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'A tapestry, a mosaic': Immersion trip to the Balkans will explore a region of rich diversity

A quarter of a century ago, as the world celebrated the crumbling of totalitarian states in Europe, the Balkan Peninsula on the continent’s southeastern edge exploded in a series of conflicts seemingly borne out of millennia of ethnic and religious struggles.

Since the conclusion of the First World War — which began with an assassination in Sarajevo — and with those conflicts of the 1990s on the peninsula, “Balkanization” has become a byword for divisiveness as the world watched blood and fire pare new boundaries on the map and death squads went on missions aimed at ethnic cleansing. But the true story of this 12-nation region transcends those harrowing episodes and much of a bloody 20th century, generally.

That’s the thrust of a project initiated by Nicolae Roddy, PhD, a Creighton University theology professor who will lead a 10-person Creighton delegation — comprising faculty, staff, alumni and a student — to Bucharest, Romania, this month for a symposium on Balkan history, religion, art, architecture and other contributions to world culture, along with a general immersion experience.

“You hear ‘Balkans’ and think conflict, bloodshed, division,” Roddy said. “But, culturally, the Balkans are a tapestry, a mosaic. The symposium is assembling musicologists, anthropologists, artists, human rights advocates, architectural specialists. It’s my hope that these topics bring together the tiles of that mosaic.”

The overall project, titled “Immersion in the Religious History and Culture of the Balkans” and the symposium, “Balkan Cultural Symposium: Currents and Cross-Currents,” stem from a grant Roddy received from the first round of the Creighton Global Initiative grants awarded through the Global Engagement Office. The project is remarkable in that a Creighton faculty member is organizing and hosting an academic event overseas with other academics from around the world.

Roddy has been a faculty associate at the University of Bucharest since 2003. The symposium will be held at a hotel just off the campus of the university.

Featuring 10 Balkan scholars sharing thoughts on topics ranging from Orthodox iconography to the lives of Bosnian women in a Sarajevo mall, the symposium will provide a depth, breadth and eclecticism Roddy hopes will afford the Creighton participants opportunities to learn and, in turn, teach.

“I hope the Creighton contingent will come back and be able to converse with some credibility and energy about the Balkans,” Roddy said.

Following the three-day symposium, the Creighton group will take a ten-day long tour of the region with stops in Belgrade and Niš, in Serbia; Sarajevo and Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina; Podgorica in Montenegro; and Sofia, Bulgaria.

During the trip, Roddy will also turn his hand to moviemaking as he hopes to put together enough footage and interviews with project participants to fashion a 25-minute documentary.

“I’m no John O’Keefe,” Roddy said with a laugh, referencing his Department of Theology colleague who has earned several awards for documentaries he’s directed during trips around the world. “But I hope that it’s something that can provide at least a glimpse of the experience. To go around the Balkans in 15 days, it’s obviously not possible to get the entire scope of the region, but I think everyone is going with an open mind and will be able to make poignant observations as we go along.”

The project is also being run jointly as a Faculty-Led Program Abroad through the Graduate School’s Educational Leadership Program and James R. Martin Jr., PhD, a professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies.

Given the rich diversity in religion, language and culture in the Balkans, Roddy described the trip as “10 FLPAs rolled into one.”

“When you go to the Balkans, you’re not walking into a monolithic culture,” he said. “In one street we will be visiting in Sarajevo, there’s a mosque, a synagogue, an Orthodox church, a Catholic church and a Protestant church. The diversity is there and it’s to be embraced. It’s a region of oppositions, of contrasts and I think I’ve designed a trip that synthesizes all of that and makes it a well-rounded experience. We have a chance to put the Creighton footprint on the map here and I think we’ll be that big toe. I’m very excited for what these two weeks will bring.”

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