Sunday, May 09, 2010

Teach nonviolence: Early efforts

On December 5, 1987, a meeting was convened at the University of California-Irvine. Representatives of 23 peace studies programs attended and many others expressed their strong support for the initiative. This meeting explored the needs of peace studies programs, agreed upon the necessary steps toward meeting those needs, and formed The Peace Studies Association.

One early peace studies program was at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, a Quaker school. The academic major was launched in 1974 and has several tracks, none of which include the word nonviolence, and one of which is "Religion and Pacifism." The base and tilt of that program is the tradition of pacifism based on the Quaker Peace Testimony of 1660, which in many ways was the recognition of the dangers of trying to mix politics and religion. While the 1660 document was clear on pacifism, it also removed Quakers from their controversial role that had earned them so much oppression when founder George Fox allied himself with Oliver Cromwell and then Cromwell lost power. The identification of pacifism rather than nonviolence in many ways is adaptive for the Quakers but it made the introduction of the notion of strategic nonviolence into curricula somewhat harder. Indeed, while the core of the Earlham Peace and Global Studies program requires a 100-level "History and Theory of Nonviolent Movements" course, there are no other courses in the current major with the word nonviolence in them and "Marxism" is actually required in two of the tracks. Pacifism, not nonviolence, is the clear focus.

On the other hand, the first peace studies program established in the US, in 1948 at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, has been in evolution toward understanding movements at the curricular level since at least 1971 with its launch of Nonviolent Social Change, (newsletter dove logo) its newsletter devoted to understanding nonviolent movements. Ken Brown (photo: Kenneth Brown) and others have been the heart and soul of that evolution. They have helped students who wish to be a part of various mass nonviolent movements (at the School of the Americas protest, photo from Manchester College Peace Studies files) and they integrate their Church of the Brethren religious pacifism roots with a strong study of strategic nonviolence.

Another welcome initiative was the Plowshares Collaboration between Goshen College, Earlham College and Manchester College peace programs, though in the long and multipronged set of mission items the word nonviolence never appears.

Pacifism as an individual spiritual witness has marked the historic peace churches for more than 400 years. Entraining Gandhi's theories and practice of mass liberatory nonviolence has been much more recent, but it has happened far more seriously just in the past few years, as the early work of Gene Sharp has begun to bear fruit and shows its robust value. This slow incorporation of a more flinty-eyed idealism has been the result of Sharp's ongoing work and that of his many excellent proteges, many of whom have their own mentees and schools of thought and praxis.

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