Program in Natural Resources Systems


The Spirit of Dialogue:
Lessons from Faith Traditions in Transforming Conflict

Natural Resources Systems Program Guest Lecturer:
Prof. Aaron T. Wolf

Presented in conjunction with the Texas A&M Water Security Initiative, Department of Geography in the College of Geosciences, and the Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy in the Bush School of Government and Public Services

September 19, 2017
4:00 p.m.
Lecture Hall
link to event flyer

Presented by Professor Aaron T. Wolf

Aaron WolfAaron T. Wolf is a professor of geography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, whose research and teaching focus is on the interaction between water science and water policy, particularly as related to conflict prevention and transformation. A trained mediator/facilitator, he directs the Program in Water Conflict Management and Transformation, through which he has offered workshops, facilitations, and mediation in basins throughout the world.

Presentation Description:

In the West, we are generally trained to base our approach to managing conflicts on rationality: “People will agree when it’s in their interest to agree.” Tools typically focus on what is measurable and quantifiable. We “separate the people from the problem” and “insist on objective criteria.” If only we could see the tangible benefits of cooperating, we are taught, we simply would.

Over Wolf's 20 years as a facilitator and scholar working through and studying conflicts over shared water resources around the world, he has come to appreciate both the limitations of the rational models on which we in the West base our understandings of conflict and cooperation and the wisdom, constructs, and practical tools of the world’s faith traditions in working toward deep and healthy interactions around contentious issues. He has spent 2 years traveling the world and 8 intervening and subsequent years of reading and discussing these questions with practitioners from a variety of the world’s faith traditions and with those who have negotiated conflicts in a breadth of settings.

Wolf draws lessons from a diversity of faith traditions to transform conflict. True listening, as practiced by Buddhist monks, as opposed to the “active listening” advocated by many mediators, can be the key to calming a colleague’s anger.  Alignment with an energy beyond oneself, what Christians would call grace, can change self-righteousness into community concern. Shifting the discussion from one about interests to one about common values—both farmers and environmentalists share the value of love of place—can be the starting point for real dialogue. These and other practical lessons will be presented.

For more information, please contact Professor Gabriel Eckstein at

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