Teaching Peace and Justice, On Their Own Merits | Sojourners

Teaching Peace and Justice, On Their Own Merits

Should a Christian liberal arts college offer studies in peace?

Well, Jesus isn’t the prince of economics or political science…

Hope College, a school of 3,432 in Holland, Mich. — celebrating its 150th birthday this year — has joined a group of esteemed universities and colleges in offering its students a minor in peace and justice. Hope College’s mission “to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society … in the context of the historic Christian faith” makes peace and justice studies a hand-in-glove fit.

And Hope’s legacy includes a uniquely special American connection to the cause of peace: A. J. Muste, lifelong peace activist and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a Hope alumnus.

Peace studies programs, often integrated with justice or conflict resolution themes, exist in some form at over one hundred colleges and universities, many of them church-related institutions. Peace studies is a distinct discipline — though it overlaps and involves aspects of many other fields, peace studies is not included within political science, sociology, economics, or any other longer-established discipline. Peace studies is normative: it considers peace and human thriving to be preferable to violent conflict.

From this foundation, peace studies combine research, analysis, and practice in an attempt to answer questions of what peace actually requires, why accepted wisdom has failed to move civilization away from violence and toward peace, and how people have successfully reformed social, economic, and political relationships to achieve sustainable peace. And through this study, real-world answers are emerging.

At Hope College, ventures to add Peace and Justice Studies to its more than eighty majors developed over the past three years. In the fall of 2013, a faculty nucleus led by Deirdre Johnston, Professor of Communication and a leader of intergroup dialogue, and Alfredo Gonzales, Associate Provost and Dean for International and Multicultural Education, coalesced to propose and advocate for a minor in peace and justice at Hope. They wanted Hope to offer a program that would be more than just a collection of cross-listed courses between disciplines. Instead, they aimed to create a program that would offer students a coherent and vocational foundation in peace and justice, one that could empower students to follow their convictions into further education and work in peace and justice after their years at Hope.

Curriculum additions always face scrutiny and hurdles: Does this expansion fit within our educational mission? Is there sufficient interest and money? To gauge interest, four hundred Hope students were polled on the potential new program, and two faculty members attended a summer institute at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies to glean insights and help guide the program’s development.

Hope inaugurated its Peace with Justice Minor in September 2015. The minor includes nearly fifty elective courses drawn from virtually all major fields: "Colonizers and Colonized: Modern Imperialism" (history), "Global Political Economy" (political science), "Race in America" (psychology), "Feminist Visions of Justice" (women’s studies), and "Environmental Philosophy and History" (environmental studies). The minor also includes a capstone course, "Christianity and the Quest for Peace."

The new program has immediately drawn student interest, and enrolled students have engaged the program with zeal. Faculty outside the original nucleus are meeting regularly to discuss peace studies literature and look to integrate peace and justice research into their own courses and across disciplines. The college is expressing keen intent to nurture and expand the program as it prepares students to engage global relationships and issues with Christian nonviolence, mutuality, and equitable justice.

For me, Hope’s entry into peace and justice studies fulfills a sense of call. After early retirement from a fulfilling career in ophthalmic surgery, I earned a master’s degree in peace studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Hope College asked me to teach the minor’s gateway course, "Introduction to Peace Studies." The students who enrolled this fall proved to be bright — brilliant, really — and eager to learn.

In one hundred days these students have made the Peace and Justice Studies minor at Hope College a successful, burgeoning reality. To my happy surprise, they have chewed on, digested, and transformed our course material into something imaginative, muscular, and moral — a program I am confident will move their lives. How inexplicably remarkable! I for one can’t wait to see it happen again.

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