A curatorial intervention exploring 21st century prospects for international peace through a series of symposia, exhibitions, lectures, and films



Learn how peace is experienced and translated across different institutional and cultural settings

Fields of Knowledge
  • Curatorial practice
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy / Theory
  • Politics / Economics
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Syracuse University Humanities Center

Contributing Institutions

European Union National Institutes of Culture (EUNIC), International Peace Institute (IPI), United Nations University


Aaron Levy, Gregg Lambert, Martin Rauchbauer

Opens to public


On the web


50% Formal - 50% Informal

The Perpetual Peace Project begins from the understanding that the concept of "peace" is not immediately translatable across different cultures and socio-political contexts. The intent of this series of workshops is therefore to explore the translatability of the concept of peace, beginning from the understanding that there is no universal language that can serve as the basis for such a conversation. The workshops cannot succeed in providing a full definition or an ideal discussion; rather, they merely enact a conversation about peace within each institutional and cultural setting. Peace is discussed differently in each workshop because of the institutional and social frameworks in which the concept itself is situated. In other words, the different institutional spaces and socio-political conditions for these workshops frame the discussions before they have taken place. The multiple voices heard in the recordings from these workshops, available online, construct a space for other possible meanings. These voices are not intended to give a coherent definition for that culture or language, but rather make visible--to the participants, to others, and to ourselves--the process of defining and translating peace itself. Eventually, this conversation must include everyone, since no one can claim to have absolute knowledge concerning the idea of peace.

Concerning the idea of perpetual peace, Jeremy Bentham once wrote that "it is not only thought to be hopeless, but to such a degree that any proposal to that effect deserves the name of visionary and ridiculous." And yet, Bentham adds, "What better education [...] than the proposal itself?" Taking Bentham's provocation seriously, in these workshops we confronted a number of related questions concerning the idea of peace, for which there is no single answer or solution. Can peace be defined only by the temporary cessation of hostilities, in a situation that implies the possibility of eternal war? Does the term hostility only refer to conflicts conducted by armies on behalf of nation-states, or can it also address the presence of conflicts in any area of social and political life (e.g., "religious wars," "culture wars," "the war between the sexes," "race wars," etc.) If the latter, then the 20th Century has seen the multiplication of hostilities and new social and political barriers to the idea of a permanent and lasting peace for all Humanity. Moreover, if peace only defines a relatively finite state, whether understood temporally or geopolitically, one which can only be enjoyed by relatively few at any given moment, can we accept this situation of scarcity as the answer to the question of perpetual peace? That is, is it acceptable that peace be reserved for those fortunate enough to live in a time of peace or within a peaceful province, while the rest of Humanity suffers from war and devastation?

Lahore, Pakistan

The Perpetual Peace Project is pleased to release recordings featuring the voices of students from Beaconhouse National University (BNU) and Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in Lahore, Pakistan about what peace means to them. The often unheard voices featured in this dialogue add another dimension to the broader understanding of peace that the Perpetual Peace Project seeks to cultivate. Their remarks respond to Pakistan's current situation as a country subject to cultural and religious conflict as well as acts of terrorism that severely limit public freedoms. The students argue for the need to understand the circumstances that have produced these societal conditions, and they speak with eloquence about the challenge of contributing to internal as well as external peace both in their daily lives and in their society, understood both politically and personally. Their conversation is often self-reflexive and particularly intimate, and serves as an inspiration for all to consider what peace means to each of us. These conversations took place from September 20-26, 2010 and were organized by David Chalmers Alesworth of Beaconhouse National University, with support from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, and the United States Consulate in Lahore.

Hong Kong and Beijing, China

The Perpetual Peace Project is pleased to release recordings featuring the voices of individuals at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and at Asia Art Archive in conversation about what peace means to them. The voices featured in these dialogues include an array of students, professors, artists, and working professionals in Hong Kong reflecting on the meaning of "peace" in Cantonese, as well as Hong Kong's changing cultural and political landscape. Emphasis is given to Hong Kong's colonial past, and its status as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) that returns to mainland China in 2046. Participants further reflect on the tension between supporting individual liberty and achieving societal harmony, and self-reflexively comment on the limits of hospitality. These conversations took place in November 2010 and were organized by Melissa Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Support was provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, with additional support provided by the Society of Friends of the Slought Foundation.

San Diego and Tijuana, California

The Perpetual Peace Project is pleased to release recordings featuring the voices of students and community advocates in San Diego, California in conversation about what peace means to them. The workshops explored how the discourse of peace is negotiated and understood in the context of a border community. The first workshop involved graduate students in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, which is located in the neighborhood of La Jolla, and focused in part on complicity and the figure of the traitor. The second workshop took place 30 miles south of La Jolla at Casa Familiar, a social services organization based in the neighborhood of San Ysidro. Situated at the United States border with Mexico at Tijuana, San Ysidro is the busiest international border crossing in the world. The discussion at Casa Familiar, which also included students from the previous discussion, featured a variety of artists, activists and community advocates in conversation, and explored peace in relation to questions of socio-economic justice, cultural difference, and border mobility. These conversations took place on January 21, 2011 and were organized by architect and urbanist Teddy Cruz. The workshops were made possible in part through the support of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California.

Haverford, Pennsylvania

The Perpetual Peace Project is pleased to release recordings featuring the voices of students at the historically Quaker institution of Haverford College in conversation about what peace means to them. The conversations with students in the departments of Political Science, Philosophy, and Peace, Justice, and Human Rights ranged from a student from Tunisia reflecting on recent political developments there, to remarks focused on Haverford College's Quaker heritage and its consensus-based approach to conflict resolution. Preceded by a public conversation with the project organizers, the workshops invited students from a variety of courses to engage in a discussion of Kant's essay on Perpetual Peace, Haverford's historic relationship to peace movements, and contemporary geopolitical events. The courses included "Political Theory: From Plato to Postmodernism," "Applied Ethics of Peace, Justice and Human Rights," "Politics of Globalization," and "Sovereignty." The workshops thus built curricular ties with undergraduate courses concerned with Immanuel Kant's writings on perpetual peace and its contemporary relevance. These conversations took place from February 9-10, 2011 and were organized by Haverford's Center for Peace and Global Citizenship and Hurford Humanities Center. They were facilitated by Israel Burshatin, Alexander Kitroeff, Parker Snowe, James Weissinger, and Matthew Seamus Callinan.

Kigali, Rwanda

The Perpetual Peace Project is pleased to release a recording featuring the voices of architecture students in the Department of Architecture at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in Kigali, Rwanda in conversation around the question: "What does perpetual peace mean to you? Wowe ubwawe amahoro ahoraho akubwira iki?" The workshop was part of a series of activities exploring the relationship of peace to hospitality, reconciliation, and socio-political change with regard to current conditions in Rwanda, and included exhibitions, shared meals, seminars, and screenings. Participants to the project included approximately 50 of Rwanda's first architecture students. These conversations took place from July 22-August 2, 2011 and were organized by Yutaka Sho at KIST, with faculty and students in the Department of Architecture at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST). Special thanks to exhibition coordinator Nerea Amoros Elorduy at KIST and the support of Musagetes Foundation.

Learn more about related seminars

read more

Selected Quotations from the workshops in Lahore, Pakistan

"I can have peace for myself as long as I see it, but if I defined peace in that way, then it would never extend beyond anyone but myself. And that for me does not give me peace."

"You can't think of peace as a personal thing because of this concept of justice. Whichever way you choose to think of it, how can we as people live our lives on whatever level of comfort when we know that others perhaps are not?"

"The older generation used to say that there was once peace. Even if there is peace again, it won't stay because there is no consistency in this situation."

"Some people who go blasting are trying to put an idea in people's heads that 'we want something', but maybe they want peace in a very different manner. They're using different means to create peace."

"I'm sorry, but when you talk about peace, I just think 'Look who's talking.'"

"When you isolate others and you define peace within a community which excludes others that's problematic. I think we all do that on a certain level."

"They see our [privileged] lives, and for them that's perhaps the greatest peace they can imagine. That's difficult, when you show someone something that you've achieved and then you tell them that they can't have it, or that they can't come near it. And you don't even talk to them in the same way that you talk to each other."

"I am extremely cynical about the concept of peace. It is well and good to talk about ideas of peace, but there was a bombing right down the block from my house. Basically, I woke up, everybody asked me if I was still alive, and I went back to sleep. It doesn't really plague me every day that I need to achieve perpetual peace... The US is always going to be in this territory because they want to create instability. There is never going to be peace in this area and we have resigned to it being the way that it is."

Selected Quotations from the workshops in Kigali, Rwanda

"You begin to forgive those who have done bad things to you... You feel like you love everyone, that's how you can show them peace. They will feel free with you, and in peace with you."

"Peace is when I am not at war with myself."

"Peace is something that switches off and on -- happiness, freedom, and all the human rights."

"If you have the chance to increase your income without facing many obstacles, and if you are sleeping and engaging in your studies without interference from things like rebellion, then you can say that you are independent and in peace."

"Peace begins with independence and collaboration, it starts from one person, and how they understand themselves, and spreads to the community, the country, and then to diplomacy."

"Peace can start in the family, when the man and the woman love each other, and the children can also grow up and have peace."

"Peace is not consistent, it is not constant, and it has no minimum."

"Peace is sustainable stability."

Selected Quotations from Hong Kong

"Is the state of peacefulness a natural construct? Is it like hunger, for an example, an inborn thing? If not when do we start to feel peaceful or not peaceful? When do we draw this kind of relation?"

"Peace is not about imposing your values on people. Conflicts always come in that way."

"If we really use the word that we use in modern China, harmony rather than peace, well it could be very repressive in other contexts."

"I think people in Hong Kong are very 'hai he'; they will internalise the discriminations, they are not outspoken like the Americans. Although internally they are probably equally critical of discrimination and they will distance themselves from people that they do not endorse, they will not openly criticize them."

"Peace is like, for example if it is a color, bright red will be the passion, the color for happiness. But for peace it's more like a white color, that is more subtle and stable."

"I have a problem with fighting for peace. To me peace is serenity, peace is being open to other people's ideas and being able to feel at one with it."

"It seems ultimately that peace is to accept that there are conflicts in nature."

"Peace is inclusiveness. Also peace is something related to human dignity, sharing of power."

"Business can be a very good pacifier."

"I wonder if peace cannot be compared to equilibrium, because it can never be constant."

"If I understand my personal condition and if I am able to extend it so that I can be able to understand the status or the conditions of other people then I can get back this peace."

"How can we stay still--harmonized or happy in our bubble--when things are non-stop changing around us?"

"It's a mistake to replace peace with happiness."

Selected Quotations from California

"While there are natural separations, there are also man-made separations. Like the border here that creates a force and that makes of the people that are here strangers by force."

"The momentary mutual recognition of the rights of the stranger... peace is a respect for the stranger's rights."

Related publications

Philosopher Immanuel Kant explores the idea of perpetual peace in the form of an international treaty between states, in a new printing inspired by the French-fold tradition of his time.

Philosophers, statesmen and members of the UN Security council engage in a filmed conversation about how to reduce geopolitical conflict, building upon Immanuel Kant's essay Perpetual Peace (1795).

No results
No results