Last week, my colleagues at AfP launched Peace Rewire, a new website growing out of our work on the links between neuroscience, peacebuilding, and spirituality. It is fascinating work that I helped bring to AfP. Both the site—and even more importantly work in these areas in general—mark an important step forward for our field.
A few years ago, I attended the second and third meetings of a series of conferences linking neuroscience and peacebuilding organized by Beyond Conflict and held at the MIT Media Lab. Later, Beyond Conflict, AfP, and the El-Hibri Foundation held a two day workshop to bring those ideas to the Washington DC policy and peacebuilding community. With the generous support for the United States Institute of Peace, AfP launched the project that we recently renamed Peace Rewire.
For the last two years, groups of neuroscientists, peacebuilders, and spiritual leaders have been meeting and drawing the connections that link the three fields. This video sums by co-directors Melanie Greenberg and Béatrice Pouligny sums up the logic behind the project, at least as it stood in mid-2017.
As it currently stands, Peace Rewire has four components:
- Brain 101 covers the basics of neuroscience and their implications for peacebuilding. It reflects state of the art research by practicing neuroscientists and was coordinated for that part of the team by Dr. Jeremy Richman, co-founder of the Avielle Foundation, which was created following the murder of his daughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
- Data Base. The team read just about everything that has been written in the literatures on all three of the subfields. That material has been assembled into a machine-accessible data base and “mind map” of the field which you can read—and add to.
- World Practices. As part of the research for the scientific data base, my colleagues also uncovered as much as they could about rituals and other spiritual practices used around the world that demonstrate how understanding neuroscience could lead to a more peaceful world. It builds on the broader understanding that there is strong scientific support for the ”real world” impact of mindfulness, mediation, yoga, and the like.
- Training. Enough is known about the connections among neuroscience, peacebuilding, and spirituality that AfP and the broader team is able to host workshops on most aspects of their work. Topics can range from removing stress in your personal and political life to exploring some of the wide-ranging implications of this research.
It is hard to understate the importance of this project in at least two main ways.
First, it will help us improve what peacebuilders do in ways that will get at one set of root causes of conflict that transcend the issues of the day. The evidence that we can “rewire” our brain away from attitudes, values, and even reflects that lead us toward violence and division. Obviously, we still have a lot to learn, especially about designing training programs, let alone effectively integrating neuroscience into concrete peacebuilding efforts. Still, this project has more than opened those doors.
Second, because researchers in other fields are exploring neuroscience-related issues and because the kinds of spiritual practices my colleagues explored have truly entered the social mainstream, Peace Rewire’s work will find echoes in business, mental health, and all those other areas in which neuroscience is a “hot” topic.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Alliance for Peacebuilding or its members.
Also published on Medium.