Dr. Maria J. Stephan directs the Program on Nonviolent Action at the U.S. Institute of Peace, which focuses on applied research, training and education and informing policies and practice related to civil resistance, nonviolent action and their roles in transforming violent conflict and advancing just peace. She was formerly a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, where she co-led 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. 

Publications By Maria

How Can Nicaragua’s Opposition Achieve a Breakthrough?

How Can Nicaragua’s Opposition Achieve a Breakthrough?

Friday, August 3, 2018

By: Maria J. Stephan; Joseph (Joe) Eldridge

Only a few months ago Nicaragua was a spectator to the turmoil in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that has led to a massive exodus of families seeking refuge by traveling north. Sadly because of the current tumult in Nicaragua, a new refugee crisis could be on the way. To prevent further escalation, the opposition and the Catholic Church should loudly and strategically embrace nonviolent discipline.

Nonviolent Action

War-Weary Afghans March for Peace

War-Weary Afghans March for Peace

Friday, June 29, 2018

By: Maria J. Stephan; Johnny Walsh; USIP Staff

A recent grassroots peace movement in Afghanistan began in late March 2018 as a series of sit-ins and a hunger strike in Helmand province demanding that both the government and Taliban implement a cease-fire. USIP’s Maria Stephan and Johnny Walsh discuss the significance of this nonviolent movement, how its bottom-up approach can strengthen the push for a peace, and what to expect from the movement going forward.

Nonviolent Action

To Defeat Terrorism, Use 'People Power'

To Defeat Terrorism, Use 'People Power'

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

By: Maria J. Stephan; Leanne Erdberg

As governments and communities seek the right combination of methods to halt terrorism, one that we too often miss is nonviolent resistance. It’s not that we haven’t seen the power of protest movements that use mass marches, sit-ins, boycotts and other forceful but nonviolent tactics. To the contrary, people worldwide have been moved by watching such movements sweep aside the walls of apartheid, the tanks of dictators or the impunity of kleptocracies...

Nonviolent Action; Violent Extremism

How the United Nations Can Harness 'People Power'

How the United Nations Can Harness 'People Power'

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

By: Tabatha Thompson; Maria J. Stephan

The United Nations has declared a priority this year to unify and strengthen its work in building peace—and U.N. bodies will meet in the next two months to advance that change. U.N. leaders have acknowledged that a vital element in peacebuilding is nonviolent, grassroots movements. But as the United Nations aims to more efficiently promote peace, how prepared is it to actually work with them?

Nonviolent Action

Tribute to Gene Sharp

Tribute to Gene Sharp

Monday, February 5, 2018

By: Maria J. Stephan

Gene Sharp was a giant the field of civil resistance whose voluminous writings have inspired and informed the work of academics, practitioners, and activists the world over. His role in advancing human rights, fundamental freedoms, and social justice around the world cannot be over-estimated. Few scholars have had such a profound impact on the course of human events as Gene Sharp. He will be greatly missed. 

Nonviolent Action

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