Neuroscience & Spirituality

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Recognizing the potential for neuroscience to unmask the deep roots of conflict dynamics, and help shape and reframe the design of peacebuilding interventions, the Alliance for Peacebuilding has undertaken several initiatives at the intersection of neuroscience and peacebuilding.  We welcome broad engagement from the peacebuilding – and related – communities, as we move forward with this groundbreaking work.   Ultimately, we are working to support a new subfield at the intersection of neuroscience and peace.

AfP’s role in this project emerged after the joint conference sponsored by Beyond Conflict, the El Hibri Foundation and AfP in January 2015, on neuroscience and peacebuilding, with an emphasis on Islamaphobia and other forms of prejudice. Since then, AfP has been working closely with these, as well as other partners, to support the growth of this innovative work.


Structure for AfP’s Work on Neuroscience

Affinity Group on Peacebuilding and Neuroscience

At the AfP 2015 Spring Conference, AfP established an affinity group on Peacebuilding and Neuroscience.  This is a group open to all AfP members – and selected outside experts. The agenda is set by group members.  The group will serve both to educate the peacebuilding community about the new applications of neuroscience, and to work jointly on particular projects, areas of interest, etc. AfP staff supports the affinity group, with help from Liza Hester – a recent MA graduate.  The group will meet on a schedule to be determined.  A dedicated portion of the AfP website will be developed for the group.  Ultimately, the group will serve an important testing and dissemination function as new research is developed through related projects (see below).

Join the Affinity Group

Rewiring the Brain for Peace: Bridging Neuroscience, Peacebuilding and Spirituality

This project – with initial funding from the United States Institute of Peace — asks how neuroscience research related to spirituality can inform our peacebuilding work. More specifically, it asks how spiritual dimensions of human life can help re-wire the brain for peace. By engaging with researchers involved in mapping the brain processes connected to spiritual experiences, the project will pull together the threads of disparate areas of existing research. It will identify and summarize the main findings, document them in selected case studies and present them in a way that can directly inform the work of peacebuilding practitioners.

We work from the hypothesis that there are antidotes to the brain changes that occur in times of war, violence, and crisis – antidotes that harness the power of spirituality – that we can use to design better peacebuilding interventions.

The “Rewiring the Brain for Peace” project is organized as follows:

  • Structure ImageSteering Committee: Melanie Greenberg, Béatrice Pouligny, Ina Breuer, Judy Barsalou, Dara G. Ghahremani, Marc Gopin and Dr. Olga Klimecki make up the core committee responsible for the overall direction of the project. In addition, we are currently recruiting two experts from outside the United States to serve on the Steering Committee.
  • Working Group: 30+ experts from the fields of peacebuilding, neuroscience and spirituality make up the core multi-disciplinary Working Group for the project. These experts will attend five full-day meetings over the course of the project, and will be involved in the creation of the literature review, videos, case studies, etc.  Other experts will be brought in for particular meetings, in specific areas of peacebuilding, neuroscience and spirituality.
  • AfP Affinity Group: AfP’s Neuroscience and Peacebuilding Affinity Group will play an important role in the project, serving as a learning forum, source of expertise, and dissemination vehicle for the project. AfP Affinity Group members will have the possibility of attending the Working Group meetings. Invitations to these meetings, as well as public events organized over the course of the project will also be extended to all AfP members.

Learn more about Rewiring the Brain for Peace

Link with Beyond Conflict’s Program on Neuroscience and Peacebuilding

Beyond Conflict, based in Cambridge, MA, has embarked on a deeply innovative, large-scale program on neuroscience and social conflict that seeks to change and improve peacebuilding practice based on a better understanding of the human brain and how emotions and other drivers shape our behavior.  At the core of the initiative are year-long fellowships, designed to stimulate research at the intersection of neuroscience and peacebuilding.  Ultimately this research is structured to stimulate improved conflict resolution practice, training, and policy recommendations for the wider peace-building community.  AfP is working closely with Beyond Conflict on this initiative, especially in the dissemination of the findings to the peacebuilding field. Melanie Greenberg serves on a 360 strategic planning steering committee of Beyond Conflict’s neuroscience program, and Beyond Conflict’s Executive Director Ina Breuer serves on the steering committee of AfP’s Rewiring the Brain for Peace project.

University of Wisconsin MSP Student Group (Mapping the Neuroscience/ Peacebuilding Space)

A cohort of MA students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Masters in Sustainable Peacebuilding program have completed a preliminary project, creating a systems map of the peacebuilding/spirituality/neuroscience space.  There are still revisions to be done, and a second cohort may work on this over the spring semester.  We feel strongly that a mapping function will be very important as we develop this new field, and are open to different models.  Ideally, the map will be amendable, either through a “wiki” function, or through a central map data master.