Bender Shetler explores “things that work”

After four years of work and over 85 interviews, Jan Bender Shetler, professor of history at Goshen College, and Dawit Yehualashet Kebede, 2007 Goshen alumnus, presented their work on peacemaking between Ethiopian Christians and Muslims, first in Monday’s chapel and again on Tuesday evening.

Their presentation, “What We Can Learn from Ethiopia and the Meserete Kristos Church about Building Peaceful Relations between Muslims and Christians,” was a part of the C. Henry Smith Peace lectureship.

“This is a story of things that work,” said Bender Shetler.

Bender Shetler and Kebede began their work together in 2006.  In the four years since, they’ve taken numerous separate trips to Ethiopia and conducted over 85 interviews.

During these years they’ve studied this theory: if you want to learn about peace, study peace, not conflict.

One area of Ethiopia they studied closely was the city of Harar, where Christians and Muslims have been living together peacefully for years.

The only conflict between the groups in recent years was a riot outside of a mosque in 2001.  However, Bender Shetler believes this riot is a good example of peaceful resolution.

“What’s important to us isn’t that the riot happened, but that it stopped,” she said.

She noted that elders in the community gathered that night to discuss what had happened, which alleviated tensions and led to a peaceful resolution.  This points to one of the four “lessons” they learned from Harar: that a community can withstand turbulence if its foundation is strong.

Bender Shetler said that Harar’s foundation is strong, with each side feeling strongly that peaceful conversation is needed to ensure the future of the community.  However, she noted that this doesn’t mean that the two sides have fewer convictions about their respective religions; in fact, she said they represent their beliefs proudly in dress and occupation.

But she argued that this doesn’t mean they can’t coexist, stating in the end that people can live together peacefully without giving up their own identities, an idea that she said relates to us greatly.

“Building peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians is an urgent topic given the wars we’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said.

“How are we figuring out our relations with the Muslim community?”

Kate Walker
Written by Kate Walker

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