Peace and Justice Studies is a relatively new discipline that originated after World War I and grew quickly after the Vietnam War. The first programs were called "Peace Studies" or "Peace and Conflict Studies." In recent years, the understanding of peace has been developed and expanded. The Norwegian peace researcher Johan Galtung has popularized the term "positive peace" meaning the condition of society in which exploitation is minimized or eliminated altogether, and in which there is neither overt violence nor the more subtle phenomenon of structural violence. This understanding comes closer to the Judeo-Christian understanding of peace that stresses the development of right relationships between peoples and nations; this includes well-being, wholeness and harmony. This is often articulated in the words of Pope Paul IV, "If you want peace, work for justice."
Most of the recent programs have included this understanding of positive peace in naming their programs "Peace and Justice Studies" or increasingly "Justice and Peace Studies."
Some examples include:
Justice and Peace Studies Program at Saint Thomas University,
Program in Peace and Justice Studies at Fairfield University,
Justice and Peace at Georgetown University,
Faith, Peace and Justice at Boston College.
The program at Saint Michael's College wants to emphasize the relation between justice and peace. Initially, the coordinator wanted to call the program "Justice and Peace Studies." There are a number of reasons for this emphasis. From an empirical point of view, students cannot study either of these phenomena in isolation. Structures of social oppression, actual or perceived, are argued by many to be among the causes of war and other violent conflict. Such conflict also has obvious effects on social structure and on the possibility of attaining justice.
Justice and Peace Studies have grown exponentially in the last 20 years. The first undergraduate program in Peace Studies was formed 50 years ago at Manchester College. There are now over 500 colleges around the world with programs, including at least 6 graduate programs. The University for Peace, based in Costa Rica, was established by the United Nations in 1980 to implement the purpose expressed in the motto of the University, "If you want peace, prepare for peace." Their Charter reads:
The University for Peace was established pursuant to a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly in December 1980 to provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace, with the aim of promoting among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful co-existence, to stimulate co-operation amongst people and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations.
The United States government gave official recognition to the field of Peace studies in 1984 when it established the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), a federal agency that supports education and research on peace and conflict issues.
Numerous professional organizations have also shown support for Justice and Peace Studies, including the International Association of University Presidents, the National Council for the Social Studies, and the National Education Association. Peace and Justice Studies have received coverage in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Chronicle of Higher Education, National Catholic Reporter and other publications.
Peace and Justice at Saint Michael's College
Many Catholic college and universities have programs in Peace and Justice Studies. In their encyclical, The Challenge of Peace, the Catholic bishops of the United States wrote:
We urge universities, particularly Catholic universities, in our country to develop programs for rigorous interdisciplinary research, education and training directed toward peacemaking expertise (97).
The minor in Peace and Justice also fits well with the mission of Saint Michael's College - to enhance human dignity and human culture in light of the Catholic faith. The first sentence on the home page of Saint Michael's College reminds us that: Saint Michael's offers a values-based education in which students, faculty and staff share a serious commitment to social justice and service to others.
The minor in Peace and Justice also seeks to build on the commitment of our students to community service best exemplified in our award winning MOVE Program. As articulated in the five aspects of the Edmundite learning tradition:
A very prominent aspect of the Edmundite tradition is a commitment to service. Love of God and one's neighbor is at the root of this tradition. And the parable of the Good Samaritan suggests that those whose needs we could serve are indeed our neighbors.
Service is based fundamentally on an acceptance of social responsibility not only for other individuals but also for one's community and society. An understanding of how one fulfills this social responsibility in today's world is an important objective of a Saint Michael's education. There is an important two-way relationship between service and learning.
Peace and Justice: The Mission of the Society of Saint Edmund
In June 1998, the Society held its first Assembly General Chapter open to all professed members. This Assembly Chapter directed the new administration to develop a unified plan for implementing the Church’s preferential option for the poor, and a social and interracial justice ministry in all areas of Edmundite life. The Chapter also directed that the Society evaluate its endeavors in the light of the Constitutions and Directory, and the 1994 Chapter resolution on Evangelization, to ensure that the Society’s efforts reflect an option for the poor, a commitment to social justice, a commitment to common life and prayer, and participation of the people.
This directive responds to the appeal of Pope John Paul II to institutes involved in education to continue their efforts, seeing education as a particular expression of the preferential option for the poor, as a means for "freeing people from that grave form of poverty which is the lack of cultural and religious training." The call of Pope John Paul II for a new evangelization to renew the Church and the world for the Third Millennium has become particularly meaningful because the essential mission of the Edmundite Community is evangelization, "manifesting to the people that the Church is for them". The apostolic life of the Society of Saint Edmund proclaims in word and deed the words of the Apostle: "You are strangers and aliens no longer. No, you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God."
The Society has been proud of our commitment to social justice over the years. In the spirit of the Society and in response to the call of the Church, Fathers Casey and Paro went to Selma, Alabama, in the summer of 1937 and initiated an apostolate among African Americans by going to where the need was greatest. There began the Edmundite Southern Missions that led to other needy areas of Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Louisiana. From that time on, an important part of the Society’s mission has been to embrace the culture and heritage of the African American community and to affirm a special emphasis on social justice and the preferential option for the poor. Rooted in the gospel, a significant part of the apostolate in the Southern Missions has been the exercise of Christ’s charity toward all the needy with those whom the Society has had contact, regardless of race or religion. Indeed, the first Edmundite Rule directed this endeavor when it said, "Our love must extend to all and in some way embrace all. The needy, the poor, the ignorant… need to experience our love more than others."
When Pope John XXIII asked the religious communities of the United States to dedicate ten percent of their personnel to serve in Latin America, the Society of Saint Edmund responded. Since 1964 Edmundites have served in Caracas in two adjacent parishes: one in a middle-class neighborhood, the other in an impoverished barrio. In Prados del Este, the middle-class area, and in Las Minas, the barrio, local people have worked with the Edmundites to build a vibrant faith community. With the same spirit that brought them together to build a church in the barrio that was completed and dedicated in 1974, both parishes continue to demonstrate active concern for the less fortunate.
In 1994 the Society founded Bishop Perry Middle School in New Orleans. This school was established for African-American males who are financially less privileged and who do not have access to quality education. The goal of Bishop Perry Middle School has been to provide a value-laden, comprehensive educational program for adolescent inner-city African American boys. This school offers a structured environment of strict discipline with a low student-to-teacher ratio during an extended school day - all designed to foster positive values as an alternative to the destructive influence of the streets. The school's vision is to see that their young students are able to face the challenges of high school and to become aware of their cultural heritage.
The Program on Justice and Peace engages the Mission of the Society of Saint Edmund to understand and solve global problems. It is an interdisciplinary program drawing on the strength of college faculty in areas such as international relations, ethics and values, social analysis, community service, human rights and social responsibility. Although the Program's objectives include teaching about avoiding war and resolving conflicts, our fundamental goal is to understand the structural injustices that cause war and violence and to alter them so as to realize positive peace.
To learn more about Peace and Justice, visit
the Edmundite Center for Peace & Justice