For the students, the conference was an opportunity to share independent research on aspects of the semester which they had found moving, inspiring, or compelling. Many students presented on topics for which they had a clear and obvious passion. The following presentation titles will give you an idea of some of the conference topics:
- A Competition of Identities: Victimhood in the Balkans and the Implications for Reconciliation.
- Social Inclusion of Roma Communities in Northern Croatia.
- A Spirit Of Ilm: Mining The Islamic Tradition In Bosnia As An Element In Finding Peace After Atrocity.
- The Deliberately Unsatisfying Nature of Dialogue and Reconciliation.
A segment for questions and answers followed after every few presentations and acted as a platform from which to further discuss the important ideas, concepts and links found among the various research. Students and faculty alike used this space to discuss how their ideas fit together and complemented each other and drew out how varying perspectives might prompt further research and development in someone else’s project.
As previously mentioned this conference also featured three visiting professors, namely Dr. Ruth Melkonian-Hoover (Department Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science), Dr. Daniel Johnson (Professor of Sociology), and Professor John Sarrouf (Director of Program Development and Strategic Partnerships at the Public Conversations Project). This group of faculty joined the program in May in order to each teach a three-week-long seminar course leading up to the conference. At the conference itself, each professor presented a piece of their current work, applicable to the overarching theme and focus of the semester. Again, students were able to ask questions, discuss, and comment on papers and brand new research in the field of peacemaking, thus allowing for a unique interchange between faculty and students in a setting unlike the typical academic classroom.
One participating student reflects on this conference experience:
“After all the research was said and done, I was glad to have found the topic of my conference research. At the end of it all, I knew that I believed what I was saying which gave me the confidence to go into the conference room, generally worry-free. Correspondingly, I was able to experience the same of others. After hearing everyone’s presentations, I felt as if I experienced a little piece of everyone’s heart and mind in the process. Each person came to the topic that they did through personal reflection and contemplation. It was a privilege to hear from my classmates in that way. It was also interesting to note whose ideas lined up with my own and whose did not. Overall, I was really proud of everyone who presented. Hearing from the faculty was inspiring and enlightening. It was such a delight to hear about what they had been contemplating throughout this experience as well”.
The keynote address was given by Dr. Richard Kearney, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College and author of many books including, Strangers, Gods, and Monsters. Dr. Kearney spoke eloquently on the subject of hospitality and the relationship between peace and one's willingness to welcome the other. Dr. Kearney concluded by introducing a project which he and the Balkans Semester program directors, Petra and James Taylor, launched through Boston College called The Guestbook Project. The Guestbook Project is “an international venture committed to transforming hostility into hospitality, enmity into empathy, conflict into conversation”. It works towards these goals by helping young people from different sides of conflict come together to share their own stories and hear stories from those on the other side. Put simply, the Guestbook Project strives to promote peace-building through the narratives found in storytelling.
For the faculty, students, and staff of the Balkans Semester, this conference was both the capstone and the conclusion of over three months of work. Our farewell marked the end of a full semester, but not the end of our journey. For many, the conference represented only the beginning of a collective movement towards and exploration of reconciliation, on the national, inter-personal and individual levels.