The Convenor for this degree is Dr Ephraim Nimni who can be contacted for further information.
Identity and comparison are the stuff of politics in the 21st Century. They are key concepts in the School’s long-running MA programme in Comparative Ethnic Conflict. Ever since the end of the Cold War, ethnic conflicts have loomed large in the reporting of political developments around the world. However, neither ethnic conflict itself nor the comparison of ethnic conflicts is new. Indeed, many of the world’s most intractable ethnic conflicts long pre-date the ending of the Cold War. Admittedly, they have become more visible as a result of disappearance of conflict between the super-Powers as the prism though which all political developments tended to be viewed when fear of a nuclear holocaust was real. Consequently, study of ethnic conflict became highly fashionable in the decade after the Berlin Wall came down. But it needs to be said that the interpretation of many political conflicts in ethnic terms remains both controversial and contestable for sound reasons, so that there is much to be debated about in the characterisation of any conflict as caused by ethnic divisions. In particular, the notion that conflict is caused by ancient hatreds has been roundly discredited by many scholars in this field. And equally simplistic is the idea that any multi-ethnic society will be marked by conflict between ethnic groups. Multi-ethnic societies are not the same as ethnically divided societies. Thus, while the comparison of ethnic conflict forms the focus of the programme, it is approached in an appropriately critical spirit.
The Queen’s University of Belfast, situated in the capital city of Northern Ireland, offers an ideal setting for the study of ethnic conflict. The (relative) success of Northern Ireland’s peace process is an outstanding example of the ending of political violence (and, some would say, the achievement of conflict resolution) as a result of negotiations among the parties and external mediation, while also the product of war-weariness of the population at large. While at peace, Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided society and provides on a daily basis examples of how ethnic identity shapes political attitudes. Thus, students are presented on their own doorstep with material for developing a deeper understanding of ethnicity and ethnic identity. With staff from a wide variety of backgrounds themselves, as well as with expertise in ethnically divided societies around the world, the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy is uniquely placed to enlarge students’ understanding of these issues in comparative terms, so that by the end of their studies they will have been enriched, not merely through what they have gained from witnessing ethnic divisions at first hand, but also through what they have learnt in the classroom about the role that ethnicity plays in the politics of many different societies across the world.
From its inception the MA in Comparative Ethnic Conflict has attracted students from North America, Europe, including of course Britain and Ireland, and further afield. It has attracted students of the highest quality, including students with Marshall, Fulbright, Mitchell and Commonwealth scholarships. But the mix of backgrounds in the class has proven of even greater importance than the number of high-fliers on the programme in enhancing the students’ learning experience. Seminars on the programme are characterised by lively and passionate discussion of both the theoretical issues and the interpretation of the empirical case studies. The programme for the MA in Comparative Ethnic Conflict is structured in such a way that students are offered a choice of core modules in the second semester, so that they can focus on the international dimensions of ethnic conflict or on mechanisms for the political management of ethnic conflict (or they can do both by selecting one of these modules as their optional choice).
"Quite simply, that year proved to be an intellectual revelation. The course managed the difficult task of balancing depth with breadth, so that we were encouraged to get to grips with comparing the dynamics of (sometimes very different) conflicts around the world. When they were ranged alongside each other, much that had always seemed incomprehensibly barbaric about the world’s trouble spots finally began to make some tentative sense. Even more excitingly for me, all manner of other questions that had never occurred to me about places like Northern Ireland began to loom into view. I’ve never looked back since.
Socially, too, the MA student network was immensely supportive: the road from the seminar discussion to the pub was a well-trodden one. Indeed, neither before nor since, have I had the luxury of spending so much time with so many people whose interests were so broadly convergent with my own."
Dr. Tim Wilson
Irish Government Senior Scholar