“One day I read a book and my whole life has changed” is the first sentence of Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s novel: The New Life.* I read that book when I was in college in my early 20s. I never thought at the time that I would set up a similar sentence in the next decade of my life:
I attended a conference and my whole life has changed.
I like attending academic conferences because that is where I update myself with the latest areas of research, where I force myself to finish papers sitting in some corner of my mind, where I meet new and interesting people, and where I get my next ideas of research. It is through a meeting of the minds that my brain is activated and performs best.
The conference that changed me and my life was the International Peace Research Association Conference in Leuven, Belgium in 2008. I had randomly found the conference call for papers on the internet and had sent two proposals both of which were accepted. One of my papers was to be presented at the Security and Disarmament Commission and the other at the Art and Peace Commission.
It was very bold of me to send a proposal to the Art and Peace Commission. Well, I love the arts and I consider myself a talented person in some fields of the arts but I’ve never had a formal education on the arts and coming from a realist IR background, I had studied war more than I studied peace.
I remember the first panel I attended. Having attended panels on security issues at many other conferences before, this time I had decided to follow the panels at the Arts and Peace Commission as well as those of the Security and Disarmament Commission. I had always liked interdisciplinary approaches and I wanted to diversify and maximize my learning from the conference.
The speakers of this panel had written chapters in an edited book on music and conflict transformation.** I was mesmerized by the ideas I heard. I must admit, I envied those scholars so much. I had been studying security issues such as threat perceptions and military interventions at the time and these are not often the most fun topics. I envied the creativity, the perspective and the team spirit. I left the session thinking “Why can’t we do such fun things in IR where I come from?” Luckily, I became friends with some members of the group, hoping to get contaminated by the academic spirit there.
There must have been a genie that goes around the academic conferences and takes people’s wishes. I remember making the wish although I did not see the genie. Yet my wish was granted. (Thank you, Genie!)
Eight months later, I became a member of the group. I was asked to join to an e-mail discussion group on the power of Music for Conflict Transformation (Music4CT). This e-mail discussion group proved to be one of the most intellectually nurturing online experiences I’ve ever had. Over the summer 2009 I proposed a chapter for a possible second book on Music and Peace. Last February I was in Tunisia, making my first academic paper presentation at the conference Music for a Universal Consciousness of Solidarity*** and now this week I am about to submit the article for a peer-reviewed journal. I am going back to IPRA’s next conference in Sydney, Australia**** this July and I will present a paper (possibly two) there on Music and Peace as well.
The group on Music4CT became a part of my daily life as we communicate often, not just professionally but also as friends. It has become one of the two areas of priority research for me. It has also bolstered my idealist side. The group now has a website***** and as members we have started to benefit from all uses of technology and online social networking to stay connected. We are scattered around the world, yet we are close enough to work together. Just like the women at the University of Venus.
Years ago I had written a song named “Meeting of the Minds”, describing the kind of human connections I wanted to have in my life: Finally I feel like I found it and this time I feel like I am not just under the rain with no umbrella but that I am singing in the rain with company: both academically and musically!
*Pamuk, Orhan. (2009). Yeni Hayat. İletişim Yayınları. Istanbul (first edition: 1994) available in English (1998). The New Life. Vintage Books USA
**Urbain, Olivier.(ed.). 2008. Music and Conflict Transformation: Harmonies and Dissonances in Geopolitics, I. B. Tauris, London in association with the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research
*** The Conference was jointly organized by the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research of Japan and the Ben Ali Center for the Dialogue of Civilizations and Religions of Tunisia.