Based at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, the Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) administers a bachelor’s degree program which it describes as “an interdisciplinary inquiry into the human problems of war and deeply rooted conflict, and peace as a human potential.” This inquiry, says PACS, is founded on the premise “that war and violence are not inevitable aspects of the human condition, and that there are more productive and lasting means for addressing human conflicts.” The Baker Institute’s courses explore issues like “how and why humans resort to violence to resolve conflicts,” and “how peace and cooperation might be institutionalized through peacebuilding, conflict transformation, and the study of human behavior and social institutions.”
The Baker Institute’s earliest roots can be traced back to 1968, when peace activist Elizabeth Evans Baker (1902-1990) gave Juniata College a financial gift earmarked specifically for the creation of a PACS center, which was established three years later. The program itself—named in Ms. Baker’s honor—was formally launched in 1974 by Andrew Murray, a leader in the development of PACS as a field of scholarly inquiry. Murray directed the Baker Center’s PACS program from 1977 until he retired in 2008, and he served as chaplain of Juniata College from 1986-91. During the run-up to the March 2004 U.S. invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003, Murray was chairman of the Stop the War Coalition. In a March 2002 piece titled “Spinning to War on Iraq,” he wrote: “The U.S. has its own agenda for attacking Iraq, mainly … the installation of a pliant government in Baghdad — friendly to Israel and big oil and indifferent to the Palestinians.” In October 2002, Murray was one of fifty Juniata College faculty members to sign a resolution opposing American military action in Iraq.
In addition to its PACS degree program, the Baker Institute also sponsors conferences, seminars, workshops, and public forums on issues of war and peace—all in an effort to “educate the public, as well as the Juniata College community, about creating a future where war no longer exists.”
In 2012, Baker Institute director James Skelly—who previously had led seminars at the Institute on Social and European Studies (located in Hungary)—founded, as a Baker Institute project, an online Centre on Critical Thinking that aims to “use critical pedagogy” to promote “structural changes” in American society. In the 1960s, Skelly was a U.S. Navy officer who refused to serve in the Vietnam War. In 1971 he worked with actors Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland as the “political coordinator” of the so-called “FTA” (Free The Army) Show in San Diego, an event whose goal was to incite mass insubordination among American troops. Skelly later suggested — in an October 2011 interview with the Derry Journal — that “the letter ‘F’ had a different meaning” (besides “Free”), and boasted that “the FTA Show was … really powerful … because at the end of it we had 1200 soldiers chanting ‘F**K NIXON’.”
Among the more noteworthy and influential courses ever offered by the Baker Institute was “Globalization and the New Wars,” which was taught by the aforementioned James Skelly in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. According to the course syllabus, Skelly’s class focused on “the nature of capitalist economies and the transformations that they have wrought since the beginnings of the industrial revolution in the mid-18th century”; was “especially concerned with the more recent development of consumerism and the cultural attitudes that it engenders”; and sought to “explore how the ‘new wars’ that have developed in the post-Cold War world are evolving, including what many call ‘terrorism,’ the United States’ response including the war in Iraq, and what the consequences may be for globalization in political, economic, and cultural terms.” A required text for the class was Barbara Ehrenreich‘s Nickeled and Dimed, which advocated the abolition of capitalism. And a “recommended reading” for the course was Benjamin Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld, which not only argued against the spread of capitalism and Western ideologies, but also attributed the Arab world’s rising anti-Americanism to resentments spawned by the great success of U.S. businesses such as McDonald’s.
Today, the Baker Institute course titled “Conflict Transformation” is founded on the premise that “coexistence and reconciliation” can only be achieved if “unjust structures and relationships” are changed. Another course, titled “Gender and Conflict,” takes “an interdisciplinary look at conflicts ranging from the differing experiences of women and men in conflict to interconnections between masculinity, femininity, security and warfare.” For a brief overview of these and a number of courses in the Baker Institute’s PACS program, click here.
In September 2017, Peace and Justice Studies Association executive director Michael Loadenthal delivered a lecture at the Baker Institute on “the repression of social movements under the Trump administration.”
Further Reading: “Facts About [The Baker Institute]” (BakerInstitute.net); “Three Longtime Juniata Faculty [Including Andrew Murray] Retire …” (Juniata.edu, 5-12-2008); “Spinning to War on Iraq” (by Andrew Murray, 3-3-2002); “50 Juniata Faculty Sign Resolution Against iraq War” (Juniata.edu, 10-14-2002); “A Life Less Ordinary” (interview with Jim Skelly, Derry Journal, 10-3-2011); “Prominent Peace and Conflict Researcher [Michael Loadenthal] Visits Juniata College” (Juniata.edu, 9-19-2017).