Campus Theme Asks "What Is Peace?"

Aleksandar Hemon
Author Aleksandar Hemon will present the first Campus Theme lecture on Tues., Sept. 24, at 7:00 pm.

North Park community welcomes authors, teachers, ministers, and activists to campus this year

CHICAGO (September 16, 2013) — Each year North Park University designates a question for the campus community to consider together throughout the year. This year brings the Campus Theme “What Is Peace?” to the forefront of discussion, activity, and events for students, faculty, and staff.

Starting with the question, “Who Is God?” the campus has considered themes of faith, justice, service, nature, community, significance, and more. This year’s question stems from a desire to think carefully and critically about what’s going on around the world. “Somewhat in response to what’s been going on in Chicago—and all the press about violence in the city, the murder rates, neighborhoods that are experiencing tremendous upheaval—“What is peace?” seemed like a fitting question for right now,” said Dr. Karl Clifton-Soderstrom, associate professor of philosophy and director of the general education program of which the Campus Theme is a part. “Obviously it’s a perennial question, as well.”

In addition, Clifton-Soderstrom said, the University hopes to build off the great energy and work being done in its Conflict Transformation program. “Asking this question is a different way to reflect on our core values of Christian, urban, and multicultural,” he added.

Campus Theme events for the year will start with a visit from Aleksandar Hemon on Tuesday, September 24. Hemon is a Bosnian author who has lived in Chicago since 1992. After visiting the United States as a journalist, he was unable to return to his country as Sarajevo was under siege in the Bosnian War. All first-year students have been reading his newly published set of autobiographical stories, The Book of My Lives, and discussing it together in small groups. He will be present on campus that day to meet with small groups of students, and then give a public lecture at 7:00 pm.

Clifton-Soderstrom said that Hemon will offer “a unique perspective of the problems of war and peace, because he experienced firsthand the turmoil that led up to war in Bosnia, and then had to endure watching as an immigrant in Chicago his native Sarajevo destroyed by the conflict.” He hopes that this will help students begin to build connections between international and local experiences of conflict and peace, as well as what peace means for individuals, for communities, and for relationships.

Dr. Joseph Jones, University provost, agreed that the Campus Theme this year is inviting students, faculty, and staff to reflect on broader issues, but also on their own personal peace and how that impacts relationships and communities. Jones, whose background includes significant work in restorative justice, suggested “how we treat others is often a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Strife grows out of how people see themselves, in their homes and in their communities,” he said.

Jones said that, as an institution with a Christian worldview, North Park has to consider how to look at the world through the lens of Christ as the ‘prince of peace,’ and include in the larger conversation what it means to have peace with ourselves, with God, and with one another. “If we look at the broader questions of peace without reflection on these personal issues, I think we’ll miss something,” he said.

The answer to “What is peace?” is also about more than just the absence of war and conflict, Clifton-Soderstrom added. “It’s so easy, I think, when I hear the word ‘peace’ to think in terms of a utopian state of being. The idea of peace evokes in our imagination a static place of contentment or tranquility, as if it were only about the end goal. What we come to understand from those who spend their lives working for peace is that peace involves a living, active, and evolving constellation of relationships over time. Appreciating how we work for peace is as important as understanding the final result we hope to realize."

Both Jones and Clifton-Soderstrom hope that students will be inspired—by Hemon and other speakers and events throughout the year—to consider how peace might be more than a place or state of being.

Campus Theme: What Is Peace?

“You don’t just "arrive" at peace,” Clifton-Soderstrom said. “If peace is about relationships, relationships take place over time, they change and evolve. Peace has to have that same type of imperative to see the work through and not leapfrog ahead to whatever an imagined utopia is.”

“I hope that, by the end of this year, students will be able to grab hold of a paradigm of peace through which they can view the world,” Jones said. Our mission here is to prepare students for lives of significance and service, he added, and part of that is to challenge them to consider how they might be “mature models of peace for the world.”

Other Campus Theme events will broaden the conversation to include perspectives from around the world and from challenging chapters in America’s past and present.

“For the fall, we’ve got a real mix of local, international, and very American,” Clifton-Soderstrom said. “With this year as the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we thought it was essential to bring in the American experience and reconciliation between African Americans and other Americans.”

Public lectures for the fall semester include Dr. R. B. Lal, the leader of a Christian fellowship in India who is working to seek justice and empowerment for members of the lowest social caste; Allan Boesak and Curtiss P. DeYoung, authors of Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism; and Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core. A full schedule for these public events is available online.

“Each year, the Campus Theme begins as a kind of big question in the fall and we try to bring in some big perspectives on it to expand our imagination,” Clifton-Soderstrom said. “Our hope is that classes and groups will take up projects and continue the conversation in the spring semester.”

Plans are in the works for a conference on peace and reconciliation in the spring semester, led by the Conflict Transformation Studies program. “That will be a kind of culminating event,” Clifton-Soderstrom said. “We hope it will inspire students to ask, ‘How do we go out and realize this now? How do we work for it?’” 

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Next Steps

See the full schedule of Campus Theme events.