Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

A Christological Social Science? Reflections from a Political Scientist on Future Directions in Mennonite-Anabaptist Peace Studies and Theology

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

A Christological Social Science? Reflections from a Political Scientist on Future Directions in Mennonite-Anabaptist Peace Studies and Theology

Article excerpt

In this essay I argue that future Anabaptist peace studies should engage critical debates in contemporary political science using social scientific tools and methods. Experts in these fields have much to contribute to current debates and can do so from an Anabaptist perspective, provided that their social science is firmly grounded in theology and done in the context of the life of the church.

The number of professional political scientists who are confessing Anabaptists is currently very small; and the number of Mennonite scholars in international relations and comparative politics even smaller: Sandra Joireman counts but four. (1) This is unfortunate, because there are many important research projects in contemporary international relations that are of interest to Mennonites and Anabaptists, and much that Mennonites and Anabaptists have to contribute.

No topic is as important in international relations as the fundamental question of war and peace. These themes have long animated the theoretical debates in the field. Questions of when war is more or less likely and what international systems are more or less prone to conflict (especially conflict between the great powers) are crucial in debates within and between the dominant schools of international relations theory.

These questions have led to important empirical work on when war is most likely to occur. The "correlates of war" project begun at the University of Michigan in 1963, for example, continues to produce important empirical data and research, particularly on the role of democracy in the prevention of war. Jack Levy has famously observed that the "absence of war between democracies comes as close as anything we have to an empirical law in international relations." (2) This in turn has spawned a debate in the literature on the democratic peace (3) and important policy debates on the promotion of democracy as a path to advancing peace and stability.

Moving beyond the correlates of war and democratic peace debates, two important social science journals, the journal of Conflict Resolution and the Journal of Peace Research, are dedicated to issues of likely interest to Anabaptist social scientists. These journals focus heavily on the causes of inter-state and intra-state conflict and evaluate various possible solutions, including the role of mediation programs, the effectiveness of conflict resolution seminars and the constraints faced by leaders and policy makers. These journals publish exceptional work, much of it using the most sophisticated tools and models in the discipline.

As important as knowledge about the causes of war is an understanding of how to put society back together after the conflict. This might mean studying the feasibility, necessity and different constructions of truth and reconciliation commissions or studying issues of transitional justice and human rights accountability, or the potential trade-offs between stability and punishment. (4) It might also mean studying what it takes to reconcile people who were once trying to kill each other, so that they can live next door to one another once again. The innovative work of a Catholic thinker, Dan Philpott, on this theme pushes toward a theological account of reconciliation that will follow his recently edited volume on religion, reconciliation and transitional justice. (5)

There is also a large literature on nonviolence and peacemaking and conflict transformation. A recent study on the role of the Catholic Church in resistance to the Pinochet regime in Chile demonstrated that current literature in this field has consistently ignored religious influences on the success of nonviolent movements. (6) When, why and how do religious groups and religious people affect nonviolent movements? These are important questions that are likely to be of interest to Anabaptist scholars.

Another critical question is under what conditions nongovernmental organizations can impact state behavior. …

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