The Sargent Shriver Peace Institute (SSPI) was launched in 2006 in the service of a big idea: The notion that by paying careful attention to the achievements of Sargent Shriver, we could significantly advance the theory and practice of peacebuilding in the U.S. and abroad.
Sargent Shriver's achievements as a peacebuilder include his work to desegregate Catholic high schools and hospitals in Chicago as President of the Catholic Interracial Council in the 1950s. They include his work in political and religious circles in the 1980s, when he led the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and also led members of America's defense establishment to publically espouse a "no first strike" policy on nuclear weapons. Most famously, Shriver's achievements include his service in the 1960s in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations as the Founding Director of the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty, respectively. This was a period of extraordinary political and cultural tumult at home and abroad - a period in which an escalating Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union coincided with the retrenchment of European colonial empires and triggered the outbreak of proxy hot wars across the globe - a period in which America's conflicts over civil rights and its unrest over Vietnam triggered riots in major cities across the country.
Sargent Shriver responded creatively and constructively to these conflicts by developing a string of public policies and programs (Peace Corps, Community Action, Neighborhood Health Services, Head Start, Legal Services to the Poor, among others) that successfully built peace in the developing world and within the United States because they provided opportunities for people to make their own decisions about their own needs in a manner that enabled them to transform the social, political and cultural roots of the conflicts dividing them.
Decades later, these programs continue to work. They work because they enable people to form common purposes in service to human dignity and welfare. They work because they establish institutional patterns of cooperation and communication that made it possible for people to transform their feelings of threat, cross the racial and cultural barriers that separated them, and make decisions that change the way they treat each other. These programs continue to work because Sargent Shriver grounded them in what he explicitly referred to as "spiritual values and deeds." He developed policies and procedures that promote decisions and actions guided by empathy, respect, service, sacrifice and humility - rather than political ideology or religious doctrine.
Sargent Shriver's achievement as a peacebuilder and public servant has yet to receive the public and scholarly attention it deserves. To that end, the Sargent Shriver Peace Institute was created to pursue its threefold mission:
--To enhance public awareness and knowledge of Sargent Shriver as a public servant and master peacebuilder;
--To advance critical and applied thinking about the method of peacebuilding employed by Sargent Shriver in his many peacebuilding endeavors, with special attention to the political, moral, and spiritual foundations of his approach; and
--To foster the development of a framework for collaborative creativity that will help peacebuilders to respond constructively and effectively to the conflicts and challenges facing America and the world today.