Is there such a thing as a just war?

Bard teams with West Point to explore the issue

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Scholars and students will convene at Bard College for a three-day intensive examination of war, both political and religious.

From Tuesday, April 24 through Thursday, April 26, the question “Can war be just?” will be addressed by a variety of experts who have studied conflict through the ages. The aim is to compare and contrast positions on the theory of the “just war” while exploring different methods of learning and thinking across disciplines.

The event is hosted by The Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard and was organized by Jacob Neusner, Bruce D. Chilton, and Jonathan Becker of Bard College, and R. E. Tully of the United States Military Academy at West Point. The various seminars will bring together academics, students and cadets from both institutions.

Chilton explained that the conference was a result of “my experience travelling with a group of bishops to Israel and the West Bank. We met with leaders to understand that conflict.” Chilton was particularly impressed with the people trained in ethics on both sides of the debate. “I returned to Annandale and met with Jacob Neusner about the possibility of a conference on a comprehensive basis, not just through one lens.” Chilton’s trip took place just two years ago, and he is planning a similar trip again this spring.

One hallmark of the conference, titled “Just War in Religion and Politics,” is that Chilton and Neusner have pulled together scholars of many faiths who will examine war in the context of Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islamism and Buddhism.

“To some extent, we have a large home team at Bard College,” Chilton said. “In the past, we’ve put on conferences to investigate a given question. We have the team at Bard and our network who we can call upon. We started to put together scholars of religion; we included Robert Tully, a professor of philosophy at West Point.”

Semester-long classes for students at Bard and West Point have run concurrently with the planning of this conference. “We are pursuing an entire course of study at Bard, and Tully is doing the same at West Point. We’ve visited West Point, and the cadets have come to Bard. We’ll meet for the conference itself in an intensive interaction: Part of the program is a debate (between the schools),” Chilton explained.

Highlights on the conference include:

Tuesday, April 24 at 1:30 pm, Roger Berkowitz, associate professor of political studies and human rights and academic director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, will give the keynote address, “Should We Justify War?”

At 7 pm April 24, Bard students and West Point cadets will debate the resolution: “This House Believes That War Can Be Just.” It will be moderated by Bard professor of classics William Mullen.

On Wednesday, April 25 at 3:45 pm, R. E. Tully, United States Military Academy at West Point professor of philosophy, will give a talk on “Fighting the Good Fight.”

On Thursday, April 26 at 9 am, Elihu D Richter, professor emeritus at the Hebrew University–Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine, will deliver the lecture, “Just War Theory, Choice, and Necessity and Israel’s Responses to Genocidal Threats: An Evidence-Based Approach.”

“I think that they’re going to see a thorough analysis of warfare from every philosophical (lens),” said Chilton. He added that the many religious scholars would explore each religion’s approach to war, undermining misconceptions along the way. “Warfare is a concern to Christianity. There are teachings on warfare in Buddhism. Likewise, in Christianity, I’ll be showing that although it is frequently said that (St. Thomas) Aquinas had teachings about ‘just war,’ I can show (otherwise.) This conference will give people a mature insight; they will not rely on conventional statements made about religion and warfare.”

The conference is free and open to the public. All events will be held in the Multipurpose Room of the Bertelsmann Campus Center at Bard College. For a complete schedule of events, go to http://www.bard.edu/news/releases.

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