Maria J. Stephan

Senior Policy Fellow

Dr. Maria J. Stephan is a senior policy fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, where she focuses on civil resistance, nonviolent movements and their relevance to conflict transformation and democratic development. At the Atlantic Council she co-leads the Future of Authoritarianism project. 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 for Afghanistan and Syria engagements. Earlier, Stephan directed policy and research at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), a private foundation dedicated to developing and disseminating knowledge about nonviolent struggle. She simultaneously taught courses on human rights and civil resistance 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. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, Defense One, and NPR. Stephan has worked with the European/NATO policy office of the U.S. Department of Defense, and at NATO HQs in Brussels. She is the recipient of Harry S. Truman and J. William Fulbright national scholarships. She holds an MA and PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a bachelor’s degree from Boston College. Stephan, who is from Vermont, is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations. 

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


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.