NEWAVE e-Lecture Series: The spirit of dialogue: Lessons from faith traditions in transforming water conflicts | Prof. Aaron Wolf

December 17, 2020, 16.00 - 16.35

The spirit of dialogue: Lessons from faith traditions in transforming water conflicts

In the global North, 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. As a facilitator and scholar working through and studying conflicts around the world for over 20 years, Wolf 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 and indigenous communities in working toward deep and healthy interactions around contentious issues. This presentation begins by documenting the geography of what has been referred to as the “Enlightenment Rift” – the process by which the global North separated out the worlds of rationality from spirituality at a very specific place and time – and the impact of this rift on ideas related to conflict transformation. We then explore constructs, tools, and techniques from faith traditions worldwide to help transform conflict at all scales. 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, for example. Alignment with an energy beyond oneself, what Christians would call grace, can change self-righteousness into community concern. Elevating a discussion from one about interests to one about common values, even across cultures, can be the starting point for real dialogue. These and other practical lessons from his book of this title will be presented.


Wolf, Aaron. (2018). International Waters: Conflict, Cooperation, and Transformation. In: Dominick A.DellaSala, and Michael I. Goldstein (eds.) The Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene, vol. 4, 291-299. Oxford: Elsevier.

M.J. Patrick, H. Komakech, N. Mirumachi, H. Moosa, A. Prakash, L. Salame, Z. Shubber, P. van der Zaag, A.T. Wolf. (2014). Building Bridges between the Sciences and the Arts of Water Co-operation through Collective Action – Reflections,Aquatic Procedia, vol. 2, 48-54.

Wolf, Aaron. (2012). Spiritual understandings of conflict and transformation and their contribution to water dialogue. Water Policy. 

Wolf, Aaron. (2017). The Spirit of Dialogue: Lessons from Faith Traditions in Transforming Conflict. Island Press, USA.


Prof. Aaron Wolf 

Aaron T. Wolf, Ph.D. is a professor of geography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, USA, 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.  He is the author, most recently, of The Spirit of Dialogue: Lessons from Faith Traditions in Transforming Conflict.

About the e-Lecture Series:

This online training module has the objective to engage the NEWAVESRs and the audience in different water governance perspectives. All lectures are open to the public upon registration.

Please register here

A participation certificate can be requested if attending at least 80% of the online public talks.

*All times are in CET (UTC+1)

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