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Peacebuilding Strategies

There are a variety of theoretical models for resolving conflict and establishing post-conflict justice, but which actually work in the field? Furthermore, conflict resolution theory, various peacemaking approaches, and transitional justice are often lumped together into a single, all-encompassing field: what distinguishes different approaches? This class (GOVT 496) evaluated such models, including the “responsibility to rebuild” doctrine and US government frameworks for reconstruction and stabilization, with particular attention given to the efforts of religious actors engaged in peacebuilding. Over the course of the semester, students interviewed foreign policy experts, in and out of government, on the elements of peacebuilding. In addition to their individual research projects, they published their findings in a report at the end of the semester.

Through an examination of critical case studies and original research organized around student interviews with government and NGO experts, the class addressed the following questions: What are the tools available to policymakers and activists to engage diverse societal groups around the world in pursuit of peace, human rights, and the rule of law? To which models (e.g. transitional justice, conflict resolution, just peacebuilding) do diplomats and civil society turn at war’s end? What are the normative commitments of each of these schools? How have those tools been applied in specific cases, and to what effect? How might they be improved into the future? 

A special focus of the course was on the efforts of religious actors engaged in peacebuilding. Some have argued that religious actors and institutions have unique advantages in working for peace: they are trusted institutions embedded in their community, they adhere to an explicit and respected set of values, they have a particular warrant for opposing injustice, and they have an unrivaled ability to mobilize people—locally and transnationally—in favor of specific ideas. Others claim that question the effectiveness in the field of faith-based and NGO-based approaches to peace. 

Over the course of the semester, students interviewed dozens of experts in government, academia, and the NGO community on the elements of pursuing and securing peace, as well as the guest lecturers who came to the class, including USAID’s Stacia George, former World Bank executive and World Faiths Development Dialogue Executive Director Katherine Marshall, and retired State Department arms control negotiator Joseph Smaldone. 

In order to combine individual accountability with a collaborative research project, the syllabus carefully laid out expectations, including traditional course readings, class discussion, and several short papers. Each student contributed background research, interviews, writing, and editing to the final research product.

Protesters in Park with "Justice Not War" Sign



Eric Patterson headshot

Eric Patterson

Research Fellow
Religious Freedom Institute



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