Celene Lizzio ’08 spent last summer in Egypt, setting up a small shop in Cairo to create “Peace-Shirts” — T-shirts that carried the message, “Islam means peace.” One of 100 student-organized Projects for Peace funded by Kathryn W. Davis, widow of the late Shelby C. Davis ’30, Lizzio’s project sought to provide jobs and to spark a dialogue about a peaceful society and interfaith tolerance.
Back at Princeton last fall for the start of her senior year, Lizzio heard about a new University program with a similar theme: the Program on Religion, Diplomacy, and International Relations (PORDIR). Convinced that some opportunities “have your name on them,” she returned her application within 24 hours and was selected as one of 12 fellows who launched the program.
The program is part of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination and is co-directed by Wolfgang Danspreckgruber, institute director and lecturer in public and international affairs, and Paul Raushenbush, associate dean of religious life.
“Part of what it means to be an educated citizen of the world is to understand the ways in which religion factors into both personal lives and public arenas,” Raushenbush said. “PORDIR wants to solicit a breadth of perspectives and provide a foundation for a better understanding of the nexus of religious practice and the practice of international relations.”
While the program does not provide academic credit, in practice it is similar to a graduate seminar, Danspeckgruber said. The four undergraduate and eight graduate fellows each produced an academic journal-length article for publication in an edited volume and presented a paper at the program’s weekly luncheon seminars. The program also offered a public lecture series, and it culminates with a conference in Vienna July 10–12 in which the students will present their papers to an audience of about 50 academics, religious and public officials, and other students.
The program leaders decided not to focus the students’ research on any single religion or part of the world, but to let them select a topic based on their academic or personal interest. Danspeckgruber said the students’ work demonstrates an intense emotional curiosity. “You feel a real personal involvement,” he said.
Jon Gandomi, who is studying international relations in a master’s program at the Woodrow Wilson School, is a member of the Baha’i faith, and his research talked about using Baha’i principles in conflict resolution. Gandomi, who said he hopes to be part of U.N. efforts for post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan, said that most of his courses didn’t emphasize how religion intersects with global issues. That wasn’t the case during a PORDIR luncheon midway through the spring term, however, as Gandomi fielded questions about how Bahai’s have tried to influence state policy and international law.
The fellows bring a wide range of religious, national, and work backgrounds, including international-relations experience in a number of countries. The diversity contributes to “a space where people can ask critical questions in a safe environment,” Raushenbush said.