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College Faculty Lead Global Effort to Combat Religious Violence

Published November 20, 2015 in News

By: Caroline Newman / University Communications

The College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is at the heart of a global network of academics, politicians and activists urgently working to stop the spread of religion-related violence.

Last spring, UVA Professor of Practice Jerry White founded the Global Covenant of Religions with UVA religious studies professor Peter Ochs and David Ford, a professor at the University of Cambridge. The professor of practice appointment is typically reserved for professionals who have distinguished themselves nationally and internationally outside of academia. White, a leader of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines, comes to the University from the U.S. State Department, where he served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations.

White retired from the State Department with the goal of building a movement that could take a broader approach to religion-related violence, one that could incorporate academic thinkers, religious leaders and civil servants as well as diplomats. 

“For system-wide change to happen, no one organization or sector can do it alone. It is important to engage scholars, diplomats and religious actors in a concerted effort,” White said. “I wanted to create a small nonprofit organization that would serve as a catalytic converter for this work.”

White came to UVA to reconnect with Ochs, who had consulted with White on a foreign service training module on religion and conflict developed in 2014, and to leverage UVA’s interdisciplinary expertise. 

"UVA has an amazing network of talent spread so strongly from business and law to political science and religion to nursing, data science and many other areas that impact this issue,” White said. “It is a natural incubator for such interdisciplinary work."

UVA religious studies professor Peter Ochs serves as director of research for the Global Covenant of Religions.

In keeping with White’s vision, the Global Covenant of Religions – named to evoke a commitment to peace that transcends any particular pact or treaty – is more of a network than a traditional non-profit. White, Ochs and Ford leveraged their own contacts to involve more than 400 scholars, diplomats and activists across about a dozen countries, with new members joining every month.

Most are extremely influential in their own right. The organization’s board, for example, includes the Libyan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, an administrator of Jordanian refugee camps, a Hindu leader with more than 100 million followers and the president of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.

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