Author Archives: David

EPA in Conversation on Body Culture and Conflict

Emerging out of a very successful and challenging 2019 Equator Peace Academy program in Uganda and Kenya on Body Culture in East Africa, EPA has begun discussions in some local parishes in the Bukwo district of Uganda on developing new attitudes and approaches to body culture in East Africa. Much of this work has been on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic but will resume as soon as the situation allows.

At the same time, EPA has been working with fellows from former schools in both Western Uganda and Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo to develop EPA/CEDAR pedagogies in addressing local challenges around tribalism, religious divisions, national frontiers, and ethnonational conflict. It is hoped that these will lead to further initiatives in Eastern DRC as well as Western Uganda

Reset Dialogues on Human Rights and Belonging

Between May–July 2020, Reset Dialogues published a Dossier project collectively titled “A World Without Human Rights?” The project brought together a dozen scholars from across Europe to engage with Adam Seligman and David Montgomery’s 2019 article on “The Tragedy of Human Rights: Liberalism and the Loss of Belonging.” Commentators included Silvio Ferrari and John Holmwood, who have participated in past CEDAR programs. In their response, Seligman and Montgomery both touch upon the CEDAR pedagogy as a way forward.

From the introduction to the special Dossier:

“These arguments touch on some central issues of contemporary philosophical and political debate, from the role of law in the development of civil society to the interaction between the universality of rights and the particularities of cultural and religious affiliations. The relationship between the rights due to the individual and those that must be recognized to groups (primarily minorities) and the conflict between rights and policies of freedom on the one hand and equality on the other are further questions that are raised by the Seligman-Montgomery article.

“No one can miss how topical these issues are and how important for the future of liberal democracies. Populist and nationalist movements have understood that globalisation has not erased but rather accentuated the need for roots, tradition, belonging and have used this need to challenge policies of rights based on equality and inclusion. On the one hand there is growing regret for (and the desire to rebuild) boundaries that include and exclude, warm the hearts of those inside but leave those outside in the cold. On the other hand, one wonders where this desire to rediscover the value of differences can lead. Won’t it end up justifying the new walls that are rising up everywhere, making us forget that each person is part of the same human family and disavowing rights (laboriously) recognized to each individual precisely on the basis of this universal belonging?”

Read the full debate and responses

Culture for Peace, Development and Rights (CPDR) established in Kenya

It is evident from lived experience that cultures are distinct from each other; each culture has unique elements. However, attempts to address human problems—conflicts, violence, poverty, etc.—tend to propose generalized solutions that create tensions among local cultures. Solutions, after all, cannot always be generalized. When standardized approaches to peace, development, and rights programs ignore the local context, resistance often emerges. It is considering this background that the Culture for Peace, Development and Rights (CPDR) non-profit organization was created in Kenya. CPDR seeks to create spaces for engaging international visions of generalized peace, development, and rights with the lived experiences of specific communities to promote ownership, dialogue, tolerance, inclusivity, respect, and dignity. When local visions of culture play an active role in peace and development processes, community ownership of the process becomes real and stability more secure.

In its approach, CPDR has borrowed from the CEDAR pedagogy. This has allowed the organization to be more effective in facilitating communities working to better integrate gender, local-value systems, and cultural practices into international peace, development, and rights programs to facilitate respectful engagement with the local cultural realities.

Adam Seligman receives the prestigious 2020 Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize

We are pleased to announce that Adam Seligman is a recipient of the 2020 Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize. Founded in 1972 by Franz D. Lucas on the 100th birthday of his father, Rabbi Leopold Lucas, who died in Theresienstadt, the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize is awarded annually by the Faculty of Theology on behalf of the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen. The award, endowed with 50,000 euros, recognizes outstanding achievements in the field of theology, intellectual history, historical research, and philosophy, as well as a commitment to international understanding and tolerance.

Seligman is the founding director of CEDAR—Communities Engaging with Difference and Religion, a non-governmental organization that for 20 years has run programs around the world on the topic of “living with difference”, and a professor of religion at Boston University. His work revolves around the importance of religion in a plural society. His writing combines different fields including religious studies, from more classical competences in the areas of ​​ritual, tradition, authority, and trust to the need for mutual respect in multi-religious and plural societies. Against this background, he is actively involved in current debates and initiatives around religion and tolerance. The jury cited the contribution of his work to advance the idea of tolerance.

Seligman shares the prize this year with Linda Woodhead of the University of Lancaster, UK. The award ceremony will not take place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic but will be linked to the 2021 award ceremony.

“The Tragedy of Human Rights: Liberalism and the Loss of Belonging”, by Adam B. Seligman and David W. Montgomery

“The Tragedy of Human Rights: Liberalism and the Loss of Belonging”, by Adam B. Seligman and David W. Montgomery. 2019. Society. 56(3): 203-209.

We argue here that human rights are as much the problem as they are the solution to the contemporary challenge of constructing civil society, observing that the seemingly inherent long-term social and political consequences of close to half a century of advocating human rights to the exclusion of other components of human good and fulfillment have been at the expense of any sense of shared belonging. Delineating between rights and belonging, we show how the extreme right has latched on to a tangible argument for belonging while the left has responded by continuing to advocate for abstract, universal, and unencumbered human rights to the detriment of its efforts to build civil society.

Read the Full Article

CEDAR receives 2017 Praxis Award honorable mention

On December 1, CEDAR received an honorable mention for the 2017 Praxis Award given by the Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists (WAPA) at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. As one Praxis Award juror noted:

Longitudinal survey data indicate that participants carried the CEDAR experience forward in their careers. And CEDAR team members have published extensively on their theory, method, and experience. That is potentially a huge impact multiplier, insofar as they are producing resources to help other conflict-reduction interventions to understand and implement the CEDAR approach. Helping individuals, groups, and communities recognize and accept difference as an inescapable, inevitable, and, most importantly, acceptable part of our social experience has to be one of the most important projects anyone can pursue these days. I really admire this team’s dedication to what must sometimes feel like an overwhelming problem.

The biennial Praxis Award is a competition for excellence and achievement in translating anthropological knowledge into action and is one of the most competitive awards in anthropology.

Read WAPA press release

“How to Live with Difference in a Divided Nation” – interview with David Montgomery

“How to Live with Difference in a Divided Nation: In an Age of Disagreement, Advice for Getting Along,” by Andrew Thurston. Boston University College of Arts & Sciences Magazine. Spring 2017.

Whether you’re overjoyed or petrified at seeing Donald J. Trump in the White House, there’s probably one thing everyone can agree on: the other half of the country has gone mad. Yet despite our sharp ideological divisions, we all have to live together. David W. Montgomery (GRS’03,’07) is an expert on helping people with fundamental differences get along with each other. He says the secret is not to look for common ground, but to acknowledge our diversity—and disagreements. Montgomery is the coauthor of Living with Difference: How to Build Community in a Divided World (University of California Press, 2015) and director of program development for CEDAR, Communities Engaging with Difference & Religion. The book, written with Professor of Religion Adam B. Seligman and Rahel R. Wasserfall, is based on CEDAR’s experiences bringing people of different backgrounds and faiths (or none at all) together. The educational nonprofit runs fortnightly programs designed to encourage people to build a more tolerant world…

Read the full article

“Broken Politics and the Hope of Discomfort”, by David W. Montgomery

“Broken Politics and the Hope of Discomfort”, by David W. Montgomery. 2017. Maydan. January 19.

These are days desperate for answers. In both practical and existential terms, people are asking what Trump’s Electoral College win – and presidency – means. Does his combative style represent a new populism? Does his presidency give legitimacy to racist and fascist sentiments? Is this a harbinger of America’s moral decay or an opportunity to instantiate a particular moral vision that will aright past indiscretions? Many in our country are uncertain, anxious, and afraid, while others feel vindicated and optimistic. The tension speaks to a divide, not a way to bridge a divide.

Bridging the divide is not about overcoming it, nor is it about acting as if there is no divide. The 2016 presidential election made the division within our country feel insurmountable….

Read the Full Article

Difference and Its Demons, by Adam B. Seligman

Of all the many uncomfortable truths this election has forced us all to face, surely one of the most important is our discomfort with difference. This attitude was made clear in the months leading up to the elections, in much of the campaign rhetoric and the slogans repeated at many rallies. It was made clear as well in certain policy recommendations: building a wall sealing off Mexico, deporting over three million illegal immigrants, establishing a register for Muslims, and so on. Whether these campaign promises will become policy we have yet to see. But the deep feelings of fear, foreboding, and discomfort that they have exposed are undeniable, while the extent to which we are unable even to face people with political, social, religious, and class affiliations that differ from ours is profoundly disturbing. Further, overt racism, misogyny, Islamaphobia, and downright hatred have become part of our national life. The FBI and NGOs such as the Southern Poverty Law Center all report a substantial uptick in hate crimes and racist and anti-Muslim incidents in the months leading up to the election, an increase that continues today.

Half a century ago our schools, restaurants and swimming pools were desegregated, mostly by court order, and sometimes with the involvement of federal troops as well. As difficult a social process as that proved to be, it seems that the desegregation of our minds has hardly progressed at all. Perhaps, in fact, such segregation has increased. We live more and more in different realities, trust (and distrust) different institutions, grant moral credit to different communities, believe different news feeds and are less and less inclined—and almost never required—to go beyond our comfort zone of like-minded folk.

Isolated, inward-turning, and afraid, many of us—Democrats and Republicans alike—are demonizing our respective “others” rather than encountering them and wrestling with their difference.  These “others” may be Muslims, immigrants, transgendered individuals, or supporters of the opposite political party. But the divisions are not just about the posters at Trump campaign rallies that castigated “Hitlary”, or Secretary Clinton’s remarks on “deplorables.” They relate to a whole culture, one that crosses political, social, and religious differences. We live in a country that prizes comfort over knowledge, safety over experience, and self-righteousness over truth-seeking. These proclivities are just as visible on liberal college campuses as in southern Evangelical churches and can be encountered in Democratic Party caucuses as well as on the Breitbart news site.

As a nation, we have become fearful. And fear is dangerous, both to others and to ourselves. It causes us to lash out, stop thinking, lose our perspicacity, and bury our analytic capabilities. Our responses to events and to people are no longer measured or rational, but potentially counterproductive, if not downright dangerous. And why have we become fearful? Because fear is easier to deal with than discomfort. Discomfort is too demanding. To remain open to the other and voluntarily feel uncomfortable encountering his or her alien positions, lifestyle, beliefs, or politics is a difficult burden. It implies existing in a certain cognitive dissonance. Believing in what we believe, while all the while also being open, listening to, and responding to the other. Much easier to demonize him or her as a “radical Islamic” terrorist, a “degenerate Jew,” a homosexual who “chooses” to subvert Christian family values, or a “know-nothing” racist, white supremacist, homophobe, or misogynist. Some of these categories may sometimes fit some individuals. It is, however, that very burden of uncertainty that we shy away from. It is far less trouble to tar everyone with the same brush than to carefully parse, argue with, and perhaps even refute a particular argument, policy recommendation, or political position.

Fear correlates with danger, and our responses to danger tend to be clear-cut and often violent. When we are in danger, we know (or think we know) what to do. Not so with discomfort, with understanding a situation (or person, position, or policy) as risky. The very ambiguity of risk, as opposed to danger, is unsettling and hard to tolerate. No tolerance is called for in situations of danger—only action.

If we are to prevent the outbreak of violence that could well accompany perceptions of danger on all sides, it is imperative for us all to begin to encounter, wrestle with, and even come to terms with difference—not solely the generally acknowledged” deep divisions in our society,” but the real people behind these differences. We must learn to be uncomfortable in the face of the other. We must learn to tolerate living with less than perfect knowledge of the world around us and to accept, suffer, and abide by the ambiguity that inheres to the stranger, the outsider—whether that otherness is one of race, religion, ethnicity, nationhood, political affiliation, class membership, or sexual identity.

The establishment of forums for encountering, rather than eliding, difference should be foremost on our political agenda.  We have taken some steps in this direction with CEDAR – Communities Engaging with Difference and Religion that creates a space for such encounters.  There we have come to recognize that we do not need a false pluralism that looks for what is common to us all, but rather an honest admission of the deep, constitutive differences that exist among us. And we must face such differences without fear or any false hopes of “overcoming” them. Instead, we must commit to building the skills necessary for a life of discomfort. That, at least, we can all share.

Adam B. Seligman is the Director of CEDAR and a Professor of Religion at Boston University.