Building the Largest Database on Sustainable Development and Conflict Transformation to Make the World More Peaceful and Just
On 20th May 2015 Dr Michael Minch, Professor of Philosophy at Utah Valley University, gave an open lecture at HSE Nizhny Novgorod. A specialist with a unique combination of interests ranging from theological ethics to politics, Professor Minch brings together what at first glance appear to be irreconcilable — politics and ethics. The issues he raises in his writing and lectures always have an offbeat turn, whether he is asking what has become of patriotism or can we save and refashion democratic values in the postmodern world. Ahead of the lecture, HSE News Service asked Professor Minch about his work and ideas, and his approach to research and teaching.
— Conflict transformation and peacebuilding are among your professional research interests. How do you go about collecting materials for your research? Have you been working in war zones or post-conflict regions?
— I work in Northern Ireland and in the Balkans, two locations that are technically in "post-conflict" or are "post-conflict zones." Of course, this does not mean that all conflict has been eliminated, only that formal agreements and other institutional mechanisms have brought violence down to levels below war. In both locations there is much conflict in manifestations of b\cultural and structural violence, if not in direct violence. This is more true about the Balkans than Northern Ireland. I have also interviewed Palestinians in the West Bank, but it is not a recurrent location of my research. I have also interviewed Kyrgyz and Uzbek residents in the Ferghana Valley shared by the Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, that has been the site of ethno-political violence over the past several years. I have received a Special Consultant Fulbright [scholarship] and hope to spend next spring semester in the Balkans and the following Spring semester in the Ferghana Valley. My work in all these locations focuses on the relationship between peace, justice, and reconciliation; and most specifically, how people in conflict can move toward reconciliation even when suffering from a deficit of justice. I also work on the relationship of sustainable development, human rights, and democratization in these locations.
— What are you going to discuss with students in N.Novgorod?
— The classes I am teaching at HSE are in human rights theory, democracy/democratization, and strategic nonviolence. That is, we are discussing the theories, practices, and institutions of human rights, democracy, and nonviolent social and political change. Under the category of democracy, we are also discussing environmental movements as forms of democracy and one organization in particular, one that I direct: Summit: The Sustainable Mountain Development and Conflict Transformation Global Knowledge and Action Network. At the heart of Summitis this project: we are building the world's largest database collecting and connecting to all data (broadly understood) related to sustainable development and conflict transformation. I am inviting HSE students and faculty into partnership with us. Summitwill be a major force in changing the world, making it more peaceful and just. I hope we can find ways for HSE to be a part of this partnership.
— What do you think is the most important lesson you've got in your life?
— Perhaps the most important lesson I have received in my life is that all human beings are precious and wonderful, and deserve compassion, justice, peace, and wellbeing. Moreover, that we human beings are not only deeply connected to one another, but that we are also deeply connected to the Earth on which we depend. Just as other people deserve deep respect, so does the biotic community.
— How do you encourage young people to study more?
— I think young people can be encouraged to study, work hard, and pursue their dreams by helping them imagine their future selves. When young people imagine themselves living lives that are exciting, powerful, and rewarding, they are motivated to do what it takes to get there. Nothing focuses the mind, heart, and spirit like being driven to become the person you imagine yourself being ten years from now. If your dreams are big enough, you'll work hard to get there. Nietzsche said that if a person has a big enough "What," he or she can endure any "How." I often disagree with Nietzsche, but here I agree with him!
— Tell us please about your cooperation with HSE. How did it start and what are your plans?
— I became acquainted with HSE through the relationship I have with the Associate Vice President of Engaged Learning at Utah Valley University, Dr. Fred White. Dr. White has been to HSE many times, and has an on-going positive relationship with the university and Dr. Gronskaya. Three years ago, I visited HSE with Dr. White and two other UVU faculty, and we planned to bring UVU students here from that visit onward. I am sorry it took this long! Next spring, we hope to host HSE students and faculty at our university and our part of the United States. In fact, Fred and I just wrote a grant proposal seeking funding to help make this exchange a reality. My plans are to keep bringing students here, and to keep hosting HSE students at my university: an on-going year after year partnership that grows — and this is crucial — hopefully spreads to many other universities in the US and the Russian Federation, so that what we begin together becomes a big thing in both of our countries.
Michael Minch, Ph.D. is Director of Peace and Justice Studies
Director of Summit: The Sustainable Mountain, Development and Conflict Transformation, Global Knowledge and Action Network and Professor of Philosophy at Utah Valley University, UTAH
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News Service
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