STM offers the first post-secondary Peace Studies program in the province
By Jacquie Berg, St. Thomas More College
No more important time.
As many worldwide seek answers as to the injustices being inflicted on the war-ravaged peoples of Ukraine, and elsewhere around the globe, attention naturally focuses not only on the causes, but also on much-needed negotiation for peace. “There is no more important time,” said instructor Dr. Lesya Sabada recently in an impassioned plea, “to encourage Peace Studies.”
St. Thomas More College (STM) recognizes that to ensure the best future we must provide students opportunity to address not only conflict origins but arm them with non-violent means of resolution.
After over a decade in the planning, initiated by College faculty committed to peace research and peace education, STM officially launched the Centre for Faith, Reason, Peace, and Justice (CFRPJ), in January 2021.
Serving as a home for STM’s distinctive programs in the areas of Catholic Studies (CTST), Critical Perspectives on Social Justice and the Common Good (SJCG), and Peace Studies, the College will now offer the first post-secondary Peace Studies program in the province – in addition to the certificate in Catholic Studies and minor in SJCG, already in place.
The focus and goals of CFRPJ appealed to Irene Ositis-Schmeiser and led to her decision to support the initiative with a $1 million gift in December 2021. The newly named Irene and Doug Schmeiser Centre for Faith, Reason, Peace, and Justice extends Irene’s relationship with the College that goes back several decades.
“Peace Studies, alongside Catholic Studies, and Critical Perspectives on Social Justice and the Common Good, all serve to cross-fertilize and address the key goals of a Catholic college,” said Dr. Gertrude Rompré, Director of Mission and Ministry at STM and Co-Director for the Centre. “We are very excited to see this take shape.”
Centre Co-Director Dr. Chris Hrynkow explains that Peace Studies focuses on both the analysis and creative transformation of conflict and injustice. “Within the field, peace is defined as not only the absence of war but also by positive conditions such as social justice, gender and racial equality, and ecological health. The STM certificate in Peace Studies cultivates an interdisciplinary approach to the academic study of peace, conflict, (re)conciliation, the nature of substantive justice, and the practice of nonviolent resistance.”
“These areas of focus are relevant to the community and our students, and fit with the College mission and values,” Hrynkow adds, “as we actively try to bring peace to the world.”
Students enrolled in any program at the University of Saskatchewan may complete the Peace Studies Certificate as a stand-alone credential. The certificate consists of 18 credit units (six courses) including two tailor-made required courses (INTS 112 Introduction to Peace Studies and INST 310 Peace Theory and Practice) and a list of options from other disciplines to complement those courses and reflect the character of Peace Studies.
As an interdisciplinary field, Peace Studies purposefully and critically draws upon insights from multiple disciplines including Political Science, Religious Studies, History, Anthropology, Indigenous Studies, Sociology, Psychology, Economics, English, Philosophy, and International studies. Course options available can be found at: https://programs.usask.ca/arts-and-science/peace-studies/index.php.
Dr. Cynthia Wallace, Department Head, English, and Chair of the Peace Studies Program Committee, spoke of the faculty teaching STM Peace Studies offerings. “These strong instructors provide unique perspective of Catholic, Indigenous and Mennonite wisdom of traditions, in how they address violence”.
Among the Peace studies faculty, Dr. Hrynkow is the Department Head, Religion and Culture at STM as well as serving as academic lead for the Centre. Instrumental in the Peace Studies initiative at the College, his extensive academic resumé also includes a PhD in Peace and Conflict studies.
Passionate about community peace and justice, instructor Susanne Guenther Loewen holds a PhD in Peace Ethics from the University of St. Michael’s College at the Toronto School of Theology. She has previously taught at Emmanuel College (Toronto School of Theology) and Canadian Mennonite University. She also presently serves as a pastor at Nutana Park Mennonite church.
Witnessing inter-generational trauma from war and refugee struggles as a child, led to Dr. Lesya Sabada’s early commitment to the goals of peace studies. She has completed much research in peace building and received her doctorate in Religious Peacebuilding. Sabada has also served as a guest lecturer and visiting professor, Department of Peace and Conflict, United Nations University for Peace.
Sabada shared student impact statements from her recent Introduction to Peace Studies offering. The diverse student body, having completed the course, provided positive, insightful feedback reaffirming its value.
“Real change remains possible,” Ruth shared as a valuable lesson learned.
“Having studied and discussed many important figures of peace and how they attempted to resolve the injustices or forms of violence they faced throughout their lives, the most important and intriguing discussion that I will take away from this course is of the struggles of Indigenous Canadians, both in the past and in the present,” said Osama.
Students also spoke of insight gained to become peace makers; how important the role of forgiveness plays in one’s life in the restoration of relationships; improvement in their critical thinking, academic, and research abilities, and acquisition of specialized conflict resolution, and societal progress techniques.
In times that for many seem filled with despair, student Chantel left the class reporting, “This class has instilled hope and aspiration into me.”
Those behind the creation of the Centre and the Certificate in Peace Studies, identified a vision to create a place of dialogue – to hear different voices. Student Jackson said: “I enjoyed the diversity. All of us come from different places, we all have different beliefs, and we all have different interests. What we all had in common, though, was the desire to learn and to be peacemakers.”