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Scholars Consider Recognition at 'Transitions to Democracy'

Summit Addresses Political, Cultural Changes in International Communities

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International peace and culture experts recently gathered to discuss the role of recognition in regions working toward peace and democracy. Photo by Meghan Moore.

By Julia Gavin

Experts on peace and culture from around the world recently gathered in Lowell to discuss a topic with layers of meaning in their field: recognition. 

The Working Seminar on Recognition: Transition to Democracy attendees looked at the role of recognition – acceptance of a group’s right to their own culture, narratives and liberties, regardless of ethnicity or religion – in peace around the world, especially in the Middle East. 

Recognition is important to the peace process because identity is partially shaped by it. A lack of recognition can damage a person or group and become a form of oppression. This can lead minorities to feel marginalized and presents problems for societies wishing to maintain peaceful conditions because three of the eight pillars of positive peace – equitable distribution of resources, acceptance of the rights of others and good relations with neighbors – are related to the presence or lack of recognition.

Co-chairs Prof. Paula Rayman, director of the university’s Middle East Center for Peace, Development and Culture, and Prof. Yoram Meital from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, wanted to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to think about recognition and provide tools for research in their fields.

Presenters included faculty from Dartmouth College, East London University, Harvard University, Hebrew University, Queen’s University Belfast and Tel Aviv University. 

“My initial vision was just another academic gathering, not even close to what we’ve done in these two days in this very interesting and highly sophisticated discussion,” says Meital, director of Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, one of the university’s international partners. 

Provost Ahmed Abdelal’s support and participation in the seminar demonstrated the level of support at UMass Lowell, Meital said. “We all travel from one conference to another and it’s a very rare occurrence that you’ll find the top level of university leadership getting engaged in an academic conference, and it happened here.”

Rayman hopes that ideas and discussions from the summit can frame the issue of recognition and its impact on democracy as the scholars continue their research.

“We used interdisciplinary ways of thinking from both traditional scholarly viewpoints and from public intellectuals to ask what recognition means, what is its process and what challenges do people face while working toward it,” says Rayman. “We’ve taken the idea of recognition beyond its traditional concept.”