35 Years of University Peace Studies Bear Fruit

By True, Michael | National Catholic Reporter, October 21, 2005 | Go to article overview
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35 Years of University Peace Studies Bear Fruit


True, Michael, National Catholic Reporter


More than 300 colleges and universities in the United States now offer courses in peace, conflict and nonviolence studies. Although peace studies programs vary, depending upon the staff and focus of individual colleges and universities, all can contribute to making peacemakers more thoughtful about their efforts.

Peace studies emerged principally from the social sciences, psychology and sociology, but programs have also originated in departments of religion, physics, languages and literature. Course offerings vary in emphasis and strength but typically include classes in conflict transformation, nonviolent communication and human rights. Although there are few professorships in peace studies, academics from various departments coordinate programs' undergraduate, graduate and continuing education courses.

A major premise of peace studies is that conflict in our society is woefully misunderstood. Conflict is inevitable and sometimes good, but it may also lead to violence, which is not inevitable. Peace and conflict studies have focused on mediation, conflict transformation, mad strategies of nonviolence--skills that are important for labor organizers, classroom teachers, as well as protesters on the picket line.

As a teacher, the interdiscipline of peace studies discovery enabled me to integrate my personal commitment to peacemaking with my scholarly commitment to American literature and the history of nonviolence, making my work with students more coherent. In addition to reading the antiwar poetry of Wilfred Owen and the antiwar fiction of Ernest Hemingway, we also read works that emphasized how to build peace, such as The Moral Equivalent of War by William James, and the poems of Denise Levertov and William Stafford.

Since its beginnings, peace studies programs have relied on the collaborative efforts of academics and activists. Peace researchers have assisted the conflict-reduction organizations Peace Brigades International in Colombia, and Nonviolence Peaceforce in Sri Lanka.

A professor who has integrated his activism with academics is Bernard LaFayette, director of peace and nonviolence studies at the University of Rhode Island. Lafayette, who led a Freedom Ride through the South at age 20, now teaches courses and workshops on nonviolence around the world. In 2002, he led a peace walk in southern Colombia organized by land workers who had been victimized by heavily armed paramilitaries, rebels and drug lords. The walk inspired Anibal Gaviria, governor of the Colombian state of Antioquia, to launch a campaign of education in nonviolence for state and municipal administrators of his region.

Since 1970, when Joseph Fahey, a professor at Manhattan College in New York and member of Pax Christi, initiated one of the earliest peace studies, Catholic colleges and universities have been valuable resource centers for peace, conflict, and nonviolence studies.

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