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Difference Maker

A professor and writer finds ways for peacebuilding

Conflict negotiator and writer John Paul Lederach has spent decades seeking new paths to peacebuilding.

By Josh AllenContributor / May 26, 2010

University of Notre Dame professor John Paul Lederach is widely known for his pioneering work in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

Jim Z. Rider/Special to the Christian Science Monitor


When John Paul Lederach was a student looking for a college that offered peace studies, he found only a handful of programs in the United States. That was more than 30 years ago.

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Today, almost 100 US graduate schools and dozens of undergraduate colleges offer degrees or certificates in conflict resolution and peace studies. And Dr. Lederach's writings now are a frequent part of the study of peacemaking.

Some of Lederach's ideas draw on his views as a Mennonite Christian and an academic, first at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., and since 2001 as professor of international peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Yet much of his perspective is based on his experiences as a mediator and trainer of peace workers in more than 25 countries, places of conflict where Lederach has tried to help people resolve their differences without violence – despite decades of unrest, injustice, or war.

He has pursued his career – peace building – with unchanging inspiration. "[This work] is the only thing I've ever done," he says.

He works with people "who have taken extraordinary risks and have suffered the consequences of violent situations," he says. But they also have kept their hope that they can defeat "violence in a nonviolent way," he says.

Lederach's first peace-building experience came in Nicaragua in the 1980s, when he helped mediate between the Sandinista government and a local movement on the country's east coast.

Since then, he's worked both with villagers caught in local rebellions and high-level government officials.

In the 1990s he served as a consultant to churches and peace groups in the Philippines as the country struggled with communist and Islamic insurgency and indigenous violence. In 2003, the Carter Center, a nonprofit foundation founded by former President Jimmy Carter, invited him to Venezuela to speak to groups seeking to maintain peace in the wake of a coup attempt on the government of President Hugo Chávez.

When Lederach himself isn't on hand to resolve a conflict, his influential writings often are there to represent him, sometimes at historic moments.