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ASU center director reflects on the state of religion and conflict – ASU News Now

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In his inaugural address, Arizona State University President Michael Crow acknowledged “religion’s enormous role in conflict and public affairs around the world” and called for the creation of a center to address “the urgent need” to understand the impact of religion “in areas as diverse as foreign policy, international law, teaching and learning in our schools, science and technology research and application, news coverage and political ideology.”
Now entering its 20th year, ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict continues to fulfill this mission by producing transformative research and education and by fostering exchange and collaboration that, together, expand knowledge of the religious dynamics of conflict and peace. Center director John Carlson, wearing a navy suit and red tie, speaks at a forum regarding politics and religion John Carlson speaks at a Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict forum on politics and religion. Photo courtesy ASU Download Full Image
In recognition of the anniversary, the center’s director, John Carlson, associate professor of religious studies in ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, talks about the unit’s important work and its continuing relevance today.
Question: In 2007, you wrote an article titled “How Shall We Study Religion and Conflict? Challenges and Opportunities in the Early Twenty-first Century.” In it you assert that the study of religion and conflict in a global era requires an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating a variety of methodologies from disciplines across the humanities and social sciences. Based on what you wrote then, and given the issues we are facing today, how has your thinking and approach evolved?
Answer: ASU is a university that prides itself on interdisciplinary thinking, and I believe we’ve continued to show the importance of that by drawing into the center’s research by many colleagues across the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, engineering and other disciplines. That has not changed since the early 2000s.
What has evolved is how we approach the concept of conflict. Many people tend to think about conflict, especially in conjunction with religion, as a problem — often a violent one — in need of a fix or solution. To begin with, not all conflict is violent. But even when it is, problematic forms of violence provide important occasions for reflection, for innovation, for reform and for transformation. Beneath every form or instance of violence are much deeper conflicts and issues that warrant investigation and require subtler forms of understanding.
I think it is also important to acknowledge that conflict itself can be constructive. There is no time in the history of human civilization that progress, innovation, reform and change occur without conflict. … What all of us — policymakers, practitioners, journalists, students and citizens — need to understand better is how religion shapes conflict and how it might also be part of a story of human progress.
Q: Among its projects, the center has focused on countering violent religious extremism. What lessons have been learned in this area, and can they be applied to the rise of nationalism in the United States?
A: There was a lot of focus on countering violent extremism in the years after 9/11. One of the things that we in the center sought to understand was how discourses and movements within Muslim societies already worked to counter violent extremism.
This approach also applies to growing forms of extremism in the United States and the role that religion plays, particularly Christian Nationalism. Some forms of Christian Nationalism do not pose a violent threat to the government or to other Americans. It is imperative we recognize that. But, as we saw during the Jan. 6 insurrection, there are dangerous elements we need to understand better, including the presence of Christian Nationalist viewpoints found in different militia groups. Their numbers are rising in the U.S., and that’s a real concern.
Democracy in America has always thrived when we’ve been able to preserve a healthy tension between the political and religious lives of its citizens. Figures like Martin Luther King remind us that religious ideals can inspire and guide us to improve our national politics. But we also need to resist elevating partisan fealty to a level of devotion that should be reserved for ultimate religious and ethical concerns.
Q: While the center’s founding in 2003 was animated by the events of 9/11 and a newfound sense of public urgency about the role of religion in conflict, scholars were keenly aware that trends begun well before 9/11 were unleashing dynamics where diverse traditions — religious and secular — were increasingly likely to collide. Can you elaborate on how these dynamics have evolved in the last 20 years, and why it still matters to contemporary publics?
A: Let me begin by saying that it’s important to remember that the history of religion, or any individual tradition, is itself a history of conflict. As well, whenever we try to understand our own time, we need to appreciate what’s distinctive about it as well as what’s continuous with the past.
It’s vital not to resort to a kind of presentism, where the only thing that matters is what’s happening now — as if it is unprecedented or unrelated to the past. … One of the things that we really want to do at the Center is to give people enough understanding of the past so that they understand how it has shaped the moment we’re in now. 
That said, the center was born and took form in an era of intense globalization — one defined by unprecedented global trade, the influence of global technologies, the rise of global institutions and even appeals to “global citizenship.” This era was also defined by exigent global problems and threats — from terrorism and piracy to climate change and mass migration.
One of the challenges that we’re facing today that is new, though not unprecedented, is the resurgence of nationalism, and the ways in which religion is a force in that. In many ways, nationalism is part of an intense backlash against globalization. Interestingly, though, the rise of nationalism is itself a global phenomenon that one sees not just in the U.S., but all over the world, including places like the U.K., Turkey, the Philippines, China, India and Russia. Religion plays a role in many of the nationalist movements we are seeing today, as well as in the divisions they are creating.
One of the projects we are involved with now is called the Recovering Truth project, which brings these questions of religions and the secular together in a new way. What forms of truth-seeking do we find in religions? How are these compatible with democracy? Democracy as a unique form of government depends on a shared public world in which we pursue truths in common. How do we nurture that shared world, the trust in one another on which it depends and the institutions it sustains? These are the questions we are working on today — at home and abroad — in our Recovering Truth project, our Peace Studies program, and our Religion and Science and Spirituality and Public Life initiatives.
The center kicks off its 20th anniversary schedule of events with a lecture by Carlson on Jan. 19 at 1:30 p.m. MST titled “The Future of Religion and Conflict.” The event is free and open to the public. Registration is requested.
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Those who remember the days of dial-up internet may especially appreciate this decade’s developments in high-speed connectivity. We’ve come a long way since the days of “you’ve got mail,” and thanks to quantum networking, Arizona State University is poised to make the next leap — with broad social and economic implications.Through a series of new initiatives, ASU is signaling its commitmen…
Those who remember the days of dial-up internet may especially appreciate this decade’s developments in high-speed connectivity. We’ve come a long way since the days of “you’ve got mail,” and thanks to quantum networking, Arizona State University is poised to make the next leap — with broad social and economic implications.
Through a series of new initiatives, ASU is signaling its commitment to advancing quantum information science and technology, or QIST, on a national stage. In collaboration with organizations such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Cisco, ASU Knowledge Enterprise has designed a Quantum Networking Lab that is housed on ASU’s Tempe campus and serves as the central location for research and experiments throughout the metro area.
The lab is fully funded through Knowledge Enterprise and ASU’s recently launched Quantum Collaborative, a nationwide partnership among industry leaders and top academic and research institutions. 
“Quantum networking is a key element of ASU’s quantum technology initiative, and advancing this field will create a new wave of computer systems with the potential to deliver information faster, more securely and more accurately. This impacts every industry,” says Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise. “The Quantum Networking Lab is an exciting example of ASU’s commitment to advance research and discovery that is of value to our local, national and global communities.”
Leading the new lab will be Joseph Lukens, who recently joined ASU as senior director of quantum networking after seven years at Oak Ridge. Renowned for his studies of experimental and theoretical quantum information, and extensive published works, Lukens demonstrated a telecom-compatible “temporal cloak” early in his career as a graduate student at Purdue University. 
As a subfield of QIST, quantum networking focuses on solving problems related to the connections between computers. Just like social networking pioneered new ways for people to communicate, we may one day view quantum networking as the catalyzing field for computers to communicate in ways difficult for humans to fathom. 
Lukens believes that ASU and the Quantum Networking Lab have the potential to become national leaders in QIST. Continuing to prioritize partnerships, like those created in the Quantum Collaborative, will play a key role.
Joseph Lukens, ASU senior director of quantum networking. Photo courtesy Carlos Jones/ORNL
 “No one researcher or institution can do everything alone,” Lukens says. “An attitude of openness and working together will be the key to pushing this field forward.”
Since joining ASU, Lukens explains that his work at the university typically consists of “designing and analyzing experiments, running simulations, writing papers and troubleshooting any roadblocks.”
“Ultimately, my mission at ASU is to develop a state-of-the-art quantum networking research program supporting end-to-end entanglement throughout the Phoenix area and beyond,” he says.
Entanglement refers to a group of particles that are so intertwined that actions performed on one can impact the others, even when they are very far apart from each other — like rolling two dice and getting matched numbers every time.
Lukens aims to support entangled quantum systems at ASU that share properties with another quantum system far away from it. Harnessing end-to-end entanglement, quantum networking would allow a computer to be entangled with devices on the other side of the world — interacting with them at unprecedented sensitivity and security, on demand. 
“Take away quantum, and what do we want overall from networking? We want to access resources and to communicate and share information,” says Lukens, who aims to simplify and demystify complex concepts. “In quantum networking, we are after the same goals. But we’re applying the most sophisticated features of quantum mechanics to help us achieve them.”
At the ASU Quantum Networking Lab, Lukens’ seminal work in entanglement could eventually lead to the creation of a powerful quantum internet and safer communication between systems, among other groundbreaking advancements.
Bolstered by its strong partnerships in academia and with industry including IBM, Dell Technologies and Quantinuum, ASU also aims to usher in the next generation of quantum innovators as it fosters its talent. For Lukens, the journey to a career in quantum networking wasn’t straightforward. As a bass player interested in making music, and a student successful in mathematics, Lukens enrolled in engineering as an undergraduate hoping for a future as a studio engineer.
“Ultimately, I found a field that I love and that fascinates me, but it’s not a direction that I could have predicted,” Lukens says.
Quantum encompasses principles of math, engineering, design, policy and more — making a diversity of pathways to careers in the field. 
In fact, one might say getting started with QIST is all about embracing the unknown. No one has all the answers because we’re just starting to uncover them as a field, making it an especially exciting time to join.
At ASU, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering offer a variety of programs that provide the foundation and skills for a career in QIST, ranging from computer science to mechanical engineering to innovation ventures and automation. As home to programs in mathematics and physics, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences contextualizes scientific principles and developments towards bolstering societal progress. 
Quantum industry leaders are also calling for technicians with a general understanding of quantum concepts to support atomic physics engineers and other highly specialized members of the workforce, making technology and education training key. ASU’s Bachelors of Science in information technology, on the Polytechnic campus, provides a solid basis for quantum.
“If I were to give advice to a student considering the field, I would say don’t let the enormity overwhelm you,” Lukens says. “You don’t have to fully understand quantum mechanics to do quantum mechanics.”
Learn more about ASU’s quantum work and partnerships.
Written by Samantha Becker and Annie Costakis
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