Written by S.M. Audsley

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., American minister and leader of the Civil Rights Movement. The world is a fraught place with conflict, war, and climate change. Today, we need experts in peace and conflict resolution who are skilled and knowledgeable about this intriguing and complex field of study. These experts will become our leaders and advocates in shaping and creating a more just, safe, and peaceful world. This may sound idealistic or impossible, but world peace starts with individuals choosing that path of becoming educated and compassionate human beings, who understand how complex systems work.

World peace is more than just the absence of war. It is an inclusive, equitable, and diverse state of being where nations and communities function in harmony. The World Peace Group defines seven stages or categories to strive to achieve world peace: 1) immediate cessation of violent conflicts; 2) rapid evaporation of terrorist activity; 3) softening of ideological conflict; 4) lessening of dangerous superpower rivalries; 5) growing friendliness between nations; 6) growth in economic activity and international trade and commerce; and 7) an overall reduction in antisocial behavior.

If you are passionate about shaping a world that is more just and peaceful, then perhaps you should pursue a degree in one of these five fields. 

1. Peace studies

Also known as peace and conflict studies, conflict analysis and resolution, and peace and justice studies, this field is an academic track with specialized interdisciplinary studies. Examining history’s lessons, such as the First and Second World Wars, and scrutinizing how current events are shaping the present and future, peace studies provides students with the foundational knowledge they need to understand “topics like civil disobedience, international economic development, international security in the post-Cold War world, and conflict management at every level of society - from family violence to warfare between nations,” according to The Princeton Review

How can you make a difference? How can social change happen within your lifetime? Sometimes it requires looking back at historical moments and understanding them to fully comprehend how to move forward with a road map for a better future. At the University of Oregon for example, “students learn about historical, philosophical and international perspectives on human rights and peace studies. During the latter part of the program, students participate in four weeks of guided research and fieldwork where they get hands-on experience working alongside peace-building efforts and affected populations.” As a peace studies student you will use critical theory, analysis, and real-world assessment to learn how to develop a plan for world peace.

2. Negotiation and conflict resolution

Negotiation and conflict resolution are essential skills to assist with furthering any effort, big or small, to achieve world peace. For instance, the University of Columbia’s Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution “prepares students to analyze the root causes and dynamics of conflict and to transform disputes through reasoned and resourceful interventions.” Imagine being able to prevent impending wars with a diplomatic conference meeting that helps each party express their needs, and lets both parties leave feeling like they both got something they needed; a world where compromise and listening take precedence and our privilege seems attainable, especially once you’ve got the skills and education to back it up. 

As a negotiation and conflict resolution student you will learn the four pillars of this field: mediation, arbitration, conciliation, and consensus-building. Are you wondering what kind of career this degree might get you? According to CareersInPsychology, “group arbitrators, mediators and conciliators earn an average of $69,060 a year as of May 2015 and the top 10 percent of the profession can earn almost $120,000.”

3. Peace and justice

Peace and justice is another degree that could help on the road to world peace. Similar to peace studies and negotiation and conflict resolution, the peace and justice degree focuses on issues of human rights, social justice, peace, violence, and conflict, exploring their connections and distinctions through an interdisciplinary curriculum that stimulates students to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to face global challenges. 

To again quote the tireless advocate for peace and justice Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "There can be no justice without peace, and there can be no peace without justice." First, one must recognize the social injustices, conduct research and analysis to fully understand the institutionalized systems. Students on the Peace and Justice Studies degree at Loyola Marymount University focus “within the three main areas (Peace and Conflict; Social, Environmental, Economic, and Legal Justice; and Ethical Approaches), students may choose from a variety of courses that relate to their chosen fields of interest and emphasis, drawing from programs such as Political Science, History, Theological Studies, Philosophy, Women’s and Gender Studies, Sociology, and a number of other departments.” If you are committed to making a difference in the world, then maybe studying peace and justice is the path for you. 

4. Reconciliation and Peacebuilding

Perhaps your interests are rooted more in helping people and nations rebuild after conflict? Do you want to practice your skills and work with traumatized communities (and landscapes) which need help rebuilding? Professor Johnson at the University of Oregon says, “The students join this program because they want to understand how to promote peace and justice in the aftermath of violent conflict. The students have engaged with dozens of academics, civil society actors, lawyers and politicians who have dedicated their lives to promoting peace and human rights.” 

The best program will get you in the field, in internships or part-time jobs, helping to make real-world change. “Unrecognized and untreated, distressed individuals exert an added stress upon the community which in turn constrains the community’s capacity to support and contain its distressed members. A vicious cycle develops consisting of alternating exacerbations and remissions very similar to a chronic illness. Quite apart from the mental and psychosomatic implications, the losses from under-employment, disability, the harmful behaviors of crime, family breakup and addiction exert a heavy economic toll,” writes Jeevan Thiagarajah for the Daily News. War-torn places need trained experts who can assist with helping to deal with trauma and moving through talks which will provide the beginnings of healing and rebuilding.

5. International Development

Another common degree which will help train you to advance world peace is a degree in international development. After the collapse of civilizations and after each World War, there was a time of rebuilding and development among many different nations. International development is a field of study that trains you to assist in shaping the future of the world after major conflicts. 

“Each student approaches a master’s in International Development for different reasons, making the student body highly diverse. Some use it to reflect more critically on their work, while others use it for career progression and to develop their skills to fit the next opportunity on the horizon, of which there are many,” says Dr. Walton, professor of International Development at the University of Bath. Many graduates with an international development degree go on to work for non-profit organizations or government departments that distribute aid to the places in the world most in need of assistance. 

Perhaps John Lennon, musical icon and member of The Beatles, wrote it best: “All we are saying is give peace a chance. All we are saying is give peace a chance.” This anti-war song, one of Lennon’s first solo songs, is an anthem for those who are seeking to do better in the world. Think of what you can do with a degree in peace studies to help make world peace a possibility in your lifetime. It’s all possible, and your training, expertise, and skills are much needed in today’s sadly conflict-filled world...

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