Gandhi and Peace Studies – by David Maxwell

This article was first published in issue 96 of The Gandhi Way

What are Peace Studies ? They describe a new academic discipline first introduced in the second half of the 20th century. Peace Studies draw on subjects like anthropology, psychology, political science and ethics, but differ from them in stating a required outcome, Peace. In 1985 the idea of such a discipline drew flak from commentators like Roger Scruton who wrote in The Times newspaper :

“When the tide of drivel has swollen to such proportions that the University of Bradford can offer a first degree in a subject, peace studies, that does not even exist, it is surely time to ask whether there might be a better use of taxpayer’s money”.

Bradford replied:

“For the record there are university departments and research centres in the USA, West Germany, Canada, Holland, Finland, Sweden and many other countries.”

The first thirty years of Bradford’s Department of Peace Studies was a time of remarkable growth. When it opened in 1974 there were 5 staff and 20 students who believed that peace could be studied, violent conflict prevented or resolved, and, in the long run, war as an institution abolished. The first Professsor, Adam Curle, successfully mediated to end the war in Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War. His last work before he died was helping the war-traumatised in former Yugoslavia. By 2002, 20 Peace Studies students had grown to 200 a year. Many were postgraduates. The number of PhD students is currently about 100. The external examiners recently gave the Department top grades in everything they assessed.

Students come from all over the world. They go on to jobs with NGOs, as diplomats, journalists, and consultants. Others move to other universities and teach similar courses, sometimes with different names e.g. Conflict Resolution or Transforming Conflict. Andrew Rigby teaches Reconciliation and Forgiveness at Coventry University. Gandhi would have approved of that ! There are frequent attempts to get new courses going, and the number of books on peace studies listed on Google demonstrates the potential – 4,000 books, with 3,500 of them best sellers. However, finding the funding for academics to set up and students to attend new courses requires more money and effort than buying a few popular books. Those tempted to give up, can find inspiration in Gandhi’s life story. Note the decades of strenuous preparation that preceded each major breakthrough.

Why the current explosion of interest in Peace Studies ? Consider this change. When Gandhi was born, wars were fought with footsoldiers and cavalry and no weapon more destructive than a cannon. Remember Tennyson’s poem of that period ? The Charge of the Light Brigade. By the end of Gandhi’s life one atom bomb dropped from one plane could wipe out a whole city. Gandhi, horrified by the atom bomb, wrote that it convinced him even more strongly that the way forward had to be a nonviolent one, not a military one. Gandhi’s greatness lay in a lifetime of actual experiments in nonviolence. He challenged us all in his dictum:

“Be the change you want to see.”

It is no accident that Peace Studies was first introduced as an academic discipline in its own right in 1950 in the Universities of Michigan and Oslo. Both Kenneth Boulding in Michigan and Johan Galtung in Oslo were admirers of Gandhi. After two atom bombs had abruptly ended World War II, far-sighted people could see the danger later so narrowly averted in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Studying International Relations as if war and peace were equally valid ways of conducting diplomacy had begun to seem questionable when large scale nuclear war could destroy life on earth. The new discipline of Peace Studies was about conducting international relations without resorting to war.

In the 50s the Rev Martin Luther King Junior studied Gandhi and took his nonviolent experiment further. His success showed that Gandhi’s method did not depend solely on the charisma of Gandhi himself or the Indian context of nationalism versus imperialism. Successful resistance to segregation by the black churches in the Southern States of the USA still had in common with Gandhi’s satyagrahas three major factors: disciplined nonviolence, religious conviction by those who made major personal sacrifices, and sympathetic support from wider public opinion fed by media reporting. The effect of the Civil Rights Movement was to add an ethnic relations dimension to Peace Studies.

I would like to talk briefly about the current job of one graduate who wrote his PhD at Bradford on Gandhi, Timmon Wallis. After working abroad as a peaceworker he currently trains and assesses peaceworkers for International Alert. Gandhi would have been delighted at the concept of training peace workers. His name for what he called a ‘peace army’ was ‘shanti sena‘. Gandhi insisted that peace requires the same courage and trained discipline as war. Peaceworkers need training in courage and discipline. Gandhi tried in his Ashrams and through his Constructive Work to provide some training so that people could go into nonviolent action fully prepared and supported. Peaceworkers UK currently provides five levels of competence in peace work and assesses responses of students by simulations of real situations.

A current development in the Peace Studies course at Tuft University, USA is that students are being asked to commit themselves to the equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath which doctors make. They are required to promise to follow their studies by going into an ethical job and to make ethical choices in their future lives. Gandhi, who made solemn vows at key moments in his life including the vow to resist Indian Registration in Africa, would have approved of that. But reading of Tufts’ requirements does raise the question of how few ethical demands are made by academia generally of students. Gandhi vowed vegetarianism when he studied in London. He persuaded 3,000 to vow nonviolence in 1906. When he read Ruskin’s Unto This Last on a train journey in South Africa, it led to a dramatic personal change in lifestyle. It would be interesting to know whether some military sponsored students currently at Bradford University will complete the course able to feel that peace studies and military strategies can be mixed or tried in turn, or whether there is a whole religious or moral ethic behind peace studies, dependent on trust, dependent on consistency over time. The concept of mixing peace studies and war studies seem as dubious as trying to mix oil and water. Peace Studies ultimately respects life, whereas the bottom line in War Studies would appear to be the death of the less powerful.

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Categories: Nonviolence


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