At their core, most religions are built on foundations that faith will be rewarded with positives like peace, love and unity. Yet, the world's history is filled with people who have used their beliefs to justify heinous acts toward religions different from their own.
In an attempt to understand why this happens and what we can do to resolve it, Harvey Milkman, a psychology professor and addiction expert at MSU Denver, decided to analyze the idea from a scientist's angle. Conversations with colleagues from other departments, including political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology and African studies, encouraged them to explore peaceful solutions to ethnic and religious conflicts.
"We decided to collectively put on a colloquium, When Faith and Violence Coincide, and not to look at any particular religion, but just the idea of how people can become attached to these belief systems that are really promoting a violent kind of solution to the problems that we face as humans," Milkman said.
His expertise led him to take a unique approach to the subject of terrorism from an addict's perspective. There are numerous theories about the end of the world, and many religions are backed by end of world beliefs where good triumphs evil, followed by eternal happiness in some form of paradise.
"It seems to me that if a person or group of people were having a very difficult life it would be a very compelling idea to think that you could be in heaven if and when the world ends," Milkman said.
The subject spans beyond the U.S. and needed a diverse plenary of academia to try and promote peaceful solutions.
The colloquium will include scholars from around the world as well as many different departments at MSU Denver. Milkman approached professor Adam Graves, the director of religions studies who also teaches in the philosophy department, early in the process when the idea for the colloquium was still being formulated.
"Our initial conversation involved discussions about who would be the relevant scholars in the field," Graves said. "Who are the experts both vocally, nationally and internationally that we could potentially invite to participate in the symposium."
Graves will perform two functions. He will attempt to pull together loose ends being presented throughout the day into a conclusion, and talk about the history of religious tolerance in an attempt to bring the symposium to a close on an optimistic note.
"I think a lot of history of religious violence coincides to some extent with the history of thinking about religious tolerance," Graves said. "A better informed society is likely to make better policy decisions."
Graves added that he's not certain it's so much a matter of policies as living together peacefully in a pluralistic society. Either way it is a matter of informing ourselves about the issues and various traditions.
Bringing his experience of international relations and knowledge of the Middle East, Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies, will speak to the history of foreign military intervention.
"Basically, what I argue is the best way Islamist inspired terrorism can be challenged is through a greater democracy and accountable governments," Zunes said. "Historically, that has generally only come from the people themselves through grassroots movements and nonviolent struggle."
Zunes argues that fighting religious extremism through bombing and invading, besides the moral and legal questions, is counterproductive.
The hope is that students will attend, participate and engage in the event that will have guest speakers from every department of MSU as well as from all over the world. Graves said these are the type of unique seminars that come with attending a real university.
"Here's a fantastic opportunity for students to learn about the world around them and to think critically about how the very disciplines that they're studying, the fields that they're studying, can help us both understand and improve our world," Graves said.