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Marginalised Most Affected by World Conflict

Lieve TrochRecent Visiting Research Fellow Professor Lieve Troch discusses religion, conflict and shame

Professor and Theologian Lieve Troch recently spent a two week fellowship at the Trinity Long Room Hub in collaboration with the Confederal School of Religions, Peace Studies and Theology, Trinity College Dublin.

Prof Troch is based at the Ecumenical Institute of the Methodist University in São Paulo, Brazil. She acknowledges that as a student of theology in the late 1960s, her outlook was influenced by this era of revolution and transformation and she thought theology could be part of the change. At the time of her studies Prof Troch says not many women were studying theology. ‘I was told by my professors that to be a theologian meant to maintain a certain critical stance when looking at society – to do this one should not fully adapt into society.’ Prof Troch who also studied criminology, is concerned with what she says is a ‘fine line’ between good and evil and the labelling of those at the margins of society.

‘Religion often has an ambivalent role in society – it can be used for good or for evil.’ Prof Troch highlights the number of conflicts worldwide which are using religion to construct and sustain the violence.  She says that there is currently more group conflict than 30 years ago, notwithstanding the increasing secularisation in Europe.  She does, however, acknowledge that religion is also used as a force towards peace.

Shame and Sexual Violence

During her fellowship with the Trinity Long Room Hub, Prof Troch delivered a public lecture entitled: 'Conflict Resolution, Reconciliation, Remembering and Forgetting:  A Feminist Critique and Re-imagination in an Intercultural and Interreligious Context'. Referring to Joshua S. Goldstein, and his book ‘War and Gender’ she talked about war shaping gender and gender shaping war: ‘In modern warfare, it is more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier.’  Using examples of sexual violence in conflicts in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, Prof Troch said that this type of warfare has only been recognised by the United Nations since the 1990s. A phenomenon which was present throughout the centuries and also during the Second World War, is only now being openly spoken about, albeit in some cultures.

‘There is shame in talking about sexual violence in some cultures. For example, in Sri Lanka there were many women raped during the war, and in the aftermath of the war, but it is almost impossible for women to come out publicly and give testimony to what happened to them because of the culture there. In Rwanda, we know there are tens of thousands of women that were raped, but there it is easier for women to talk about it than in some Asian cultures.’ Speaking on the important role played by culture in the ability for women to talk about their experiences, Prof Troch, who has worked extensively with grassroots movements for change and transformation in conflict areas, said that religion and culture are inseparable. ‘The idea of shame around sexual violence and the women’s ability to discuss their experiences is totally connected with religion.’ Arguing that there is not a single religion where men and women are on the same level, Prof Troch says that ‘whatever religion we talk about – be it Islam, Christianity or Buddhism – there is a very big preoccupation with the female body. There is automatically a split between the body and the mind (body and the soul) and women represent the symbol of the body. There is fear around the woman’s body – it is perceived as ‘evil’.’

Marginalised Groups

Prof Troch’s research is concerned primarily with how people function at the margins of the different religions.  She questions how these religions are pushing people to the margins and how they survive at the margins. She is interested in how the marginalised express their spirituality. ‘How do they perceive the divine and how can this allow for new and more open ways of thinking within religion?’

As a Professor of Feminist Studies in Theology and Religious Sciences she is careful not to single out women in this regard. ‘Women are not the only marginalised people. In society and in theology, we have to ask how people are marginalised because of their race, their ethnicity, or their lack of education for example. I also want to speak about marginalised men.’ Prof Troch discusses this in relation to the current conflict in Syria and the refugee situation in many countries in the world, emphasising how older men and women and children are left behind as young men are the first to get away. ‘Young men are the first ones who flee – and are able to flee. Those most vulnerable and at risk of attack at the moment in Syria and Iraq and in other countries are children, women and elderly persons who cannot escape.’

Prof Troch highlights how marginalised groups are also used in combat. In the United States, she references research which shows how during the Iraq war most of the people dying on the front lines, fighting for the US army, were African American men. ‘The army gives the marginalised an opportunity to have a place in society, and many are signed up during times of peace. But when the war starts, these marginalised groups are the first to be sent to war and to the danger zones – look at Iraq.’

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer and Prof Lieve TrochPost-Conflict Society

In her public lecture, Prof Troch explained the detrimental effects that negative memories have on victims, including muteness, self-destruction of individuals and groups, and trauma which can last generations. She talks about ‘memory and re-membering’ as a process which allows for the healing of negative memories, but asks how culture can impact on people’s ability to reconcile. ‘In Cambodia, it was very difficult to see what caused the war. When the cause of war is not clear, it is also difficult for people to tell their stories; to whom do you tell the stories and who is telling the stories? How do you tell who is the perpetrator and who is the victim?’ She distinguishes between storytelling and the ‘creation of new realities’. During her lecture she gave examples of women in countries affected by conflict who, rather than choosing to remain in the past, create new possibilities and demonstrate the power of resistance.

She talks of nationality, ethnicity, and religion as obstacles facing any process of reconciliation and often the root causes of conflict. Prof Troch is concerned with how conflict theories, peace and interreligious dialogue continue to be dominated by male leaders. ‘The voices of women and subordinate men are hardly heard when it comes to conflict resolution and peace.  In the media and in negotiations they are merely seen as only victims and non-agents.’
Prof Troch shows how marginalised groups use their creativity to imagine new ways of life in the midst of destruction in volatile areas, by showing their spiritual strength in rebuilding a new future of their countries. In this reconstruction and reconciliation work, glimpses of new religious construction can be seen beyond the religious divisions.  We don’t hear a lot about these groups and as Prof Troch explains supporting such initiatives on the ground is difficult due to the violence in many regions.   ‘Resistance has always been a very important concept for me. The title of my PhD f.e. was ‘Resistance is the Secret of Joy’. What I mean by resistance is that we can break open a new future.’

During her time at Trinity College Dublin, Prof Troch addressed a conference on Religions and Feminism organised by the Irish School of Ecumenics where she spoke on ‘Feminist Postcolonial Theological Imagination in an Intercultural Context’.  Joined at the Conference by Prof Linda Hogan, Ms Gina Menzies, Prof Elizabeth Harris, Sr. Patricia Santos and Prof Roja Fazaeli of TCD, the group of women and feminist scholars came together to bring fresh perspectives to the interreligious and ethical field of theology and religious studies.  

Prof Troch worked for 25 years at the Radboud University Nijmegen the Netherlands in the area of Religion, Theology and Culture. At the same time she was and still is a professor of Feminist Studies in Religious Sciences at the Ecumenical Institute of the Methodist University in São Paulo (UMESP) Brazil. Prof Troch works also on a regular basis with grassroots movements for change and transformation in conflict areas, mainly in Asia.  Her main research interest during the short stay at Trinity College was related to the oppressive and liberative factors of religions in situations where the interconnection between race, class, gender and religion is experienced as the cause and possible solution for conflicts.  The main focus is the (in)- visibility of women in processes of peace and reconciliation.

Contact: Aoife King, Communications Officer | Trinity Long Room Hub | | 01 896 3895