Archive for religion

Lunch Conversation

Each year we are lucky to have many current SIPA students volunteer their time to assist the Admissions Office in some way.  At the end of the year we thank many of them by taking them to lunch and yesterday I had the opportunity to engage in some conversation over a great seared tuna salad.  I thought I would share some of what was talked about.

I was first reminded of the great diversity of our student body.  For example, one student had served in the U.S. military for over ten years prior to coming to SIPA, one had worked for an NGO focused on development issues in Africa, another worked for a non-profit focused on international education, and another had served in the Peace Corps.  This was just on my side of the table.

One student highlighted the benefit of having such a diverse student body.  She said something along the lines of the following –

“My internship took place in a country I had never been to before.  The great thing about SIPA is that there were students from that country enrolled.  I emailed some of them, got together with them and asked for tips on how I could make a smooth transition into the culture.  Now that I will be graduating I know that I can use my fellow graduates and alumni network for the same purpose in the future.  Diversity is such a tremendous resource.”

Another student commented on what he hated about SIPA.  He said something along the lines of the following –

“I hate that I have to miss so many events.  There is always so much going that I cannot do.  For example there is great discussion taking place today on the impact the death of Osama Bin Laden is going to have but I cannot go because I have to write a final paper.  I swear that if I won the lottery I would just live a few blocks from SIPA and just spend all of my time going to events.”

I asked one student why she chose SIPA.  She had been accepted to many schools but here is basically what she had to say –

“New York!  I mean come on, everyone who is anyone comes to New York.  I was walking across campus last year and saw Bill Gates walking with Warren Buffet – how crazy is that?  I just could not turn down the chance to live and study in New York.  On campus or in the city you can basically interact with every culture on the planet.”

Another conversation revolved around the ability to receive an informal education on the religions of the world.  A few students talked about how they got into conversations with students that practiced religions they did not know much about.  They said it was wonderful to learn about different religious traditions in a conversational and social environment where there was not pressure on a particular issues, but rather just friendly conversation about why certain practices and observances are important.

Social occasions like this with students remind me of how fortunate I am to work with in such a rich environment.  New students, you have a lot to look forward to and I am envious of the experience you are going to have.

SIPA Events – Interdisciplinary Talks

SIPA is a very busy place.  Each week there are 10-15 events that feature interesting speakers and panels on a variety of topics.  The following entry was contributed by Erisha Suwal, a second year student at SIPA.  Erisha is working in our office this year and she, along with several other students, will be contributing posts throughout the year.


While having lunch over lamb and rice with hot and white sauce, my Pakistani friends encouraged me to join them for a talk titled “ Pakistan 2010: The most dangerous decade begins.” The talk was organized by the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion (CDTR). It is a Center that was founded after SIPA won a competitive grant and its main objective is to examine religion’s role in politics and international relations. The title was very intriguing and only the day before I had had a discussion   on how Pakistan seems to be in a constant state of turmoil. More than any other country. Perhaps even more than Afghanistan.  I joined them.

Christine Fair, Assistant Professor at the Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown, was one of the panelists. She was speaking on ‘India and Pakistan in Afghanistan: Opportunities and Constraints.’  She argued that India had a strong interest in staying in Afghanistan especially to monitor Pakistan. She questioned why no one talks about India running intelligence operations in Afghanistan and why no one challenges India when it build schools very close to the Pakistani border. She claimed that the Pakistani Army personnel, particularly those in the lower ranks, want the U.S. out of Afghanistan because they believed that the American presence intensified Taliban presence in Afghanistan. Her talk led to a rich discussion on India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

At the talk, I found out that Terry Eagleton was coming to speak the same evening   on “The New Atheism and the War on Terror.” Eagleton is an influential literary theorist and Distinguished Professor of English Literature at the University of Lancaster, who has written more than forty books. He gave an entertaining and insightful talk. The poster said, seating was on first come first serve basis. Usually I do not follow these warnings, but I’m glad I did this time. The room filled up very quickly and I ran into some SIPA professors. I saw Mahmood Mamdani, who teaches Political identities, State and Civil Wars in Africa and Theory, History, and Practice of Human Rightsand Professor S. Akbar Zaidi was also present. He teaches Political Economy of Pakistan: State, Society, and Economy.

Eagleton started off asking, “Why are atheists obsessed with religion as Puritans are obsessed with sex?”  He commented that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whom he dubbed Ditchkins, were engaged in anti-god diatribe with zero conception of faith and theology. He also argued that rise of Islamic fundamentalism was similar to “chickens coming home to roost.” Eagleton delivered provocative and controversial but witty statements and entertained his audience.

CDTR co-organized Terry Eagleton’s lecture with Heyman Center for the Humanities. I missed going to lectures outside of class. It is easy to immerse oneself in course-works and socializing, Wednesday’s two lectures reminded me of how being in Columbia exposes you to cutting edge discussions in whatever field it might be.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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