Creating Pathways to Peace: Gordon’s Collaborative Efforts for Global Harmony  

The Israel and Palestine conflict of 2023. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The number of global conflicts, especially the ones that don’t make headlines, has surged in recent years. The Geneva Academy is currently monitoring more than 110 armed conflicts worldwide, some of which have lasted for over 50 years. “How do we deal with that in a way which is not simply disciplinary or law-based, but actually is about healing relationships?” asks Dr. Paul Brink, professor of political science. “I don’t mean peace simply as the absence of violence but as a restoration of the way the world is supposed to be.”  

While peacemaking is needed on a global scale, it can begin in our daily lives. Gordon and the European Center for the Study of War and Peace (ECSWP)—the host for Gordon’s Balkans semester—recently completed a pioneering practical peacemaking initiative funded by a grant from the Lilly Fellows Program. Gordon was one of eight colleges of diverse backgrounds, from Harvard University to Messiah University, that participated in conversations about peace. Then each school created curricula and projects about “making peace with oneself, peace with others and peace with God for restoration and redemption,” says Dr. Ruth Melkonian-Hoover, professor of political science at Gordon. 

The World Needs Peace 

Despite our conflict-ravaged world there is hope among future generations. According to the World Economic Forum, Gen Z is passionate about issues like civic engagement and “strengthening the political power of ordinary citizens who are advocating for more transparent institutions and accountable governments” in response to global politics and violence. Students of this generation are eager not only for discussion on peace, but also for the resources to do something about it. 

“We see a combination of increased awareness of issues like climate change, the war in Ukraine, social and mental health difficulties, anxiety about career prospects—that’s all swirling,” says Brink. “Gen Z has an increased frustration with political and social structures and with social media, which, to put it charitably, is frustrating—more critically, it’s broken. We often encounter simplistic, partisan answers to problems, and that’s just not reaching students where they’re at. That combination means that there’s a hunger to think more deeply, to think differently about these conflicts.” 

Gordon proposed a pioneering peacemaking initiative to the Lilly Network of Church-Related Colleges and Universities, an organization that seeks to strengthen the quality and shape the character of church-related institutions of higher learning. Lilly awarded Gordon a grant for the initiative, which included leading a peacemaking conference in May 2023 at the ECSWP’s new center on the Mediterranean island of Vis. It was a multifaith, multinational effort, with faculty from schools like Messiah University, Whitworth University, Pepperdine University, Boston College, Loyola Marymount University, Harvard University, the University of Zagreb and Freie Universitat Amsterdam.  

“We shared the ways in which their respective colleges and Christian denominations approach questions of peace and justice, helping one another find common and productive ground on which to build peace- related initiatives and curricula that would address these crucial questions in meaningful and mission-specific ways,” said James Taylor, director of ECSWP. The idea was to integrate peacemaking not only into relevant majors but into Gordon’s—and the other schools’—larger ethos for student development and way of life. 

By the end of the conference, each school had an initial proposal for how to integrate peacemaking into their classrooms and beyond. This was followed up three months later with a video conference call between the schools for further reflection on the integration process. Finally, one year later, each participant submitted a report detailing what steps have been taken and which still might be pursued at their respective institutions, along with a reflection explaining the significance of incorporating peacemaking across disciplines. Gordon College and ECSWP plan to create a webpage to collect and display these reflections and will summarize the significance and impact of the project for the public and for colleagues at church-related institutions. 

Steps Toward Peace 

Within the last year Gordon sought to execute an interdisciplinary, integrated model that doesn’t silo peace as only something to study in political science or international affairs but as something that will impact the entire campus—conflicts between roommates, disagreements on group projects and much more. “When we have conflict on campus, in our student body or in campus situations, how do we navigate difficult conversations? How are we teaching that in a place like our core classes?” asks Jennifer Brink, Director of Academic Advising and the First-Year Experience.  

Faculty of many different departments took on projects to incorporate peace into their curricula. At Gordon every student takes a course called The Great Conversation, structured by Dr. Ian Deweese-Boyd (philosophy), which teaches students how to practice reflective, structured dialogue; he also teaches a course in the Balkans program about mediating conflict. Faculty in political science and international affairs (IA) have added a new concentration for both of those majors, Justice, Peace, and Conflict, led by Brink, Melkonian-Hoover and new IA professor Chan Shin. It includes courses in peacemaking, mediation, justice and international peace and security.  

Outside of curricular and co-curricular scaffolding around peacebuilding, Gordon students heard from outside speakers. Gordon’s Center for Faith and Inquiry, led by Paul Brink, addresses topics of vital concern in the church, academy and contemporary society that often lead to conflict. The Center seeks to foster accessible and stimulating scholarly conversations across disciplines, disagreements and faiths.  

This year the Center welcomed a diversity of speakers: Steven Harris, Senior Director of Academic Programs at the Center on Faith and Justice at Georgetown University; Dr. Ivy George, professor of sociology at Gordon College; award-winning poet Micheal O’Siadhail; Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah of Fuller Theological Seminary; Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige, author, educator and diversity consultant; and Dr. Tal Howard, founder of Gordon’s Jerusalem and Athens Forum and professor at Valparaiso University. These speakers encouraged open dialogues about black fugitivity, deconstructionism, diversity, environmentalism, art, society and more.  

Can There Be Peace? Only In Community 

For Christians the purpose of peace is to restore creation and have it flourish, not just to eliminate violence. “When we think about flourishing, that seems like this whole creation should be flourishing, so if we’re inviting students into an exploration of what it means to thrive, you don’t do that as an individual,” says Jennifer Brink. “You do that in community. If the community thrives or flourishes, then so does creation.” 

Ultimately, peacemaking is not just for peace and conflict minors or political science majors—it’s for every Christian of every practice, using the talents God has given us to bring him into every part of our lives and the lives of others. We’re taking part in God’s creative and redemptive work to restore creation to the way it’s supposed to be.”

Paul Brink