Maria J. Stephan

Senior Policy Fellow

Dr. Maria J. Stephan is a senior policy fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, where she focuses on the dynamics of civil resistance and their relevance for violent conflict prevention and democratic development. Previously, Stephan was lead foreign affairs officer in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), where she worked on both policy and operations. Her last assignment entailed engaging the Syrian opposition in Turkey.  Earlier, she was detailed to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan to focus on subnational governance and civil-military planning.

Prior to government service, Stephan directed policy and research at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), a DC-based NGO dedicated to developing and disseminating knowledge about nonviolent struggle.  She was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and American University’s School of International Service.  Stephan is the editor of Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization and Governance in the Middle East (Palgrave, 2009), a co-editor of Is Authoritarianism Staging a Comeback? (Atlantic Council, 2015) and the co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press, 2011).  The latter book was awarded the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Prize by the American Political Science Association for the best book published in political science and the 2012 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

Stephan has worked with the European/NATO policy office of the U.S. Department of Defense, and at NATO Headquarters in Brussels.  She received both Harry S. Truman and J. William Fulbright scholarships. She holds doctoral and master’s degrees from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a bachelor’s degree from Boston College.  Stephan is from Clarendon, Vermont. 

Expert In the News

Articles & Analysis from this Expert

July 11, 2016

The extremist group ISIS exhibits attributes of both an insurgency and a totalitarian regime. Even top U.S. generals acknowledge that military force alone is insufficient to degrade, much less defeat an organization that rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. ISIS will only be weakened through a multifaceted strategy combining diplomatic, economic, political and other means. Organized civilian action that aims to disrupt and deny the group’s key sources of power could be a critical part of that strategy.

February 8, 2016
by
Maria J. Stephan & Maciej Bartkowski
January 22, 2016
by
Maria J. Stephan
July 17, 2015
by
Maria J. Stephan, Erin Mazursky

Publications

February 23, 2015
Supporting local agents of nonviolent change is critical to preventing violent conflict and advancing democratic development. Civic campaigns are key drivers of social and political development, as is clear from issues-focused movements in Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and most recently the Middle East and North Africa. Effectively aiding civic movements that are fluid, diverse, decentralized, and often loosely organized is tricky. Drawn from a review of the literature and numerous interviews with international policymakers and civil society leaders, this report explores both the ways donors engage civil society and creative new approaches to supporting nontraditional actors.
January 8, 2015
In an era of crackdowns on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, what role can technology play in strengthening nonviolent civic mobilization? How can activists strategically apply the full range of technologies to build and sustain movements where the options for nonviolently resolving conflicts are diminishing under increased repression? Informed by discussions from a USIP workshop, this report explores avenues for engagement between activists and external actors to use technology in support of movement building.