On a trip to Poland, students reflect on religion, international law and atrocities | News | Department of Political Science

Here students are seen outside the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland. The course allowed them to explore religion and its links to international law.

This summer, Charles W. Powell and Emilia Justyna Powell taught a summer course abroad that invited students to learn about atrocities such as genocide and crimes against humanity, including the Holocaust, in the context of international law, and to explore the role that religion has played in international law.

The three-week course took 16 students to Poland, where they visited historical sites and discussed various topics related to international law, international crimes and religion. It drew on the academic expertise of the husband and wife team: Charles is a faculty member of the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion, and Emilia, a new faculty member of the Ansari Institute, is a professor of political science and concurrent professor of law at the University of Notre Dame .

Among other topics strictly related to the history and development of international law, the experience introduced students to the role of narrative empathy in international law; the role of religion in international law and the Holocaust; and the roles played by the Catholic and Protestant churches in Nazi Germany. This prompted participants to read and reflect on the horrors of genocide.

As part of the course, the students spent a week each in Krakow, Warsaw, Gdańsk and Sopot. They visited many sites of historical significance, including the old Jewish quarter of Krakow; the Auschwitz/Birkenau and Stutthof concentration camps; and several museums, including one commemorating Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved around 1,200 Jews from Nazi death camps by employing them in his factories. Additionally, to broaden the course focus beyond the Holocaust, students visited the Katyń Museum which commemorates the events of the Katyń Massacre in 1940, where Soviet forces carried out mass executions, killing over of 20,000 Poles.

Powell Walsea
Charles and Emilia Powell visit former Solidarity leader, Polish President and Nobel Laureate Lech Wałęsa.

The students also visited the European Solidarity Center in Gdańsk, which tells the story of the Solidarity movement in 1980s Poland. The movement promoted workers’ rights and helped end communist rule in the country. They met Lech Wałęsa, the former Solidarity leader who later served as President of Poland and eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize. This visit was an opportunity to hear him share his vision of a new Europe.

Through a creative combination of experiential visits and dedicated time to read, write, journal and discuss, the Powells encouraged students to think meaningfully about the need to promote and support the law. world, as well as how religion, narrative empathy and dialogue can promote human dignity and lasting peace in an interconnected world.

“In this course, we focus on the modern implications of interreligious dialogue for ensuring that our societies promote integral human development and prevent atrocities.”

“In this course, we focus on the modern implications of interreligious dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims to ensure that our societies promote integral human development and prevent atrocities,” Charles said. “On the one hand, a lack of understanding and trust between these religious groups increases the likelihood of hostility or prejudice towards each other. On the other hand, understanding and trust can lead to much-needed human collaboration and solidarity.

“The atrocities of World War II led to the development of international criminal law and the regulation of heinous crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity,” Emilia said. “Understanding these events is crucial to the development of any student at Notre Dame, especially since such atrocities still occur across the world. Proximity to Ukraine has made students’ experiences in Poland all the more more real.

Originally posted by Josh Stowe at ansari.nd.edu on August 16, 2022.