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"We have no other option but to be hopeful about achieving peaceful states between warring parties because the reverse delivers nothing but despair," Dr Kohn says.
"Deluded individuals have risen up in the past and galvanised masses of people to destructive ends," she said in an interview.
"But we have also seen visionary individuals inspire a nation to abolish cruel practices, such as slavery and infanticide and hateful attitudes, such as misogyny and anti-Semitism," she said.
Canadian-born, Dr Kohn has long produced and presented programmes on religion and spirituality for ABC Radio National.
She will deliver the 15th annual peace lecture in Dunedin, at the University of Otago’s St David lecture theatre on Monday at 6.15pm. This free public talk is titled "Can we think our way to peace?".
"I am inspired by individuals who have risen above the parapet and dared to speak up against deep-seated and institutionalised hatreds of their own community or faith," Dr Kohn said.
This had been especially so after the Holocaust, when Christian theologians and churches "disavowed the hatred of Jews that was part of their received tradition", she said.
"Today there are prominent Muslims, such as Ed Husain, founder of the Quilliam Foundation in London, who is also daring to speak out against the anti-Semitism that has become endemic in the Muslim and Arab world, which he says has to change if there is to be any real peace in the Middle East.
"We will always need to think our way to peace, because, according to most traditions of the world, it is our responsibility until the final peace descends, and we won’t know when that will be," she said.
Dr Kohn had been honoured to give the annual peace lecture, and to become part of a "distinguished line of speakers", starting with former Labour leader the late David Lange.
The peace lecture series, founded by Otago University chaplain the Rev Greg Hughson, is organised by the university chaplaincy and the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group.