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The Joan B. Kroc School for Peace Studies: Taking Shape

There are many lessons to be learned about creating a new School of Peace Studies.[1]  Listening respectfully to the many voices of those desiring to influence the formation of the school can be, at once, cacophonous and harmonious.  The relative newness of Peace Studies as a science or discipline leaves open to curricular planners the opportunity to create a fresh and highly responsive, interdisciplinary program.  The challenge, of course, is sustaining breadth and flexibility without losing depth and focus.  The new School for Peace Studies will be defined, ultimately, by the unique and distinct contributions of its faculty and students through their teaching, research, and outreach.  For now, however, those responsible for developing the School’s particular identity and character need to agree on the philosophical underpinnings that will frame or guide the choices made on behalf of their eventual work.  This paper suggests such a foundation.

To begin, one assumes that the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies will honor the desires of its benefactor by establishing a rigorous academic program complimented by equally rigorous field experience. Assuming, then, that this is a professional school where theory and praxis meet, we would do well to consider the models of graduate schools in law, medicine, and theology.  In each instance, students are required to master a rigorous curriculum and hone specialized skills.  Theory and praxis are the hallmarks of these programs.  On one hand, the scholarship, research, and intellectual exchange of the academy must seek to contribute new knowledge and improved practices within each respective field.  On the other, one of the aims of a professional school—like law and medicine—is the “formation” of aspiring apprentices by introducing them to the culture, principles, and standards which mark the profession.  The awarding of a degree, credential, or license is a symbolic action that invites upon the newly minted professional the trust of others; that is, lawyers who are admitted to the “bar” and hold sacred the “rule of law;” health care professionals who are licensed and subscribe to the Hippocratic Oath, etc.  One of the challenges in creating this School of Peace Studies will be articulating this relationship between theory and praxis and developing standards for the profession.

While there are many options for shaping a graduate school of Peace Studies, it will be respected in so far as it articulates its own culture, principles, and standards and, in turn, provides the requisite intellectual and practical formation for its graduates. The challenge and the opportunity for establishing a school from among diverse academic disciplines and professional fields are obvious:  there are few established institutions that can serve as models and the absence of such models provides an opportunity to create and to contribute in a unique way. The University of San Diego should address two related questions:  How does it create a respected graduate school that is intentionally interdisciplinary, e.g. a school that may address the relationships of peace and justice to law, religion, economics, politics, and the environment?  Similarly, how will it also train negotiators, those skilled in mediation and conflict resolution, intelligence analysts, human rights advocates, etc?

Fortunately, the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, with its Institute for Peace and Justice, will take its life and its shape within the University of San Diego, an academy with its own mission and traditions.  It makes sense to connect its newest school “genetically” to the “parent.”   But, like any offspring, the School would have its own particular purposes and character; both solidly defined and rooted in the experiences of human history, yet elastic enough to form and reform according to emerging needs, opportunities, and challenges.

As a School within the University of San Diego, the School of Peace Studies inherits what is central to the university’s character:  the intellectual, social, moral, and cultural traditions of the Catholic Church.  From the creation of the first universities in medieval Europe and now sustained within modern Catholic universities like USD, the School of Peace Studies can draw upon and be sustained by a vast array of ancient and contemporary intellectual contributions and global peace-making experiences unparalleled among international institutions and organizations.  This particular identity, described most recently in the 1990 Apostolic letter Ex Corde Ecclesiae, constitutes the “genetic” link to the original universities and, at the same time, offers the well-spring from which flows new and emerging scholarship, research, creativity, and service.

A graduate School of Peace Studies within this university inherits the “DNA” of wisdom traditions rooted in Catholic thought and culture.  Catholic social teachings that have evolved over the past 100 years have certain characteristics compatible with the mission of a university, in general, and a graduate school of Peace Studies, in particular.  Global in their reach; international in their perspective, the principles and values they promote have been most recently reflected in the University’s vision to educate students who are “globally competent, ethical leaders working and serving on our complex world.”  The values promoted through papal documents like John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris:  Peace on Earth, (1963) Paul Vi’s Populrum Progressio:  On the Development of Peoples, (1967), and John Paul II’s Solicitudo Rei Socialis:  On Social Concern, (1987)  have influenced and find consonance within many of important international declarations of the last century.[2]

This relatively young and evolving series of teachings are neither monolithic nor fixed; they are evolving and always conditioned by the historical context to which they responded.  For example, the Declaration on Religious Freedom, a document of the Second Vatican Council argued forcefully on behalf of personal religious freedom as a response to the dominance of the totalitarian societies which marked the1930s and1940s.  During the course of his pontificate, John Paul II, in slightly different circumstances, has called attention to the important link, also enunciated in the conciliar document, between freedom and truth.  Thus, a document authored in response to totalitarian regimes continues to enunciate the principle that the violation of personal religious freedom and personal conscience cannot be justified by claims either of a totalitarian order or of societies that promote individual “freedom” at the expense of truth and the common good.  The following principles, as summarized in one contemporary exposition, are considered the foundation of Catholic social teachings:  (1) The dignity of the human person (2) The dignity of work (3) The person in community (4) Rights and responsibilities (5) Option for those in poverty (6) Solidarity and (7) Care for creation.[3]

The social teachings of the Church, designed to reach across boundaries and systems of belief, are also ecumenical in their hopes to establish human principles accessible to all.  Principles of social thought, distilled from the documents produced thus far, find similar expression within other global humanist and religious traditions, for example, through the Protestantism of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King; the Judaism of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas; the Hinduism of Ghandi; the Islam of the Koran.

Above all, the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies of the University of San Diego has a legitimate claim on the principles and traditions of Catholic social thought.  Like “DNA,” the genetic material that these principles embody can give the School a particular and unique character (i.e. philosophical underpinnings) without limiting or predetermining its eventual growth and development.  Among all the choices we have to make in the creation of this School, decisions about its own character may be the most important.  If done well, the fruit from its tree will indeed be abundant.

Mary E. Lyons, PhD


30 March 2005

[1] James O’Connell and Simon Whitby, Constructing and Operating a Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford:  A Reflection on Experience between 1973 and 1995. Unpublished background paper.

[2]Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly on the United Nations, 10 December 1948.  Article I reads:  “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”  In All Human Rights for All, Fiftieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948-1998. 1.

[3] Edward P. De Berri and James E. Hug, Catholic Social Teaching:   Our Best Kept Secret. 4th Revised and Expanded edition. New York:  Orbis Books, 2003.