Rethinking Violence: The Role of Religion, Spirituality, and Creativity
Instructors: Dr. James Gilligan, Dr. Bandy Lee, and Dr. James Vrettos (all Visiting Professors at Union Theological Seminary)
Date: May 6, 1-6pm ET | May 7, 9am-5pm ET
Format: This two-day intensive course will be held online, through synchronous sessions. Registrants are expected to attend full-time, for both days.
One of the earliest moral teachings of Judaism was “Thou shalt not kill.” And the main iconic symbol of Christianity is a cross, the means of perpetrating one of the cruelest forms of murder ever invented. Clearly, violence has been a central issue for major world religions throughout history. While the task of preventing violence has traditionally been delegated to the criminal justice and political systems, we believe that the task of understanding and preventing violence can only be successful when it is understood as a religious, spiritual, and humanitarian vocation. This includes involving religious leaders, creative thinkers and artists, and progressive social movements. In this course, we will examine how recent advances in the human sciences have achieved a revolutionary breakthrough in our understanding of the biological, psychological, and social causes and prevention of violence. But they have also shown us that achieving that goal is only possible when we recognize that people consist not merely of body and mind (soma and psyche) but also of spirit (pneuma), as St. Paul recognized. And that love, the essential motive of non-violence, can only be successful in preventing violence when it is not merely erotic (eros) or interpersonal (philia), but also transpersonal and universal (agape).
Learning how to recognize and overcome the obstacles impeding people from realizing their full human potential (pneuma and agape), so that they will revere life rather than death, will be the main goal of this course. Students will be expected to read chapters (4 and 7) from Lee’s Violence: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Causes, Consequences, and Cures (Wiley Blackwell, 2019) and Gilligan’s and Vrettos’ “Violence, Morality, and Religion,” Tikkun, 33(4):49-61, Fall 2018.
Guest speakers will include: Lisa Sharon Harper (social justice author and advocate), Dr. Carl Hart (Ziff Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, Columbia University); Dr. Susannah Heschel (Eli M. Black Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College); and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs (Director of the Center for Sustainable Development and University Professor, Columbia University).