Peace centre head grounded in Methodism
By Marie Sherry
The appointment of internationally renowned academic Professor Kevin Clements as the new chair in Peace and Conflict studies at the University of Otago should have particular relevance for New Zealand’s Methodist community.
Kevin is coming to Dunedin from Brisbane where he serves as professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and director of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland.
While he has worked overseas for nearly 20 years, Kevin is a Kiwi with a Methodist heritage – both his father and grandfather were Methodist ministers. His father was Dunedin’s assistant city missioner when Kevin was a preschooler.
In his new role at Otago University, Kevin will also be director of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. The centre will be dedicated to exploring the nature of conflict, its resolution and the creation of peaceful environments.
It will bring together academics, students and visitors from a wide range of disciplines. One of its key aims being the full and effective involvement of indigenous peoples.
Kevin’ primary research interest is in the development of peace-building networks to create conditions that remove the sources of direct and indirect violence.
His recent research has focused on the inability of post-colonial states to create conditions that guarantee the security of their citizens. He also has a wider interest in how individuals and groups can enlarge their awareness and "boundaries of compassion".
He says another focus will be on religion and conflict. He wants to study the warrior and pacifist ideas in the major religious traditions.
"I want the New Zealand peace centre to be a centre of academic excellence that will generate the highest quality peace and conflict research, theory and practice. I also want to build on the rich indigenous peace-building initiatives that run deep in New Zealand’s Moriori and Maori traditions.
"This centre should help enhance positive biculturalism within New Zealand – a unique feature, which is missing from many similar centres around the world."
Kevin received a PhD in sociology from Victoria University in 1970. He has spent the past 17 years in international posts.
From 1999 to 2003, he was secretary general of International Alert an international organisation based in London that works to end conflict in Africa, Eurasia and Colombia. Before that he was director of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Virginia. He is also the incoming secretary general of the International Peace Research Association.
Kevin says he is looking forward to bringing together the experience of both his academic and NGO positions of the past 20 years.
"All of that has given me a very good background in how to establish this kind of centre and how to make sure it is policy relevant. Another strength is that I spent some time focusing on the role of religion and the development of the welfare state," he says.
Professor Clements believes the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies will be of particular interest to the Methodist Church.
"It builds a lot on some of the fundamental typical principles that lie behind Methodist social teaching. I would very much like the Methodist Church to be behind us."