My Research Project: How Inter-Religious Communities Build Peace
It is an honor to have the opportunity to live in India and carry out research on a topic that is important to me and one that I hope others find important too. I am grateful to India, and the state of Kerala, specifically the University of Kerala, for hosting me. I do not take lightly the meaning of this award and the namesake behind it. Although delayed by Covid, I hope that my research project will be one that reflects the deep love and appreciation I have for Indian culture.
I am trained as a political scientist and when we research 'peace studies' what we generally mean is war and conflict. Like most others in my field I think we study violence because we want to understand its root causes and help find solutions that prevent it. In that sense, the absence of war is considered peace, but as so much of the world can attest, lacking war does not mean living a peaceful and fulfilling life. I decided to enter the field of Political Science because I wanted to study how we (myself, the international community, and political institutions) can promote peace. Although I followed the typical conventions and training of my field, I found myself frustrated with the confines of how the field (myself included) thought about peace. Rather than something people actively work toward, we only saw peace as the absence of conflict. Why don't we study the peacemakers and their tactics as thoroughly as we study the causes of conflict? My research thus far has predominantly focused on violence and exclusion within the context of religious nationalism. However, I found myself growing increasingly dissatisfied with this approach. I wanted to focus on not just how war/conflict is avoided, but how communities are actively working to build peace. That is the purpose of this project.
Despite my multiple years trying to learn Hindi, I selected Kerala as my location of choice because I noticed something unique (as have many scholars) about the lack of conflict among its diverse religious groups (55% Hindu, 27% Muslim, 18.5% Christian). Kerala is India's most religiously diverse states, and although many scholars have posited that diversity can breed conflict, that has not been the case in Kerala. Kerala has not experienced the levels of religious tension and conflict like that seen in other parts of India, particularly Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh. Scholars like Ashutosh Varshney found that diverse religious communities in Kozhikode worked, lived, and associated alongside one another for centuries and this helped build community and trust among them and prevent conflict.Other scholars have paid significant attention to Kerala's development model, that led Kerala to have social development indicators on par with middle-income countries despite low economic development. My research will explore this same concept throughout Kerala to see how communities actively or passively work toward building trust and networks among diverse religious communities. I will speak to activists, government officials, and regular citizens about how they work to build peace within and outside their community and how they help overcome threats to this unity.
If you are in India and would like to contact me about the work of peace activists, particularly in Kerala, please reach out at Andrea.firstname.lastname@example.org