Maria J. Stephan directs the Program on Nonviolent Action at the U.S. Institute of Peace, which conducts research, training & education, and informs policymakers on the roles played by civil resistance and people power movements in advancing human rights and sustainable peace.

Stephan is a leading expert on civil resistance, authoritarianism, and conflict transformation whose career has straddled the academic, government, and non-governmental sectors. Stephan is the co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press, 2011), which 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. She is the co-author of Bolstering Democracy: Lessons Learned and the Path Forward (Atlantic Council, 2018); the co-editor of Is Authoritarianism Staging a Comeback? (Atlantic Council, 2015); and the editor of Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization and Governance in the Middle East (Palgrave, 2009). Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, Defense One, War on the Rocks, and NPR.

Previously, Stephan co-led the Future of Authoritarianism project at the Atlantic Council, a DC-based think tank. She was lead foreign affairs officer in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, where she worked on both policy and operations for Afghanistan (at U.S. Embassy, Kabul) and Syria (from Turkey). Earlier, Stephan directed policy and research at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, a private foundation dedicated to developing and disseminating knowledge about nonviolent struggle. She has taught graduate and undergraduate courses on human rights and civil resistance at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and American University’s School of International Service.

Stephan has worked in the Europe/NATO policy office of the U.S. Department of Defense, and at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. She is the recipient of Harry S. Truman national scholarship dedicated to public service and was a J. William Fulbright scholar in Germany. She holds an MALD and PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a BA degree from Boston College. Stephan, a proud Vermonter, is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Publications By Maria

People Power Can Boost the Afghan Peace Process

People Power Can Boost the Afghan Peace Process

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

By: Maria J. Stephan

I recently visited Afghanistan for the first time since serving at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from 2009-2011. When I was last there, the fighting was intense and peace seemed far off. My days were spent working long hours at the embassy, and my nights were spent working on a book about violent and nonviolent resistance, a project which changed my life. Today, talks between the Taliban and the U.S.—and recently between the Taliban and Afghan leaders—have renewed hope for peace after decades of conflict. What role can civil resistance play amid the steady stream of violence in Afghanistan?

Type: Blog

Nonviolent Action

Maria Stephan on Today’s Nonviolent Movements

Maria Stephan on Today’s Nonviolent Movements

Thursday, May 30, 2019

By: Maria J. Stephan

In the last two months, dictators in Sudan and Algeria were forced to step down because of popular pressure, demonstrating the power of nonviolent resistance to movements in places like Nicaragua and Venezuela. “When large numbers of people engage in various forms of noncooperation … that is where the real power of nonviolent resistance comes from,” says Maria Stephan.

Type: Podcast

Nonviolent Action

In South Sudan, Nonviolent Action is Essential to Building Peace

In South Sudan, Nonviolent Action is Essential to Building Peace

Friday, February 22, 2019

By: Maria J. Stephan; Nicholas Zaremba

On September 12 of last year, South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, signed the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) with South Sudan People Liberation Movement in Opposition chairman Dr. Riek Machar and several other armed groups. Meanwhile, South Sudanese civil society has sought to further advance the country’s peace process through coordinated, strategic nonviolent actions and campaigns.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Nonviolent Action

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.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Nonviolent Action

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