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International affairs, peace
and human security


Early antecedents / Towards the shaping of an International Affairs Commission / The early years / The turning of the ecumenical tide / Entering a new period

The early antecedents

The CCIA was created in 1946 as a joint instrument of the World Council of Churches (in process of formation) and the World Missionary Council, but the origins of the concern it was intended to serve lie deep in the history of the modern ecumenical movement, beginning with the Church Peace Union in the late 19th century.

There is a direct line which runs from the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference in 1910, where the wider ecumenical movement first began to raise the question of church-state relations, to address the question of religious freedom, and to point to the importance of church unity for international relations, peace and justice. That line passes through the World Mission Conference in Jerusalem (1928) which continued to build on these ideas and refined thinking on religious liberty, and thus constituted a primary source of the later wider ecumenical concern for human rights. It runs through the early beginnings of the Faith and Order movement, especially the need to develop forms of "practical Christianity" called for by participants in the early Faith and Order Conferences. This was given expression in the Life and Work movement, the high point of which was the 1937 Oxford Conference on "Church, Community and State" which set the action agenda for the future World Council of Churches.

It was at that Conference that the first formal decision to form the WCC was taken. The plan was for the formation to take place quite soon after 1937, but war once again intervened. It has been said that the origins of the ecumenical movement were in common Christian efforts to avoid war. It failed to do this in the years before 1914, but the Christian youth movements and the missionary movement worked incessantly during and after the First World War to maintain contacts across the lines of battle and to help heal the wounds inflicted by war. The same happened in the period leading up to, during and after the Second World War, and such efforts have continued in various ways ever since: between East and West during the Cold War, and across the lines of war and enmity around the world in the period since 1945.

Above: 1937 Oxford conference on "Church, community and state"

- The role of the WCC in International Affairs

- Churches in International Affairs 1999-2002: pdf / Word
- Churches in International Affairs 1995-1998: pdf / Word

The present configuration

Two years before the WCC was officially founded in Amsterdam in 1948, the council-in-formation joined with the International Missionary Council to establish a Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).

The CCIA was created partly in response to the need to provide an effective interface with the UN on refugee protection and resettlement - work begun already during the Second World War by the WCC-in-formation.

For many years, the two programmes - international affairs, and refugees - were located in separate commissions or units. The WCC organizational structure inaugurated after its 1998 Eighth Assembly brought these two historical core functions of the Council together in a single team.

The former coordinator of the International Affairs, Peace & Human Security team, Dwain Epps, called the new configuration: an exciting departure which reaffirmed the historical connection, and the increasingly close working relationships between CCIA and Refugee and Migration Service (RMS). It was not a question of the one absorbing the other but of merging the two concerns in a way which stands to strengthen both considerably.

Both CCIA, through its Commission, and RMS, through its Global Ecumenical Network on Uprooted People, have sought to address causes of human suffering, including forced migration and uprootedness, through advocacy on human rights, conflict prevention, peaceful resolution and reconciliation of peoples. The historical roles and constituencies of both CCIA and RMS will continue to be respected, and and we hope to serve them even better in the future.

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the CCIA, the Commission held a consultation in Seoul, Korea on the theme of the Oxford Conference, revisiting the complex relationships between church, community and state that Oxford studied six decades earlier under the forbidding shadow of the emergence of the National Socialist State in Germany. We were reminded there of the remarkable contemporary relevance of those discussions, and it is useful to quote a few things said in and about Oxford to remind us that our approach to international affairs today might well be informed by what our forbears saw with considerable clarity. Addressing the anxiety about a possible future world war, Oxford called for a comprehensive approach to international affairs, saying that:
To condemn war is not enough. Many situations conceal the fact
of conflict under the guise of outward peace. Christians must do all in their power to promote among the nations justice and peaceful co-operation, and the means of peaceful adjustment to altering conditions. Especially should Christians in more fortunate countries press the demand for justice on behalf of the less fortunate. The insistence upon justice must express itself in a demand for such mitigation of the sovereignty of national states as is involved in the abandonment
by each of the claim to be judge in its own case.

Participants in the Oxford Conference feared that Christians and their churches had become too like the world with its penchant for injustice and war and needed individual and corporate repentance. In all times, they said, the Church must be the Church, continually regaining its essential character as the Church. In his address to the Conference, French ecumenical leader Pierre Maury insisted that
...the world is always trying to get the Church to renounce its
independence -- that is to say, its sole dependence on its Lord. It seeks to reduce the life of the Church to the common level, to integrate it with the life of the world, offering it in return a recognized place, certain rights
and some times considerable privileges. It seeks to make use of the Church -- to enlist it as the champion of human causes, whether on the right or on the left. The Church has constantly succumbed to these temptations. It has agreed to recognize other lords besides its sole Lord. We need to be continually vigilant to make sure that the Church is not the Church of democracy, or of a class, or of the nation, but above all and exclusively the Church of Jesus Christ

Singly, in their separate local contexts, the churches are particularly susceptible to these temptations, Oxford said. It considered the ecumenical movement to be a safeguard against this, for in its view the Church "is not, and can never be, the Church of a local community. The Church in any particular locality is part of a universal community and is known to be such." The Universal Church is not "built up from its constituent parts, like a federation of different states." It is not "international," but"ecumenical;" not the sum of its parts, but one body transcending borders through its historical unity given in Christ which it seeks to restore. The bond of ecumenical fellowship is therefore among members of a single body whose "source of unity is not the consenting movement of men's wills, (but) Jesus Christ whose one life flows through the Body and subdues the many wills to His."

Thus, the Church is a supra-national fellowship. She draws her members from all nations, and believes that they have more in common with one another than they have with non-Christian fellow-citizens, inasmuch as Christ and the Christian heritage are of greater worth than is any national inheritance apart from Him. She inculcates loyalty to God above loyalty
the State, and places fidelity to the Christian fellowship above fidelity to
the nation. Where she is true to her nature she cannot allow national interests to be set before those of humanity, nor permit any people to fancy that it can develop its national life without a just regard for every other people.

Oxford also viewed the Church as a supra-racial, supra-class, eternal fellowship
that views men and women not only as citizens for a brief span of years in an
earthly community and State, but also as those who are "called to be citizens
of the abiding city of God." Thus, for the Church to be the Church, means that
it must pursue the goal of unity not only for its own sake, but for the sake of
the world. The lack of church unity impairs the credibility of the Church’s witness
to society.

We have had during the past decade time and again to restate this principle,
as churches in many parts of the world found themselves bound more to their
community, national traditions, ethnic identities, particular cultures or states
than to Christ and to one another. In a time in which religion resurfaces as
an instrument of political forces to promote conflict, it is useful to recall
that this is not new. The explicit use of theological discourse, the centrality
of worship and spirituality in the early ecumenical movement, and the biblically
grounded approach to world reality which characterized the early ecumenical
movement risks being lost in contemporary debates marked by more secular formulations. This we may need to rethink in the period to come.

Toward the shaping of an international affairs commission

One of the most important sections of the Oxford Conference dealt with the Universal Church and the World of Nations. Its work had a great impact on the churches of Western Europe and the United States, where ecumenical councils created committees to consider its impact on the lives, ecumenical relationships and witness of the churches in the period leading up to and during the Second World War. In the USA in particular a Committee for a Just and Durable Peace was formed by the Federal Council of Churches under the chairmanship of John Foster Dulles, a Christian layman who had been present at Oxford. That Committee organized a series of significant ecumenical world order conferences which were later credited with having prepared public opinion in that nation to accept full participation in a new United Nations. They developed a statement, "Six Pillars for Peace", which offered significant correctives to the original Dunbarton Oaks draft of the UN Charter. The background papers on program circulated to you earlier describe their impact at the 1945 San Francisco Conference.

In Great Britain a Peace Aims Group was formed, and in France, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia similar committees were created which, among other things, sought valiantly to maintain contact with and sustain the Confessing Church in Germany during the war. These committees were loosely linked during the war years through the World Alliance for International Friendship. In Geneva a headquarters of the Provisional Committee for the World Council of Churches was created from where General Secretary Willem Visser ‘t Hooft and close colleagues operated a clandestine information network between the Christian resistance in Germany and churches and governments in the Allied powers.

The US Federal Council of Churches proposed that the WCC Provisional Committee convene a small international conference "to consider what action is open to churches and to individual Christians with a view to checking the drift towards war and to leading us nearer to the establishment of an effective international order." Thirty leading Christian laymen and church leaders were called together in Geneva in July 1939. This meeting produced a document, "The Churches and the International Crisis", which was sent to the churches and served as a basis for the ecumenical discussion on peace aims and international order in the following years. Visser ‘t Hooft comments that it was remarkable that already at that time an international conference spoke of "the responsibility of the whole of mankind for the whole earth", saying, "all peoples have an interest in the wise use of the resources of individual countries and in the planning ahead for future generations". The document also expressed the conviction that "the collective will of the community shall be used to secure the necessary changes in the interests of justice to the same extent that it is used to secure the protection of nations against violence". Thus, even before the war turned in the direction of an Allied victory the churches had begun serious thinking about the shape a new post-war order and institutions to safeguard it. This ecumenical work needed to be structured in the immediate post-war period. The minutes of he Provisional Committee for the World Council of Churches which met in February 1946 refer to this as "one of its early tasks" to be performed. A meeting was called for whose purpose was "to consider the responsibility of the churches in the face of the increasing crisis in world politics". "The time has come," the Committee said, "to consider the responsibility of the World Council for a continuous service in the field of international affairs and the methods by which that service may best be rendered." It decided to "create a Commission on International Affairs. The importance of such a Commission arises from the imperative necessity that the churches should bear their witness in the most united manner possible, to the significance of the Christian faith for the life of the nations, at a time when the political world is in chaos because of its failure to follow the teaching of our Lord." Among the first tasks of the Commission would be to find the "best method of collaborating with the International Missionary Council with a view to joint action on the subject of Religious Liberty and other interests of common concern, ... (and) also consider the question of relationships with the World Alliance for International Friendship through the Churches and other bodies." The Commission was "requested to arrange for an international conference of Church leaders and laymen... to consider ways in which the witness and work of the churches in the field of international affairs and world order can be made effective at this critical time". The Bishop of Chichester (George Bell) was asked to assume the chairmanship of the new Commission, but was too heavily burdened to accept the task. He proposed, and it was agreed, "that the American Commission on a Just and Durable Peace be asked to act on behalf of the Provisional Committee in arranging for an international conference of church leaders on problems of peace and war in the summer of 1946". Again, it was John Foster Dulles who chaired that meeting convened in Cambridge. Visser ‘t Hooft and Walter van Kirk, the secretary of the American Commission, served as secretaries. Visser ‘t Hooft notes in his autobiography that, "It is interesting to note that Dulles took ... a position rather different from his position in later years. For he not only expressed his belief that the tension between East and West could be reduced, but also used the surprising phrase: ‘No political system is incompatible with Christianity’." Dulles, chiefly known today as one of the chief architects of the ideology of the Cold War, changed his tune soon after, as was manifest in his famous debate at the 1948 First WCC Assembly in Amsterdam with Czech theologian Josef Hromadka, where he flatly condemned Communism as antithetical to Christianity. (Notably, the Assembly statement on this matter had more nuance, saying that "The churches should reject the ideologies of both communism and laissez-faire capitalism and should draw men from the false assumption that these extremes are the only alternatives.")

The Aims of the Commission drawn up at Cambridge, and later further elaborated in a meeting before the First Assembly at Woudschoten, Netherlands in 1948, have been only slightly edited from that time to this, and are contained in our present by-laws.

Shortly after the Cambridge Conference the International Missionary Council gave its agreement and the Commission was officially formed under the chairmanship of Kenneth Grubb, a layperson from Britain and with Dr O. Frederick Nolde, a Lutheran theologian from the USA, as Director. The choice to form a Commission rather than a Department on International Affairs of the WCC was not accidental. It was in order to provide an instrument which could serve the constituency of the parent bodies as a "source of stimulus and knowledge in their approach to international problems, as a medium of common counsel and action, and as their organ in formulating the Christian mind on world issues and in bringing that mind effectively to bear upon such issues". At the same time it was to be free to address especially sensitive political issues without immediately engaging the parent bodies. Though the CCIA later did become a department of the WCC, this latitude was retained in its constitution, and to a more limited degree is still provided for in the Rules of the WCC and in our by-laws. Though less frequently than at the beginning, it is still sometimes used to good advantage.

The early years
The headquarters of the CCIA were first located in New York, with an office in London, and after 1952 also in Geneva. This shows some of the limitations both of the CCIA and the wider ecumenical movement in the period. In none of the great ecumenical conferences listed earlier as among the early twentieth century antecedents were more than a handful of persons present from outside the North Atlantic sphere. here were very few Orthodox representatives. This was an age when in much of the world Protestant Christian churches were extensions of Western missions. It was they who tended to speak for Christians in what later became known as the Third World. There were also hardly any women; though given the importance of the Christian Student movements from the earliest times there were often a modest number of young persons represented.

The record of the WCC Provisional Committee in 1946 already hinted at the concern that the CCIA not be too limited in its scope, noting that "Careful thought should be given to the question of the location of the principal office of the Commission... Its permanent location should be regarded as an open issue for the present, with a view to its establishment in closest possible contact with the international centres of political activity."

Richard Fagley, an American theologian who was appointed CCIA Executive Secretary early on has noted with remarkable frankness the position in his 1966 booklet, The First Twenty Years: "The resources immediately available for such a venture were concentrated at the close of the war in the churches in the Anglo-Saxon countries, and above all in the United States... The composition of the Cambridge Conference of some 60 persons seems strange today. Over half the conferees were from the Anglo-Saxon countries (one-third from the US alone) and the conference chairman, the chairman of the drafting committee and one of the two secretaries were American. ... One could sense strong echoes of the common ethos of Western Christendom. ...The composition and orientation of the Cambridge conference reflected a situation and outlook, which had a pervasive and persistent influence on the first two decades of the CCIA. Nineteen of the original forty commissioners had English as their mother tongue and English remained the lingua franca of CCIA. Three of the four officers were English-speaking, as were seven of the eight staff members over the first twenty-year period."

Though this obviously set a particular tone for the work and had its impact on the political perspectives brought to bear (which became increasingly visible as the Cold War progressed), this did not mean that the Commission was narrow in the scope of its concern or in its action. Early on, consultative relations were established with the United Nations and key UN agencies, and the CCIA used this as an opportunity to give voice to the increasingly global perspectives of the ecumenical movement as the international organizations defined their own tasks.

Of most immediate priority was work on human rights, particularly on religious liberty. Immediately after this in order of priority were the political, military and disarmament concerns which had been at the center of discussion in the 1948 First WCC Assembly in Amsterdam. In 1949 the CCIA held a consultation on "The Ideological Conflict and the International Tensions Involved in it", and in 1951 a statement was issued entitled, "Christians Stand for Peace", the intention of which was to distinguish the CCIA approach from that of secular agencies serving clear ideological purposes.

Particular conflicts were also given special attention. In 1949 the Netherlands-Indonesia dispute was addressed. In 1950 the Korean War broke out, and the CCIA Executive advised the Central Committee (in what was to give rise to great controversy) to support the UN action which gave blessing to the US-led military engagement. In subsequent months the CCIA sought to moderate its stance, engaging actively in efforts to moderate the conflict and offering a proposal for the establishment of a Peace Observation Commission. In 1956, particular attention was paid to the Suez Conflict and to the Russian invasion of Hungary, where the CCIA called for respect for the UN Charter with respect to aggression against a sovereign state. The CCIA worked intensively during the 1940's and 1950's for a ban on atomic tests and a on a long-range strategy to control nuclear proliferation through a cessation not only of testing, but also on production of such weapons, and called for effective early-warning systems to be put in place. From 1951, Elfan Rees, a former military chaplain from Wales, was engaged in Geneva as an expert consultant on refugee problems, and in 1952 he was made CCIA representative in Europe. Through his efforts intensive work was done to increase financing for UN work with refugees and to improve international standards of protection. In 1949, the CCIA proposed to the UN General Assembly that an inclusive definition of the refugee problem be developed which went beyond that identified in Europe. Concern was expressed in particular for Palestinian refugees, and the Commission advised the WCC Central Committee to develop a comprehensive plan of action by the international community both for the stateless refugee and those who were homeless but not stateless. After the creation of the office of a UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1951, CCIA worked closely with the Department of Inter-Church Aid and with Lutheran World Relief to enlarge their humanitarian services. Close relations were kept with the UNHCR and efforts made to extend its mandate beyond Europe, especially to Africa. Special attention was paid to decolonization and the advancement of dependent peoples toward self-government and independence, though the approach was often tentative and over-cautious, reflecting the policies of many of the nations whose churches were members of the WCC. Special attention was paid to economic and social development in work with the relevant UN Committee, on population issues, and in 1965 formal consultative relations and cooperation was developed with UNCTAD, the newly created UN trade agency. Work was also done on international law and institutions and on the need to develop an international ethos respectful of the international rule of law.

The turning of the ecumenical tide
During the 1960s there was a sea change in the ecumenical movement. During this decade most of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches became full members of the WCC, bringing new perspectives and new concerns. The move to independence of a host of former colonies in Asia and Africa gave a new global vitality to the voice of the churches from the Third World, many of whom became members of the WCC in their own right. The 1966 WCC Conference on Church and Society brought these voices to the front stage. Some months before that, in February 1966, Willem Visser ‘t Hooft, who had served as General Secretary of the WCC in process of formation retired. He was succeeded by an American clergyman, Dr Eugene Carson Blake, who had distinguished himself as an international ecumenical leader and a bold advocate for social and racial justice in the early years of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. Blake was determined to make the WCC a truly representative world body in which the Orthodox and Third World Churches would have a full say. In the light of the conclusions of the 1966 Church and Society Conference, and in preparation for the Fourth WCC Assembly in Uppsala, he called a major consultation in 1968 to review the CCIA and reshape it in a way which would respond to the new demands of the ecumenical movement and the world.

The following year he invited a critical participant in the review conference held in The Hague to succeed Fred Nolde as Director of the CCIA. Dr Leopoldo J. Niilus, an Argentine lawyer who was serving then as General Secretary of the Church and Society Movement in Latin America (ISAL) oversaw radical changes. The headquarters of CCIA were moved from New York to Geneva bring it closer to what had become a new WCC. A new Commission was formed which was for the first time well balanced in terms of regional representation. Richard Fagley continued in New York as Executive Secretary with responsibility for relations with UN Headquarters, and Elfan Rees for some years in Geneva, but upon their retirement the staff of CCIA also changed radically both in terms of generations, political approach and geographical representation.

The agenda of the CCIA did not change, but its approach to the agenda was again radically altered. A three-year human rights policy review was engaged which led to a shift away from the Western-dominated one tilted in the direction of individual civil and political rights, to a more comprehensive approach incorporating social, economic and cultural rights and focusing more on the rights of peoples. This gave impetus to a new consciousness among the churches of the centrality of human rights and initiated two decades of aggressive work in support of churches living under military dictatorships in the Third World.

The results of the St Pölten Consultation on "Human Rights and Christian Responsibility" became a centerpiece of the Fifth WCC Assembly in Nairobi in 1975. A new approach was also taken to the UN Commission on Human Rights where the CCIA together with HRROLA was instrumental in bringing torture, the new phenomenon of forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions on the UN agenda and in formulating new international standards in these areas. In collaboration with other international human rights NGOs the death penalty was also brought to the Commission. CCIA was active in the development of new standards on "third generation" rights, such as the right to development and the right to peace. The same was true in the development of the UN Declaration on Religious Intolerance. Some of the statements developed by the CCIA served as basic documents for this work, and in some cases our definitional work was fundamental, as was the case in UN references to militarism and militarization. This work was facilitated by the fact that the Moderator of the CCIA during part of this period was Dr Theo van Boven, the former Director of the UN Human Rights Division and a recognized leader in the field. A Human Rights Advisory Group was also formed to guide the CCIA’s work in this field and it gave specific grounding both to policy development and advocacy for human rights around the world.

Work on disarmament continued with a continuing focus on nuclear disarmament, but alerting the churches to the growing threat posed by the profitable trade in conventional weapons and the spiraling process of militarization of world politics. During the late 1970s and early 1980s attention was turned back to nuclear weapons in response to their rapid proliferation and the growing threat of nuclear war. Important consultations were held on disarmament and militarization. In this period CCIA also co-sponsored an international public hearing on nuclear arms and disarmament in Amsterdam which heard testimony from national security advisors from both the USSR and the USA and a host of world experts on nuclear weapons. That work helped focus the Sixth WCC Assembly in Vancouver (1983) which adopted a landmark Statement on Peace with Justice. Again there was a strong advocacy dimension to this work, and church-based peace and anti-nuclear movements around the world were both encouraged by and relied substantially on WCC positions taken.

Special attention was given to East-West relations during the critical years of Cold War confrontation, but it was balanced by more intensive work in the Third World. CCIA played a critical role in achieving a peace agreement between North and South in Sudan in 1972, and during the 1980s opened up public dialogue between North and South Korea, bringing together for the first time in forty years Christians from the two sides for direct dialogue in the interests of reunification. An active role was also played with respect to the Middle East conflict, establishing relationships with the Palestine Liberation Organization and pressing for a comprehensive, negotiated peace for the region. ctive support was given churches in Asia and Latin America in their resistance to military dictatorships, and to churches in Africa engaged in struggles for independence from colonial rule and the yoke of apartheid in South Africa.

In 1979, mid-way through this period, Ninan Koshy, an Indian layman, replaced Niilus as Director, continuing in service through 1991. In that year the Council was restructured and incorporated the Human Rights Resources Office for Latin America. Charles Harper, the Brazilian-born American who had directed that program since 1973 became interim Director. In 1993, Dwain Epps was invited back to the staff as CCIA Coordinator.

Entering a new period
While the vision has altered considerably as world history has passed through its stages and the ecumenical movement has expanded and shifted in its directions, still there is coherence in the approach to international affairs. Thus this is a history with a considerable degree of continuity. The rationale for creating the Commission 54 years ago remains valid. So does much of the theological thinking that lay behind that rationale. The commitment has not changed. It fervently and unalterably seeks to guide the churches in their witness for peace, justice, for international institutions responsive to the will of the people of the world, and in their expression of global solidarity.

But as we have seen, radical adjustment in style and approach were needed at several points in this history. The "Note on the Contemporary Role of the Church in International Affairs" commended to the churches for study and action by the Central Committee in 1996 (included as an appendix to the booklet, The Role of the World Council of Churches in International Affairs) signals some of the new trends and challenges today. The radical changes in world affairs since 1991 have pressed international affairs to the epicenter of ecumenical concern and action. At the same time fewer and fewer churches and national and regional ecumenical bodies have adequately staffed departments of international affairs. As a result fundamental theological thinking, political analysis and action on many issues has fallen off. This is a dangerous state of affairs in a time when the incidence of religion as a factor in international relations is on the rapid increase, and more and more eyes turn to the churches for solid ethical, moral and theological guidance.

Churches around the world place increasing demands on the WCC to accompany and support them in situations of church-state tension; of ethnic, religious and other communal conflicts; and in their efforts to end wars. We need to be more active, yet we are ill equipped to meet all the demands. At the same time international institutions we have helped shape, and have accompanied, prodded and encouraged over half a century, also look to the WCC for leadership. Once again, our lack of resources and sometimes our lack of well-grounded proposals for more effective work push us away from important centers where our impact could be greater. The WCC is not alone in this. Like-minded secular non-governmental bodies also find themselves under similar constraints. Both they and we have had to narrow our focus and draw back for reasons of institutional survival from relationships, which strengthened our common advocacy work in the past.

Throughout its history CCIA’s Commissioners have been central to its work. During the immediate past period the decision to reduce the size of what were then called "Boards" to fifteen members which could meet only three times in seven years severely impaired our ability to engage the churches globally in critical dialogue on crucial issues. Nevertheless, the work has continued. The Central Committee in the period between the Canberra and Harare Assemblies has probably devoted more attention to international affairs than any time in the history of the WCC.

In analogous circumstances, J.H. Oldham, the ecumenical pioneer who chaired the preparatory committee for the 1937 Oxford Conference, commented that:

The preparatory work for the Oxford Conference has revealed how relatively slender are the resources on which the Church can at present draw for dealing with questions which lie on the border-line between doctrine and life; and which for their understanding and solution demand a combination of theological insight and an experience of practical affairs. The major value of the Oxford Conference may lie less in the value of the conclusions which it reached on the subjects with which it dealt than in the fact that it did something to awaken the mind of the Church to their significance and urgency, and attempted to lay foundations for the continued study of them in the years to come.








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