What is Peace Studies?
Peace studies is an interdisciplinary academic field that draws on political science, sociology, history, anthropology, theology, psychology, philosophy, and other fields to:
- understand the causes of armed conflict;
- develop ways to prevent and resolve war, genocide, terrorism, gross violations of human rights; and
- build peaceful and just systems and societies.
The foundations of the field were laid in Europe in the 1950s and '60s with the founding of several peace research institutes. Some of the oldest and most prestigious peace research institutions include the Peace Research Institute of Oslo; the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University in Sweden; and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The first colleges in the U.S. to offer peace studies were associated with historic peace churches (Quaker, Mennonite, and Church of the Brethren). The number of academic programs in peace studies grew substantially in North America after the Vietnam War and in response to the nuclear arms buildup of the 1980s.
The field today
About 400 colleges and universities around the world offer peace studies programs of one kind or another (only a few, including the Kroc Institute, also offer graduate degrees). In 1986, the Kroc Institute was founded to provide leadership in peace studies, a growing field that is increasingly drawn upon by scholars, foreign ministries, the United Nations, humanitarian agencies, civil society organizations, government, and the military.
As a 50+-year-old academic field, peace studies has a literature (books and journals), an active base of scholars, an established curriculum, and a pedagogical tradition that includes classroom teaching, experiential learning, internships, and international study.
Peace scholars respond to the issues of the day, including genocide (after WWII), the nuclear arms race (during the Cold War and today), and civil war, religious and ethnic violence, and terrorism. Peace studies courses cover a wide range of issues related to peace, conflict, violence, justice, inequality, social change, and human rights. Classes reflect the latest research and serve as laboratories for best practices and policies for building peace.
Within peace studies, “peace” is defined not just as the absence of war (negative peace), but also the presence of the conditions for a just and sustainable peace, including access to food and clean drinking water, education for women and children, security from physical harm, and other inviolable human rights (positive peace). This idea is rooted in the understanding that a “just peace” is the only sustainable kind of peace; an approach that seeks merely to “stop the guns” while ignoring the denial of human rights and unjust social and political conditions will not work in the long run.
Peace studies and pacifism
Some peace scholars and educators are absolute pacifists (opposing the use of military force in all circumstances), but many are not, and there is no litmus test for one's place in the field. Scholars and peacebuilders are united not by ideology, but by a commitment to finding nonviolent solutions rooted in justice. Many see themselves as contributing to a body of knowledge and practice that historically has been neglected in favor of the study and practice of war. But peace studies is not "anti-military." Many peace scholars are in conversation with the military, and many in the military are supportive of peace studies.
Careers in peace studies
Peace studies education prepares students for a wide variety of careers. Graduates become researchers, educators, negotiators, mediators, government officials, businesspeople, activists, and professionals in organizations focused on human rights, dispute resolution, environmental protection, international law, and human and economic development.