[ This review originally appeared in
THE ENGLEWOOD REVIEW OF BOOKS - 19 March 2010 ]
As followers of Christ, we are called to be peacemakers, and part of our education as disciples of Jesus is learning the things that make for peace. Thus, it has been exciting to see Peace Studies emerge as an academic discipline over the last three decades, and with the rise of Peace Studies come reference works that assist and propagate research. And now The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace (OIEP), published earlier this year by Oxford University Press, will undoubtedly reign supreme for many years as the key reference work for Peace Studies.
The four volumes of the OIEP represent a mammoth undertaking; its 850+ articles span over 2700 pages and were collected over a period of more than five years. The work begins with a brief foreword by the Dalai Lama who praises the work as a "scholarly but accessible reference work [which] will enable many of us to learn from the great ideals and struggles for peace over past centuries, and it will be a valuable resource for teachers of peace and for policy makers" (xix).
Also, included in the prefatory materials is a twenty page timeline of "Peace in History" - stretching from the Treaty of Kadesh, "the first recorded peace treaty" between The Egyptians and the Hittites in 1258 BCE, all the way through Barack Obama's recognition as the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2009. Each entry in the encyclopedia is complete with a hefty list of works for further reading on that topic. The OIEP concludes with almost 100 pages of key documents on peace from the modern era (all but three of these documents were penned within the last 100 years), and a thorough index of key terms and people.
Editor Nigel Young observes in the encyclopedia's introduction that this work intentionally includes "both `negative' entries (on preventing or ending war or violent conflict) and `positive' entries (on achieving a more cooperative, harmonious community)." Negative entries in the OIEP include topics such as "Arms Control and Disarmament," "Conscientious Objection" and "Women Strike for Peace," while positives entries include "Deep Ecology," "Open Space Technology" and "Sustainable Development." Young also notes that the editorial team has intentionally limited the number of biographical entries, as well as those on specific organizations - choosing instead to describe persons and organizations within more general entries (e.g., the civil rights movement). Thus, I found the index to be an invaluable tool in searching for references to specific individuals and organizations.
Although the OIEP takes a broad and pluralist approach, the Christian tradition of peace is well-represented here. There are, for instance, entries on all three of the major "peace church" traditions: Church of the Brethren, Mennonites, and the Society of Friends (Quakers), as well as entries on individual Christian peace advocates like Dorothy Day, Lucretia Mott, Leo Tolstoy and Martin Luther King, Jr. One also finds several historical entries related to Christianity (e.g. a brief entry on "Early Christianity and Antimilitarism"), as well as superb introductory pieces on "Christian Ethics and Peace" and "The Christian Peace Testimony." Although they did not merit their own entry, I was pleased to find a handful of references throughout to the Christian Peacemaker Teams.
The OIEP offers a powerful reminder that there are a host of ideological motivations for pursuing peace. Peacekeeping, for instance, is very different from peacemaking, and there are a host of political, social or religious narratives that undergird the pursuit of peace. Church communities shaped by the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, are very different than the idealistic vision of modern liberalism, through which peace is believed to be attainable through reason and rational behavior. Some forms of peace are more sustainable than others, and in our fallen world most, if not all, movements toward peace eventually get corrupted, but the stories of such movements live on long after they have died off or become irrelevant, and these stories serve to inspire new generations of peacemakers in ways that often expand the scope of the original peacemaking vision. As people who believe that God is at work restoring shalom to all parts of creation - human and otherwise - works like the OIEP can be understood as painting a broad picture of God's work within human history toward the restoration of shalom.
Therefore, I highly recommend the OIEP, as an invaluable resource for church, school, university or seminary libraries; it is the sort of resource that not only reminds us of the manifold ways in which God is guiding humanity and all creation toward shalom, but it also energizes our imaginations toward faithfulness to our calling as peacemakers. Not only does it introduce a vast number of peace-related movements and ideologies, it also points us in the direction of other pertinent resources for us to seek out in order to assist our reflection on any given topic. The OIEP is the essential reference work in the area of peace studies, and as such it should be kept close at hand by those of us who seek to follow Jesus as peacemakers in a world that is still very much ensnared by the myth of redemptive violence and in which war, social, ecological and other sorts of conflict are still prevailing and defining forces.