Peace studies gain ground at colleges
By The Baltimore Sun
May 28, 2004 - 11:40:11 pm PDT
At Goucher College in Baltimore, no single path leads to peace.
In Jennifer Bess' class, Being Human, students examine the idea of
purposefulness. In Beyond Words, a course designed by Nitzan Gordon,
students dance, hug and speak of their interior lives. In lawyer Seble
Dawit's international human rights seminar, students examine pivotal court
"You look at (peace) academically, theoretically, internationally, and on
the practical side, when you work in an after-school program," says junior
Lindsay Johnson, 21, who is pursuing an interdisciplinary major in peace
studies, education and theater. "It's been so fascinating. Each lens I look
through, I learn something new."
At a time of war and terrorism, the growth of Goucher's peace studies
program -- from a single offering 14 years ago to 18 courses today --
reflects the burgeoning conviction among students and scholars that peace
studies have a place on U.S. college campuses alongside other, more
traditional fields of inquiry.
"Since 9/11, there's been an unprecedented interest in peace and justice
issues, and students in unprecedented numbers have flocked into classes,"
says Simona Sharoni, director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association,
based at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
In the United States alone, more than 70 undergraduate departments offer
degrees in peace studies. Some 90 schools have master's programs and 30
offer doctorates in the field. All told, there are more than 300 programs of
peace study in the United States, at institutions ranging from Indiana's
tiny Earlham College to its huge cross-state neighbor, Notre Dame
And yet, even as they expand, peace studies programs confront what Dawit,
director of Goucher's program, calls a "credibility lag." Many people don't
know what the field is, or question its academic legitimacy. While certain
peace studies programs are generously endowed, others can be easily
overlooked by funding sources and are susceptible to budget cuts.
Part of the problem is that a definition of peace studies is a work in
"There's no consensus on what peace studies is," says Nancy Hanawi, a
conflict resolution specialist at the University of California at Berkeley
and co-chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. The field has
experienced "major development in the past five to 10 years in terms of
conception, theory and practice, but if you look in six different places,
you will find rather different things."
The challenge for programs like these, says Matthew Hartley, an assistant
professor in the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education,
"is the fact that they're interdisciplinary and don't have a disciplinary
home." Because such programs lack a "basis of power" within the university,
he says, they are often the places that get hit first during budget cuts.
For the field of peace studies to take root in larger research universities,
it "will have to ultimately legitimize itself through advancing our
knowledge about how the world works," Hartley says. Other fields once
considered faddish, such as women's studies, have worked their way into the
academic mainstream, he says.
The first peace studies program was established in 1948 at Manchester
College, an Indiana school affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, a
pacifist denomination. After the Vietnam War, the field grew steadily.
At Goucher, the peace studies program began in 1990 with a nonviolence
course taught by its first director, philosophy Professor Joe Morton. From
there, the program grew somewhat haphazardly with courses taught by scholars
drawn to the subject from different departments.
In their idiosyncratic way, those in the peace studies field "have gradually
built up its credentials through courses, peace journals and conferences,"
says Morton, who retired in 2000, but continues to teach a popular course on
Whether based on spiritual tenets, such as the peace studies program at
Earlham, a Quaker college in Indiana, or on secular scholarship at a small
liberal arts school such as Goucher, peace studies offer different ways to
examine conflict, Dawit says.
"Conflict is not the problem," says the human rights lawyer, whom Goucher
hired three years ago to create a major in the field. "The problem is
continuing human reliance on incredible and often catastrophic violence as a
means of resolving conflict."
Strategies for resolving conflict apply equally to both war-torn countries
and neighborhoods ravaged by the drug trade, says Dawit, 40, a woman with a
precise manner of speech and a radiant smile. She refers to a course in
which Goucher students work with Baltimore City children to learn
"Our lab is the community. Whether it's Kuala Lumpur or Baltimore, the basic
challenges of living a human and connected life are the same."
Faculty in Goucher's peace studies program see it as a conduit for lessons
that might not be possible in other, more narrowly focused, departments.
Bess, whose field of study is English Renaissance literature, designed the
Being Human course because students in her classes "were raising questions
about themselves and the literature we were reading that I felt deserved
more time and more attention."
In Gordon's Beyond Words course, students explore childhood trauma. A
painful childhood leaves its mark in ways that are physical as well as
emotional, she says. Grief and anger stored in the body must be recognized
and treated through exercises, dance and healing contact with others, if
ethnic, racial and religious differences are to be resolved, she says.
"I've seen so many people try to work through (differences) through just the
use of words and it doesn't work," says Gordon, a dance therapist who has
presented workshops in Israel since 1989 that train Arab and Israeli
kindergarten teachers to become leaders in the coexistence effort.
Despite its breadth, peace studies still suffer from a reputation as a
rag-tag collection of classes thrown together by 1960s-style idealists.
"We are dealing with a credibility lag that is not appropriate to the
numbers of programs that we have and the strengths of the programs that we
have," Dawit says. "The fact is, these are no longer marginal programs in
With a degree in peace studies, "Graduates end up working on economic
justice issues, human rights and in academic settings," says Andres Thomas
Conteris, a 1984 graduate of Earlham College's Peace and Global Studies
program. Conteris, 42, is a Latin American human rights activist and program
director for Nonviolence International in Washington, D.C., who recently
attracted media attention for protesting the nomination of John D.
Negroponte as U.S. ambassador to
Iraq. (Negroponte was confirmed by the Senate earlier this month.)
In 10 years, peace studies enrollment at Goucher has multiplied from 41
students to more than 200 currently taking courses in the program. The
school's administration is committed to the expansion of peace studies into
a major, says Michael Curry, vice president and academic dean. The
curriculum must be approved at several levels, including the school's board
of trustees and the Maryland State Department of Higher Education.
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