The emerging interdisciplinary field of Peace Studies–known variously as “peace and conflict studies,” “conflict analysis and resolution,” or “peace and justice studies”–is concerned with practical, normative questions of how to realize peace and justice in the everyday world. The ultimate goal of Peace Studies in the university context, however phrased, is to produce practically useful scholarship on how to create a more just and peaceful world. Such scholarship requires empirical accounts of the causes of war and violence; practical understandings of how to prevent and ameliorate harmful social conditions; and theoretical reflections on the definition of justice. Each of these investigations can take place at all levels of social organization, from the individual to the family, from the small group to the nation, or at the level of the international community.
Our subject matter asks many basic questions. What is peace? What is conflict? How can one be encouraged and the other avoided? Students are exposed to a rich and contentious literature on the nature of peace and justice, and which informs discussions in many other traditions as well. Questions of central interest to the field concern the material and psychological determinants of aggression, the role of families and other institutions in producing aggressive or peaceful societies, the origins of social inequality, techniques of representing others, and the role of such representations in the building of communities. We also ask questions about the role of religious identity in forming the social conscience, when wars are just or unjust, the causes of war, the legitimacy or efficacy of international norms of conduct, and the effectiveness of various techniques of resolving conflict in different settings.
Obviously such questions draw on a wide range of existing disciplines including Psychology, Philosophy, Theology, History, Political Science, Sociology, Anthropology, Literature, and Linguistics. Equally essential is that the field requires an active collaboration and dialogue between all these elements. The goal is not just to combine existing scholarship, but to form a useful synthesis of such material with an eye to improving the world around us.
Peace Studies in its various incarnations has shown enormous growth in the last 20 years. The first undergraduate program in Peace Studies was formed over 50 years ago at Manchester College. There are now over 300 colleges around the world with programs. The field is represented by a few major professional organizations, including the Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA). There are numerous scholarly journals devoted specifically to the field of Peace Studies, and several publishers produce on-going book series. Much relevant publication also goes on within traditional disciplines.
Thus, students in the program can expect to:
- acquire understanding and demonstrate knowledge of the major concepts, theories, and methods in the study of peace, justice, conflict transformation, and nonviolence;
- develop a more thorough understanding of the economic, social, political, philosophical, and theological dimensions of justice and conflict in neighborhoods, countries, and the global community;
- understand and begin to critically assess alternative conceptions of a just society;
- be able to develop and execute research projects integrating theory, analysis, and practice;
- develop their writing and speaking skills so that they can effectively convey their knowledge;
- develop skills of synthesis and imagination that allow them to bring multiple perspectives to bear in creative ways; and
- engage in work in the community in a way that is both informed by theory and that provides crucial tests of theory.
Peace Studies and the Jesuit Mission
The Program on Justice and Peace (JUPS) engages Georgetown University’s Jesuit mission to understand and solve global problems. It is an interdisciplinary program drawing on the strength of university faculty in areas such as international relations, ethics and values, social analysis, community based learning, human rights, and social responsibility. Although the Program’s objectives include teaching about avoiding war and transforming conflicts nonviolently, our fundamental goal is to understand the structural injustices that cause war and violence and to alter them so as to realize positive peace.
JUPS has borrowed from Jesuit pedagogy in structuring its curriculum at four levels:
- at the introductory level, students develop the analytical skills and concepts to understand the structural sources of war, oppression, and violence;
- students engage in service and social action to help address those problems;
- students reflect on their actions and undertake social analysis within a moral framework; and
- as a capstone exercise, students develop a sustained original analysis of a theoretical or practical issue.