Serious Academic Approach to the Study of Peace

Article excerpt

When Pope John XXIII wrote about the need for universal peace in April of 1963, faculty at Manhattan College, a Catholic school in the Bronx, started thinking about how to act on his words.

At the time, many people were pondering peace, with the growth of the nuclear arms race and the escalating situation in Vietnam. Manhattan College was among the schools that eventually contributed to the discussion.

In 1966, it offered its first course on peace, and by 1971, students could major in peace studies, making it the second-oldest program in the United States. (The pioneer was Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., which began its program in 1948.) Today dozens of schools have them.

At the helm of Manhattan's program is Margaret Groarke, a political scientist and thoughtful purveyor of alternatives to conflict. The director of the peace program since 1999, she regularly teaches an introductory peace-studies course, and is also a professor in the school's government department. She spoke with the Monitor recently about the program and her teaching approach.

What does peace studies include?

We see it as an interdisciplinary program that allows students to focus their study on the problems of creating peace and justice, and there are five areas we see fitting under that: arms races and war; economic, political, and social justice; conflict creation, management, and resolution; nonviolent philosophies and strategies of resistance; and world community and world government.

Based on that range of topics, how do you define peace?

I think, in common parlance, peace means the absence of war. And the first thing that students learn in peace studies is that the absence of war is a very insufficient definition of peace.

There's a notion in peace studies that there is such a thing as "negative" peace, that we can have the absence of conflict - "I'm not shooting at you right now, and therefore we are at peace" - but the relations between us might not be just. Maybe you're oppressing me, maybe we're barely stifling our desire to kill each other over some territorial dispute.

That's not peace. It's not peace until we've worked out a just solution to that problem, whatever it might be. And that's what we think of as "positive" peace, and that includes what most people would think of as justice.

Students sometimes say to me, "Why is it called peace studies? Why isn't it called peace and justice studies?" And what people have said here ... is that that's repetitive: Peace includes justice.

What approach do you take in your teaching?

In the introduction to peace studies, I try to expose students to a number of different things, with the idea that they can pick some other courses to follow those ideas through. I try to teach a bit of the philosophy of peace, and some of those ideas about negative and positive [peace]. …