Muslim who converted to Christianity]…why should anyone return to the West who has found an Orient like this?” (Geoffry Regan, Saladin and the Fall of Jerusalem. London: Croom Helm, 1987, pp. 2-4)