Ashland University Lecture to Feature Duke University Scholar
Ashland University’s Department of Religion and the Ashland Center for Nonviolence are co-sponsoring a public lecture by John Kiess, Jack Kent Cooke Scholar at Duke University, who will speak on “When War is Our Daily Bread: Congo, Theology and Ethics of Contemporary Conflict.”
The presentation will be held Monday, Oct. 26, at 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Ronk Lecture Room in the Schar College of Education. In this lecture, Kiess will present the thesis of his dissertation on the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the challenges it raises for just war and pacifist approaches to war, which see state force as the primary issue.
Kiess serves as the Jack Kent Cooke Scholar in the graduate program in religion at Duke University. As a George J. Mitchell scholar, he earned his master’s in Comparative Ethnic Conflict at Queen’s University, Belfast.
Kiess will discuss the fact that modern realities of armed conflict demand a new approach. Fewer than 10 percent of casualties in World War I were civilians; now civilians represent nearly 90 percent of war casualties. Since 1945, 80 percent of the world’s armed conflicts have been non-international in character, involving a range of non-state actors from warlords and mercenaries to ethnic militias and paramilitaries (many of whom happen to be children).
He believes the recent war in the DRC is perhaps the most perplexing and category-bending of the new wars, and the most catastrophic. Since 1998, 5.4 million people have died, and most of these victims have never seen a battlefield.
As one pastor explained to him, “War is our daily bread. It is the only life we know.” In such a context, the question of ethical agency is not limited to the state, and the range of ethical actions is not exhausted by soldiers. Another vast field of ethical judgment and moral action opens up among civilians who struggle for life in the midst of protracted war.
Grounded in his extensive field research in the DRC, Kiess's intense, ethnographic engagement with contemporary armed conflict reshapes the debate on war in Christian ethics. Rejecting the assumption that civilians are passive spectators to war, Kiess explores ways civilians reclaim political agency and improvise everyday responses to violence.
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