Peace and Disarmament

Back to listSep 29, 2011

Ikeda Center Seminar Honors 20th Anniversary of SGI President's Harvard Address, "The Age of Soft Power"

Ikeda Center SeminarIkeda Center Seminar on “The Age of Soft Power”

A seminar exploring themes from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's September 1991 Harvard University address, "The Age of Soft Power," was held at the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue on September 29. Guest speaker Nur Yalman, professor of Social Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, stated, "We are at the beginning of a great adventure," and described the pace of change in a rapidly globalizing world and the urgent challenge of activating globally what Mr. Ikeda described in his address as "the inner resources of energy and wisdom existing within our lives." For Mr. Ikeda, these inner resources constitute the primary tools of soft power, in contrast to tools of "hard power" which are coercive in nature. Professor Yalman's dialogue with Mr. Ikeda, A Passage to Peace, was published in English in 2008.

Winston Langley, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, was the other guest speaker. In late 2010, Dr. Langley was part of a delegation from the university that traveled to Tokyo to present Mr. Ikeda with an honorary doctorate.

Professor YalmanProfessor Yalman (left) and Ms. Benson (right)

The Ikeda Center's senior research fellow, Virginia Benson, moderated the two-hour seminar. In the first hour, the two guest speakers responded to her questions and each other's insights. During their comments, both drew distinctions between Mr. Ikeda's vision of soft power and that of Joseph Nye, who introduced and first explored the concept in his 1990 book, Bound To Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. Professor Nye was a respondent when Mr. Ikeda delivered his Harvard address the following year.

Dr. Langley explained that Mr. Ikeda's objectives are often educational and spiritual, aimed at "the transformation of individuals" and that without this inner transformation institutional efforts at peace building will never succeed. Professor Yalman added that Mr. Ikeda's conception of soft power is based on a desire to speak "directly to people's hearts."

Especially noteworthy, Dr. Langley said, is how Mr. Ikeda revives a form of humanism based on "broad faith in human possibilities." This faith provides a necessary foundation for the interpersonal and intercultural dialogue that Mr. Ikeda sees as the surest path to peace. The other foundation for meaningful dialogue, remarked Professor Yalman, is one that Mr. Ikeda consistently champions, namely the human capacity for empathy.

In the second half of the seminar students engaged directly in dialogue with the speakers. Responding to a question about technology's importance to the "Arab Spring," Dr. Langley remarked that new technology enhances communication, but underscored that it is our "moral consciousness" that ultimately determines whether or not technology will contribute to the development of humanity. The moral authority of those rebelling against oppressive regimes, he said, is derived not from technology but from "certain broad categories of human rights."

Both speakers agreed that pursuing the path of soft power requires patience and an ability to live with a degree of uncertainty as to what our global future might hold. In conclusion, Professor Yalman stated that we all must strive for a peaceful world built on humanistic principles and truths such as those put forth in Mr. Ikeda's soft power address.

The full text of Mr. Ikeda's 1991 Harvard University address can be viewed here: The Age of "Soft Power" and Inner-Motivated Philosophy (1991)

[Adapted from a report from the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue; photos courtesy Marilyn Humphries]