Peace Studies

New thinking on human nature and globalization are essential for peace, says new incumbent of Baha'i chair

In Brief: 
  • Prof. Hoda Mahmoudi, the new incumbent of the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace, outlines her view of peace studies in an inaugural lecture.
  • Old thinking that violence and war are inborn behaviors are challenged by new research about the human brain, genes and evolution.
  • Likewise, traditional ideas about the best way to promote peace are challenged by the forces of globalization.
  • The role of peace studies can be to advance an educational process that will create a body of tested knowledge that can be applied to foster a more just and peaceful order.

COLLEGE PARK, Maryland, USA — Any contemporary discussion of peace must include a consideration of new research on human nature — and reflection on the vast changes caused by globalization and similar forces in the modern world.

That’s the view offered by the new incumbent of the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace, Hoda Mahmoudi, who presented her inaugural lecture at the University of Maryland on 16 November 2012.

“Understanding human nature is essential to any discussion of peace because an examination of what scholars are learning about this subject highlights the issue of education and its potential for building a better world,” said Prof. Mahmoudi.

“Both the nineteenth-century doctrine that biology is destiny and the twentieth-century doctrine that the mind is a blank slate have been rejected as a consequence of knowledge that is being generated through research in the sciences of the mind, brain, genes and evolution.”

This new thinking, she said, disproves the view that “that violence and warring are inborn human behaviors and, therefore, unchangeable.”

The transformations wrought by globalization must also be factored into new considerations of how humanity can best achieve world peace, she said.

“Our global community is undergoing great transformations,” said Prof. Mahmoudi. “Consequently, our conventional thinking about the political, economic and cultural components of the social order is being tested on every side.”

“In an effort to study realistically the pathways that may lead to peace, considerable attention must be devoted to adapting existing theories that are no longer capable of describing the changing world. By way of example, three trends can be highlighted. These are: modernity, globalization, and cosmopolitanism. All of these phenomena are indicators of the sea change that continues to shape the global order.”

Founded in 1993 within the University’s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, the Chair is an endowed academic program that advances interdisciplinary examination and discourse on global peace, generating knowledge that promotes the interests and well-being of humanity.

“Today, unfortunately, aggression and conflict characterize our social order, an order that encompasses political, religious, economic and cultural systems. In fact, many are resigned to the view that violence and warring are inborn human behaviors and, therefore, unchangeable.

— Hoda Mahmoudi

“Today, unfortunately, aggression and conflict characterize our social order, an order that encompasses political, religious, economic and cultural systems,” said Prof. Mahmoudi. “In fact, many are resigned to the view that violence and warring are inborn human behaviors and, therefore, unchangeable. Such beliefs are often responsible for and lead to a paralysis of will among individuals, a cognitive numbness that is not easy to reverse, but which must be overcome. Here, the role of education is vital in removing unfounded views about human nature.”

“Knowledge must take us to new ways of conceptualizing the world as a unity. In this way we can carry out research in pursuit of knowledge that is relevant and valid to our ever-changing global community,” she said.

The struggle for peace

Prof. Mahmoudi briefly reviewed the history of humanity’s search for peace, calling it a central concern. “Generation after generation, men and women have longed for, struggled for, and perished for peace,” she said.

At one point, she said, the achievement of peace was largely viewed as “simply the elimination of war or the prohibition of the weapons and methods of war.”

But, she said, “world peace is more than the elimination of war and violence — which are currently the dominant means for managing international conflicts,” she said. “Prohibiting weapons of mass destruction, although an important goal, will not move us closer to peace.”

“Rather, peace stems from an inner state, one that is supported by values. Here, the aspiration for peace is an attitude, a will and a yearning which promotes the discovery and implementation of practical measures for peace,” she said.

She also said there are major global social issues that must be addressed before peace can reign, such as “rising global inequality, discrimination and violence against women, tensions and divisions caused by religious conflicts, a growing culture of hate, the scourge of prejudice and racism, lack of universal education, and failure to teach the concept of world citizenship.”

In this context, she said, the Bahá’í Chair is “is committed to offering students a broad, realistic and applied education for and about peace.”

“The Bahá’í Chair for World Peace has a unique responsibility to advance an educational process that will create a body of tested knowledge which can be applied to foster the emergence of a more just, secure and sustainable international order,” she said.

Prof. Mahmoudi holds a Ph.D. in Sociology, an M.A. in Educational Psychology, and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Utah. Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Maryland, Prof. Mahmoudi was head of the Research Department at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel, where she had served since 2001.

Previously, Prof. Mahmoudi was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. At that institution she was a member of the Department of Sociology faculty.

Before that she served as a vice president and dean of Olivet College, where she was instrumental in the institutional transformation that brought national recognition to Olivet.

Prof. Mahmoudi’s research interests have included comparative civilizations, social change, modernity and gender equality. In her published works she has analyzed Bahá’í topics and themes in the context of established scholarly methodologies and debates.

The first two Bahá’í Chair incumbents were Suheil Bushrui (1993-2006) and John Grayzel (2006-2011).

In an official message to the University of Maryland community, John Townshend — dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, where the Chair is hosted — praised Mahmoudi as “a proven leader dedicated to scholarship and research and a distinguished member of the Bahá’í community.”

For her part, Prof. Mahmoudi said that she looks “forward to building on the strong international reputation of the Bahá’í Chair, while also moving it in new directions.”

“The Chair’s affiliation with an outstanding flagship university,” she continued, “combined with its location in close proximity to the nation’s capital, places it in an excellent position to influence both scholarly and policy discussions.”

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