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Peace and Conflict Studies Program Launches this Fall

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Each year, the start of fall semester is greeted with anticipation by students and faculty at Rutgers-Newark. That excitement also is in the air at NCAS, where a new program in Peace and Conflict Studies is launching within the Department of Sociology and Anthropology this fall.

The program, some three years in the making, offers both master’s and joint B.A./M.A. degrees and is multi-disciplinary in scope. That means it draws on faculty not only in Sociology and Anthropology but also from the broader Rutgers-Newark and New Brunswick campuses, offering students a wide array of electives outside of the program’s core curriculum.

In addition, students will get hands-on research and practical experience through internships with two NCAS institutes, The Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights and the International Institute for Peace, along with outside organizations. The program is also affiliated with two other important entities: Rutgers-Newark’s Division of Global Affairs, and the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy in New Brunswick.

We sat down recently with Anthropology Professor Brian Ferguson, director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, to talk about NCAS’ newest offering.

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Would you explain for the average person what Peace & Conflict Studies is?
Well, I usually explain it in this way: Conflict is part of life and is not necessarily bad; in fact, it can often bring about positive change. And conflict can be handled with either destructive violence or constructive resolution. Peace & Conflict Studies is about finding nondestructive, nonviolent ways to handle conflict. But to do this, we need to understand why conflicts and their various outcomes happen. That is, to shape conflicts to go in nonviolent ways, we have to understand them in the first place.

How did this new program come about at Rutgers-Newark?
At a certain point, it dawned on us that we were really well set up for this program. First, we already had three internationally recognized scholars in the field: Alex Hinton, in genocide; myself, I look at war; and Kurt Schock, who studies nonviolent social movements and civil resistance. Then a few years ago, we happened to hire three scholars who were also strong in this area: Aldo Civico, in international conflict resolution; Sean Mitchell, who has focused on the Brazilian military and social movements; and Isaias Rojas-Perez, a former human rights worker in Peru who has also worked on recovery from violence. Finally, we realized other faculty in our department also were interested in these issues. So, once we realized we had a powerhouse faculty for violence/nonviolence, we moved to create the new program.

How is the Rutgers-Newark program different from those at other universities?
We’re different in three respects. First, most programs are stand-alone and are dominated by international relations and political science scholars. Ours is based within the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. What’s the difference? Their’s tend to apply top-down concepts and approaches, like coming up with a set of variables that determines how they’ll measure a specific issue, then gathering data and testing their hypothesis. Ours takes an ethnographic approach, focusing on the grassroots level from the perspective of the people involved in conflicts. How do the people involved see their situation and options? What do they feel? What are their grievances?

There are many ways to come at these issues. But I found it interesting that a U.N. mediator who visited our department recently said that some of the most interesting stuff on Peace and Conflict Studies is currently coming from anthropologists.

What are the other differences?
Our program is also transdisciplinary. We have, I believe, 26 associated faculty onboard across multiple campuses coming at the problem from various angles and fields, including political science, international relations, social psychology, global affairs, and English. Third, our courses cover three key areas: the social and cultural bases of conflict and cooperation, violent conflict, and nonviolent social movements and recovery from violence. Again, this approach stems from our sociology/anthropology grounding.

Does your new program address only large-scale violence, or small-scale as well?
Our main focus is on large-scale conflicts. But we do look at small-scale violence and cooperation as well. In fact, one of our core faculty, Aldo Civico, is doing just that here in Newark. And our students can study hands-on mediation through the Bloustein School, in New Brunswick, and with Ken Kressel, a well-known social psychologist on our campus who is teaching one of our core courses. And again, because of our sociological/anthropological perspective, we look at peace and conflict issues from individual points of view.

And there’s an internship component to the new program as well?
That’s right. Developing internships is one of our major goals, since they provide our students with real-world experience and make them more employable. Students will be able to work with two research institutes run by faculty in our department: the International Institute for Peace and the Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights. And they’ll be connected to external organizations we have contacts with.

Explain the degree options your program offers.
There are three: The main line is the full-time M.A., which students can finish in as few as three semesters, then enter a Ph.D. program or go onto the job market. The second option is a joint B.A./M.A. Undergraduates apply during second semester of their junior year and, as seniors, take up to 12 graduate credits that will count toward both the B.A. and M.A. degrees. This is a great deal because not only are their undergraduate credits counting toward their graduate degree, but they pay the undergraduate-credit rate. The third option is a part-time M.A., which allows students to hold down a job while pursuing their degree. These students normally take two courses per semester, and we’ll make core and elective courses available in the evening so they can do this.

Any closing thoughts before we wrap up?
Peace and Conflict Studies programs have been proliferating at universities throughout the country. The reason is obvious: There are an awful lot of conflicts that need professional help to resolve. We’re setting a high bar for our students. We want to train them in the global scope of conflict, help them achieve wide and substantive knowledge, come out of our program knowing a lot about many types of conflict scenarios, analyze and understand the complexity of conflict situations in a way that suggests avenues for nondestructive progress, and be able to communicate about this effectively. If they can do this, they’ll go on to be excellent scholars or practitioners in this field.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
My pleasure. Thank you.

For information: Lawrence Lerner, 973-353-1944, or lawrence.lerner@rutgers.edu.