The Online Guide to Undergraduate Peace Studies Programs

Everyone’s heard the bad news: terrorism, climate change, economic injustice, gun violence, bullying, discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other markers of one’s identity … on and on down the long list of conflicts and challenges facing the world in the 21st century.

Often overlooked is the growing number of people eager to meet these challenges head on, by working to reduce, manage and transform conflict – not to mention preventing it by building a more peaceful, just world. One reflection of this trend is the rapidly growing number of college and university programs designed to provide aspiring peacebuilders with the academic foundation and practical skills needed to sow seeds of peace with justice in the 21st century. Peacecolleges.com (also at peacejusticestudy.com) is the first college guide intended specifically for prospective students with a passion for combining a desire for social justice with the techniques of peacebuilding.

Peace study is young as an academic discipline

As an academic discipline, peace studies is a relatively young field. Interdisciplinary in its earliest stage of development, peace studies initially borrowed heavily from the social sciences to analyze and understand the nature and roots of conflict. It is now recognized as a field in its own right, with theorists and academicians who began their careers and remain in the field of conflict studies and practice. A rapidly growing body of knowledge has been developed by academics and practitioners who are interested in practical techniques, processes and methods to creatively and constructively solve conflict and create a healthier world.

This guide provides an overview of 40 American and Canadian college and university programs that offer bachelor’s degrees in which the study of peace is oriented toward understanding the psychological and socio-economic roots of harmful conflict. Career opportunities often pursued by peace-studies graduates include jobs in community organizing, mediation, overseas development, the nonprofit sector, government agencies, international relief and humanitarian aid, and organizational leadership.

The first undergraduate degree program at an American university was established in 1948 at Manchester University, a Church of the Brethren school in Indiana. Nearly every other program on this list began no earlier than the 1970s. Many of the universities that offer peace studies programs are affiliated with religious denominations that have long traditions of peace and justice advocacy, including the Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and certain streams of Catholicism, most notably the Jesuits. Other programs simply hold strong commitment to ideals of peace and justice that are not linked to any specific religious tradition.

Usually at small colleges with religious roots

The majority of the 40 programs described here are at relatively small, private institutions – perhaps due to the fact that many of the pioneering programs in the field have their roots in religious peace convictions. There is variety among these programs, however. Some place greater emphasis on practical skills and experiential learning. Some require students to more deeply explore the philosophies of nonviolence. Some offer numerous classes taught from a peace and justice perspective; others require just a handful of core classes and give wide latitude to design a course of study tailored to individual interests.

Peacecolleges.com has made a concerted effort to include and describe all the American and Canadian peace studies programs that offer full bachelor’s degrees in the field of peace studies. All programs that are included place specific emphasis on both understanding and addressing conflict in society, with a stated goal of reducing violence, confronting injustice and building peace. Some programs in “security studies,” for example, have been excluded because they focus disproportionately on conflict analysis and do not take an explicit peace stance. Likewise, some programs in criminal justice and mediation have been omitted because of their narrower focus on the legal system.

Only full academic majors included

There are numerous other colleges and universities that have peace studies programs offering academic minors or certificates. These have been excluded both to keep this listing manageable and to draw attention to colleges and universities that demonstrate strong commitment to the study of peace and justice by offering it as a full academic major.

The list of institutions on peacecolleges.com list was first researched and compiled in the spring of  2013 by freelance writer Andrew Jenner, who majored in peace, justice and conflict studies at Eastern Mennonite University before earning an MFA in writing at Goucher College. Originally founded by Bonnie Price Lofton, the site is now maintained by her successor in the position of editor-in-chief at Eastern Mennonite University, Lauren Jefferson.

Peacecolleges.com is indebted to Dr. Michael Westmoreland-White, a Baptist peace activist and academic whose list on his blog, Pilgrim Pathways, inspired this one. The Peace & Justice Studies Association, with which most of the institutions on this site are affiliated, also publishes directories of programs on peace and justice, available for a fee.

Finally, this site is a work in progress. Please don’t hesitate to contact Lauren Jefferson with suggestions, comments, additions, corrections and other ideas!