Jan Love: How do we transform the communities in which we live?
The dean of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology talks about conflict transformation and how people can learn to live with conflict.
August 2, 2011 | Conflict is inevitable, and trying to end it impossible. That’s why managing, handling and transforming conflict should be a goal, said Jan Love, dean of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University and professor of Christianity and world politics.
“Conflict transformation doesn’t presume an inactive or non-active engagement with the world, and it doesn’t presume a nonconfrontational stance with the world,” she said. “But it does presume that we don’t have to stay in destructive conflicts, that they can be transformed to be creative and positive.”
Love, a political scientist and former chief executive of the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, took over as dean of Candler in 2007, becoming the first woman to lead the United Methodist seminary.
Love holds a doctorate in political science and international relations from Ohio State University and spent much of her academic career at the University of South Carolina.
In addition, she served on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches from 1975 to 1998 and was a director of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns from 2000 to 2004.
Love was at Duke University to give a plenary talk at the Center for Reconciliation’s Summer Institute. She spoke with Faith & Leadership about conflict transformation, Candler’s new global strategy and why she has amassed a collection of art during her tenure at Candler.
Q: What is conflict transformation?
Conflict transformation is an acknowledgement that conflict is endemic to all aspects of life and human community, and even community outside of human community. So if you take a perspective of the whole of creation, it’s unavoidable and it’s often uncomfortable -- conflict is -- but it can be handled and managed in a way that it gets you to new creative outcomes rather than having a destructive influence in your life.
A lot of the literature in international relationships and political science has for almost a couple of generations now talked about conflict “resolution,” conflict “management” and those kinds of words.
But I would say in the last decade, maybe a little bit less, the literature started talking about conflict transformation, that is, comprehending that we’re never going to resolve all conflicts, and we’re certainly not going to get to some perfected state of human condition where conflict goes away.
So how do we transform the communities in which we live, the relationships in which we live, into ever more productive communities and relationships, and positively productive ones, by the creative use of conflict?
Conflict transformation doesn’t presume an inactive or non-active engagement with the world, and it doesn’t presume a nonconfrontational stance with the world. But it does presume that we don’t have to stay in destructive conflicts, that they can be transformed to be creative and positive.
Q: So is this something that you employ in your work as dean, or is it more of a theoretical issue?
It’s a daily exercise and experience. Good managers, I think, are good at transforming conflicts. They may not call it that, but one of the techniques is always just to shift the nature of the discussion, if you’re locked in battle over some concept or some idea or some relationship or some inability to get a particular issue tackled.
If you can step back from it, shift the nature of the discussion for a little while, you can often envision an outcome that involves a third or a fourth or a fifth way of imagining what’s going on here and then transform whatever [issue] is at root.
Mediation is often an important part of conflict transformation, getting help from somebody else to get parties to a conflict to see themselves in a new light, to see a way forward in a new light, things like that.
There are a lot of techniques. I make jokes, now that I’ve been managing people for a long time, that some part of managing people is not unlike dealing with 2-year-olds. I think any parent who’s been engaged in raising children knows something about conflict transformation, knows something about helping people find ways through tough issues and difficult processes that moves them beyond themselves into good places.
Q: This seems to overlap with your various areas of expertise, including global issues and conflicts. I know that at Candler you’ve been globalizing, or internationalizing. What is your strategy?
We are involved in internationalizing our curriculum in a very deliberate way, and we’re just beginning on that journey.
In some respects, any academic discipline has always been international -- I mean, to read the New Testament in Greek is an international experience, for example, or to read the Old Testament in Hebrew is an international experience.
But what we’re keenly interested in now is having long-term, sustained and sustainable -- from a financial point of view -- relationships with seminaries in other parts of the world that simultaneously put us into deeper relationships with similar if not almost identical communities in the metropolitan area of Atlanta.
So that Latino immigrants, of which there are many in Atlanta, could well teach us as much about relating to Latin communities in South America if we would bother to go be immersed with them for as long as it would take to do a mission trip to Argentina or Chile or Brazil or any of those areas.