EPIIC Archives

1994 Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism

Civil war, separatism, irredentism, ethnic "cleansing," massive refugee flows and "failed states" typify the complex issues that may be the most urgent foreign policy and ethical challenges the international community faces in the 1990s. From the former Yugoslavia to Guatemala; from Khalistan to KwaZulu; from Nagorno-Karabakh to the West Bank, this symposium was a multidisciplinary inquiry into the universal and contemporary political dilemmas of kinship, religion, territoriality and self-determination in the post-Cold War era. Since World War I, these dilemmas have claimed the lives of over 20 million people and deeply affected the lives of millions more.

What constitutes a "people"? A civilization? What is a minority? What political and pschological factors are involved in ethnic conflict? What are the unique contexts under which identities are transformed into serious political conflict? Under what conditions do identities provoke confrontations of intergroup and intragroup aggression and political violence? What is the progress of the development of civil society? Of the representation and protection of individual and group rights? What is the concept of citizenship? Is the nation-state inherently flawed and detrimental to minority rights?

Are Cold War perspectives on self-determination outdated? Should borders and states be defended? Under what circumstances is the recourse to national self-determination desirable? What frameworks or criteria can be established to inform a timely response to prevent future Bosnias, from the protection of minority rights to cultural and/or political autonomy to independent statehood?

Understanding the nature of ethnic and religious conflict, how can negotiation be fostered and encouraged? What is the role of the international community? Of the United States? Of multilateral organizations? Of international law? How should they evolve to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex world?