Tanya Schwarz, a 2016 political science Ph.D. recipient, has been awarded the United States Institute of Peace’s Peace Dissertation Prize for her dissertation titled “Instruments of the Divine? Faith-Based Organizations in International Politics.”

The project is an ethnographic examination of faith-based organizations, their own religious identities and practices, and how each organization’s understanding of such practices may vary from scholarly opinions. Schwarz also shows how prayer plays a significant role in international peacebuilding projects, and how power relations—both within the organization and through international development norms—affect how these faith-based groups utilize their religious identities and interact with the people they are “helping.” Schwarz’s use of ethnography in a political science context, in addition to her dissertation’s relevance to the USIP’s mission to prevent, mitigate, and resolve violent conflict around the world, helped earn her the $1,000 prize.

While a graduate student at UCI, Schwarz worked as an editorial assistant for the Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa (CIHA) Blog. The online platform aims to transform the way many organizations and individuals approach aid to Africa—moving away from unequal power relations, paternalism and victimization that can occur in egalitarian and respectful relationships. Schwarz carried that information and mindset with her into her graduate studies on religion and international relations and, after delving deeper into her research, chose to examine how faith-based organizations view themselves and their practices, and how these values shape the way they conduct peacebuilding efforts around the world.

“When choosing my field of study, I felt that the sub-discipline of international relations was not engaging with the role of religion in a way that makes sense to religious actors themselves,” she says. “My time with CIHA then piqued my interest in faith-based organizations working in areas of peacebuilding, humanitarianism, development, and human rights.”

Her articles have appeared in International Studies Quarterly and the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. She has been awarded multiple research-based awards both on and off campus, including the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies’ Graduate Student Research Grant, the International Studies Association’s Best Graduate Student Paper Award, and the American Political Science Association’s Hayward Alker Student Paper Award. Now almost a year out of her Ph.D. program, Schwarz is working on a book related to these studies. Her hope is that it will encourage those studying international relations to approach the study of religion more deliberately.

“In particular, I hope that this will encourage scholars to be aware of their own assumptions and how those assumptions might affect the way they frame questions about religion in international relations,” she says.

Schwarz is currently a visiting research fellow at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. She was recognized for her award on February 22 at the International Studies Association 2017 Conference in Baltimore.


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