It was a fine winter’s day and as Interns were ambling down to Twickenham, not quite knowing what to expect from a conference on Religion, Identity and Conflict, we were pleasantly surprised, completely impressed and very engaged in a varied and impressive line-up of speakers.
We arrived just in time to listen to Prof. Sara Savage discuss the cognitive and social dynamics involved in fundamentalism, extremisms and worldview clashes. Prof. Savage had the entire room’s undisturbed attention for an unusually long hour and a half as she explained the potential applications for her research, using a scale for improving cognitive improvement against indoctrination, called Integrated Complexity, a fascinating variation on the power of critical thinking. Ranulph asked, regarding her aim to produce more positive cognition, ‘How can your programme be rolled out appropriately – and do we not still have to tackle extremism directly?’ Her response was that her studies are conducted all around the world and are well positioned to be rolled out, and that the results of the study would never be something to be relied upon solely.
Dr. Savage’s studies carry enormous potential for the future of counter-extremism, counter-extremist cognitive therapy, and, more broadly, for the future of education in a world that only appears to be more and more dichotomised.
As the day continued with coffee and sandwiches galore we were very taken by Prof. Jacques Arenes from the Institute Catholique de Paris, whose topic for discussion was firmly grounded in Psychology. The aim of his talk on Secularisation and Subjectivation was to discuss the place and position of religious truth among the many truths in a market of moral values that exist today. Moreover, he covered the importance of recognising cultural atheism in relation to today’s sense of meaninglessness, which proved to be an insightful look into how inner conflict can result in outward extremism.
Dr. Beauzamy, a lecturer at Schiller University, chose to question whether religion in France was really the main issue behind terrorism, and whether public discourse frames it in a religious context unnecessarily. Dr. Beauzamy led a great talk addressing the fact that religious modes of actions are ignored publicly unless relating to violence, which has removed any ability for religious communities to make a positive impact on the state of security affairs in France. It was a valuable and insightful talk that gave support for religious dialogue to have a part in countering violent extremism in France.
The first day concluded with a respectful and incisive dialogue between Cardinal Vincent Nichols and a political leader, both of whom proved instrumental in the securing of the Northern Ireland peace process. During their talk they looked back and reflected on the difficulties, frustrations and quiet, often neglected, triumphs of healing sectarian wounds. The audience was initially awed but soon offered insights of their own as well as some quite probing questions, to which both speakers responded well; Vincent Nichols displayed a barbed wit one would not normally expect of a cardinal. Their contributions brought the day to a dignified and hopeful end.
The event was an engaging affair with guests and speakers ranging from a detective chief constable to Prof. Ian Linden to our very own Sheikh Usama Hasan from Quilliam.