Le Ngoc Bich Ly, Payap University

A Personal Path to Peacebuilding

“Peacebuilding has no ready-made formula,” Le Ngoc Bich Ly, a faculty member at Payap University’s Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace finds. “It must be rooted in one’s particular experiences and struggles.” Dr. Le’s own journey is rooted in her faith, which first took shape in a small Christian community in Vietnam; her academic development, which includes earning a master of divinity degree from the McGilvary College of Divinity at Payap in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and a PhD in interreligious studies from the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies, Gadjah Mada University; and her encounters with the world beyond her home in Vietnam.

Moments of awakening took place as she studied Feminist Theology and World Religions, Comparative Buddhism and Christianity, and other subjects at McGilvary College. Discussions with Buddhist friends in her classes pushed her to re-examine scriptures and craft a deeper theological understanding of her faith, one that embraces new gender roles and interreligious experiences. It motivated her in other ways as well. “This experience generated my passion for new ways of peacebuilding,” she said. “For me, peacebuilding empowers people, through inner transformation, to become responsible and peaceful beings. It transforms what is dehumanizing, divisive, and destructive in our own cultures and religions.”

Dr. Le, fourth from right, at IASACT 2016.

Now Dr. Le is putting into practice her mission of building human resources for peace work. “The first task is to build students’ critical and academic capacity to engage in intellectual discourses on peace and interfaith dialogue,” she said. “It is on this level that knowledge and theories about peace and interfaith dialogue from real-life experiences are generated, debated, learned, and transmitted.” The second task is to create conditions for deeper personal transformation to take place through interfaith encounters. “At the cognitive level, students need to encounter powerful religious truths from other religions, presented objectively or by knowledgeable practitioners of the presented religions. At the experiential level, students are encouraged to move toward building equal and genuine personal relationships with people of other faiths.”

The work of peacebuilding has taken place throughout human history, Dr. Le points out, but the academic discipline of peacebuilding is still young. She is excited about her role as a peace trainer and creating opportunities in her classroom for students to study different religious traditions and practices and directly engage with people of Buddhist, Muslim, and other faiths. In this way, her students can build academic skills, empower their minds through critical reading and writing, and find their own places in the work of peacebuilding and interreligious understanding.

Reflecting on Gender and Peacebuilding

“In my opinion, creating space for Asian feminist discourse is part of peacebuilding,” Dr. Le said, and she found that type of space at the United Board’s Institute for Advanced Study in Asian Cultures and Theologies (IASACT), a three-week summer institute for research and exchange, which she attended in 2016. At IASACT she met scholars, from China, India, and Myanmar, who also were researching gender roles. “What I gained was not only knowledge about women’s situations in other parts of the world but also empathy and solidarity with other female scholars, as we had had very similar struggles.”

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