CMC and Ukraine scholarly collaboration encourages dialogue
Constructive dialogue, community building and collaboration across boundaries — all core CMC values — were at the heart of “The Crisis in Ukraine: Summer Symposia Series,” which brought together more than 200 faculty, deans, and students from Claremont McKenna College and Ukraine’s top universities, along with religious leaders from the five largest religious traditions in Ukraine, on May 25 and 26.
The online event featured brief presentations by Ukrainian scholars and religious leaders followed by small and large group discussions focused on two aspects of the crisis in Ukraine — the war’s impact on higher education, faculty, and students, as well as the role of religious communities in peacebuilding, social service work, and aiding internally displaced persons.
“This summer symposia was the first major effort at CMC and the 7Cs to address the crisis in Ukraine,” said Symposia Series Co-Director and Arthur V. Stoughton Professor of Religious Studies Gastón Espinosa. “It was also perhaps the first in the United States to bring together American and Ukrainian scholars, administrators, students, and clergy to discuss two crises that are being largely overlooked by the media and international community.”
The event was supported by CMC President Hiram Chodosh’s Office, as well as the Salvatori Center for Individual Freedom in the Modern World and the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies. Espinosa served as co-director with Ukrainian scholars Sergiy Makovsky and Volodymyr Dalskyi, both from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, and Denys Kuzmin, from I.I. Mechnikov National University of Odesa.
Espinosa noted that the symposia went beyond discourse and information sharing to encourage community building. “It also sought to build relationships, foster understanding, facilitate engagement, and initiate new opportunities for creative collaboration that taps into CMC’s mission to foster responsible leadership in government, economics, and the professions,” he said.
By all measures, the series was a great success. “The conversations between CMC faculty and students and Ukrainian faculty, students, and religious leaders were rich, honest, and at times moving,” said Espinosa, who is also co-editor of the Columbia Series in Religion & Politics.
A total of 209 people from the U.S. and Ukraine participated, including 16 Ukrainian faculty, deans, and religious leaders and over 170 Ukrainian students, in addition to six CMC faculty and a number of CMC and Pomona students. Participating CMC faculty included, in addition to Espinosa, Crown Professor of Government and George R. Roberts Fellow Andy Busch, Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Esther Chung-Kim, Otho M. Behr Professor of the History of Ideas Gary Hamburg, and Associate Dean of the Faculty Shana Levin.
Levin, Kopiika Valeriy of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, and Viktor Glebov of I.I. Mechnikov National University of Odesa offered opening remarks at both symposia. On each day, four to seven Ukrainian scholars and/or religious leaders gave 7- to 12-minute presentations followed by a Q&A period, with the first questions coming from CMC faculty and students.
Crisis in Higher Education
Discussion about how higher education has been impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine covered a wide range of topics, offering perspectives from both faculty and students. CMC faculty and students asked questions of Ukrainian faculty and students from four of Ukraine’s top universities in Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, and Mariupol — with the latter two devastated by the war.
“The dialogue was rich and revealing about the impact of the invasion on faculty and students, including issues involving the massive classroom and student learning disruption, internally displaced students and faculty, housing crises, military recruitment, and psychological trauma and fear many faced on a daily basis,” Espinosa said.
The Role of Religious Communities
Religious leaders from the five largest religious traditions in Ukraine — Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim — discussed how religious communities are responding to the crisis in Ukraine. Key leaders included Archbishop Yevstratiy Zoria of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine Moshe Reuven Azman, Mufti Said Ismagilov, Mufti Ayder Rustemov.
“They stressed interfaith cooperation, the struggle between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Church leaders, Putin and Metropolitan Kyril’s manipulation of religion for political purposes, anti-Muslim bias against Ukrainian Muslims because Chechen fighters fought alongside of Russian units, and the various types of social service work they carried out with internally displaced persons,” Espinosa said. “They also discussed how they provided food, shelter, crisis counseling, and purpose and meaning in the wake of death and destruction, as well as how they had worked ecumenically to condemn the invasion and provided hope to a nation on edge.”
Volodymyr Dalskyi added: “ Two panels of free discussions that united representatives of different regions, religious, ethnic, linguistic groups and educational institutions show high level of civil liberties and tolerance within Ukrainian society. I noticed that Ukrainian religious groups were represented by the leaders of top level and it was astonishing to see the degree of consensus among Christians, Muslims and Jews on how to overcome the challenges of war…. Russia's religious leaders are no more spiritual than their Ukrainian counterparts, but they have deliberately imposed restrictions on themselves by refusing to fight for their rights in favor of stable coexistence with the Putin regime.”
The symposia series built on more than a decade of research carried out by Espinosa in Ukraine, where he has conducted research, interviews, given university lectures, and organized a major conference in 2020 on the role of religion in the Ukrainian struggle for independence, democracy and society. He has also carried out research on the growing influence of Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, and Protestant Evangelical churches in Ukrainian politics and society. Since 2019, Espinosa has been collaborating in these endeavors with his co-directors Dalskyi, Makovsky, and Kuzmin. Dr. Espinosa is now working with CMC RAs Diana Simonds, Joy Zhu, Miranda Chen, and Mayeli Santos to transcribe the symposia zoom talks and other tasks related to Ukraine.
Their work remains ongoing.
“We believe that this summer symposia series has laid an excellent foundation for a larger program we hope to facilitate in the 2022-2023 academic year,” Espinosa said, “and for a conference they hope will generate a series of scholarly papers that will be published in the Current Problems in International Relations journal at Taras Shevchenko University.”