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Culture of Peace

Page history last edited by Stephanie Knox 13 years, 6 months ago

Culture of Peace: Learning Objectives

After this section, participants should be able to meet the following objectives: 

  • Define a culture of war and a culture of peace
  • Understand different conceptual frameworks of a culture of peace 
  • Discuss peace at different levels in society, from the personal to the global 


Guiding Questions 

Before reading this section, consider the following questions:


  • What culture(s) do you identify with? What are the components of this culture? Try to think of visible elements (food, music, diet, art, etc.) as well as the less visible (beliefs, values, customs, etc.).
  • In what ways does your culture promote peace? Think of conflict resolution techniques, social norms, and values that help to create a peaceful society.




 The desire for peace has been a universal issue which has transcended ages and places, and the need for peace in the world has been the hope of all ages. Unfortunately, humanity has never seen a clear culture of peace established where everyone without exception is able live in peace. Looking at culture as "a way of life", implies that a culture of peace means a peaceful way of living. The key challenge that educators and other stakeholders have faced is how to establish a global model of living in peace, where all people live in peace with one another. 


Peace education can be defined broadly as educating for a culture of peace. A culture of peace integrates concepts of both negative and positive peace, and involves the transformation of society from the current culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and nonviolence.


What is the culture of war?

The culture of war is more than just a nation being at war; it is the physical and structural violence that permeates every aspect of culture, including language, interpersonal relationships, power dynamics and one's relationship with nature. The culture of war manifests in a myriad of ways, and is often deeply entrenched in beliefs that can make it seem "normal" or "natural." However, as culture is a human construct, the culture of war is human-made, and as such, can be equally dismantled and replaced with a culture of peace. 


The following table (Adams, 2005) contrasts the culture of war and culture of peace:




Belief in power that is based on force

Education for a culture of peace

Having an enemy

Understanding, tolerance and solidarity

Authoritarian governance

Democratic participation

Secrecy and propaganda

Free flow of information



Exploitation of people

Human rights

Exploitation of nature

Sustainable development

Male domination

Equality of women and men



Definitions of Culture of Peace

According to Adams (2005):

"A culture of peace is an integral approach to preventing violence and violent conflicts, and an alternative to the culture of war and violence based on education for peace, the promotion of sustainable economic and social development, respect for human rights, equality between women and men, democratic participation, tolerance, the free flow of information and disarmament."


Another definition by Adams (1995) states that "a culture of peace consists of values, attitudes, behaviors and ways of life based on nonviolence, respect for human rights, intercultural understanding, tolerance and solidarity, sharing and free flow of information and the full participation of women" (p. 16). A culture of peace includes eliminating violence, but goes beyond this through promoting human rights, multiculturalism, solidarity, respect, and environmental stewardship from local to global levels. 


A culture of peace is a process, rather than an end point, and a vision of moving all aspects of society towards peacefulness. It is not static, but rather dynamic, always changing based on how a community changes (Adams, 2009). When thinking of a culture of peace, it is useful to think of a spectrum, with a culture of war at one end and culture of peace at the other, and a multitude of possibilities and combinations in between. 


As such, we often talk about cultivating or promoting a culture of peace, as it is something that is in constant, continuous development.  This process does not mean that there will not be conflict. Diverse communities will always encounter conflict, and it is not the conflict itself that is negative, as conflict can create tension that leads to creative solutions that actually improve our lives; it is when we handle conflict violently that it becomes problematic. Thus a culture of peace is a constantly evolving process of nonviolence,  in contrast to the current culture of war in which violence and injustice are pervasive. 


It is important to note that there is not a singular concept of culture of peace, and the definition of a culture of peace must make room for cultural plurality. Groff and Smoker (1996) discuss the existence of different definitions for "culture" and "peace". Brenes (2004) notes that the values and principles of a culture of peace "can be expressed in diverse ways in different cultures" (p. 79). Wessells (1994) notes that "it would be culturally insensitive to prescribe an exact meaning of 'culture of peace'" (p. 6). A culture of peace will perhaps look differently in each school or community, but will have overarching principles as outlined in the models below. 

Culture of Peace Frameworks 

A number of different frameworks have been developed to define a culture of peace, including the UNESCO framework, Toh & Cawagas's flower model (2002), and the Integral Model for Peace Education (Brenes, 2004). In order to fully define a culture of peace, it may be necessary to combine different aspects of these models, and depending on the context, some of these frameworks may be more relevant or useful.  Thus a combination of different frameworks is ideal for developing a concept of culture of peace for a particular context or setting  These frameworks are holistic and comprehensive, and the frameworks have many overlapping and complementary components.



According to the Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, the United Nations defines a culture of peace as "a set of values, attitudes, modes of behaviour and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation among individuals, groups and nations" (UNESCO, 2010). The UNESCO model is most universally recognized and incorporates many aspects of a culture of peace. The UN General Assembly (1999) declared action in the following areas necessary to transition to a culture of peace and nonviolence:

1) a culture of peace through education;

2) democratic participation;

3) human rights;

4) sustainable development;

5) equality between men and women;

6) advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity;

7) supporting participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge, and

8) promoting international peace and security.


The UNESCO framework uses an international lens, and thus is very applicable at the global level and for international contexts. However, it can also be used at the local or institutional level. For example, "international peace and security" could be translated as "local peace and security," and local issues could be assessed and monitored. The UNESCO model lacks a personal conception of peace, such as inner peace/personal peace. 


Flower model

The flower-shaped culture of peace model developed by Virginia Cawagas and Swee-Hin Toh (2002). Toh was the recipient of the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 2000. This model has "educating for a culture of peace" at the center, and six petals for: 1) dismantling the culture of war; 2) promoting human rights and responsibilities; 3) living with justice and compassion; 4) building cultural respect, reconciliation and solidarity; 5) living in harmony with the earth, and 6) cultivating inner peace.


This model offers several notable contributions. First is the area of dismantling a culture of war, which most closely corresponds to promoting international peace and security in the UNESCO model. Ideally, in a culture of peace, international security would be equated with total disarmament. The flower model (Toh & Cawagas, 2002) goes farther by explaining that real international peace and security will require dismantling the culture of war, ranging from disarmament at an international level, to nonviolent conflict resolution at micro levels, such as in communities and schools, as well as promoting attitudes and values of non-violence. This petal includes disarmament education.


Secondly, the idea of "living in harmony with the earth" correlates to "sustainable social and economic development," but goes deeper by highlighting the need for a harmonious relationship with the environment. The word "development" has very different connotations and definitions, and the growth-centered approach to development is arguably the source of much environmental degradation. While these two themes imply similar ideas, the flower model (Toh & Cawagas, 2002) emphasizes the need to live in a way that is not only sustainable, but in union with the natural world. 


Finally, the inclusion of inner peace as a component to a culture of peace is an important addition of this model. The petal of inner peace is not in the UNESCO framework, and is a notable omission. The UNESCO framework touches on interpersonal relations, between people, but not intrapersonal relations, within one’s self. 


Integral Model

Another model is the Integral Model for Peace Education, which was developed by the University for Peace and Central American governments during the first phase of the Culture of Peace and Democracy Program, from 1994 to 1996 (Brenes, 2004). The Integral Model is a mandala-shaped, person-centered framework, which incorporates the contexts of peace with oneself, with others, and with Nature, at ethical, mental, emotional and action levels (Brenes, 2004, p. 83).


This model also emphasizes the importance of personal or inner peace, with respect to the body, heart and mind, and also includes more public spheres, and explicitly includes political and social participation, democratic participation, and a culture of democracy. Its approach to ecological peace is similar to the flower model (Toh & Cawagas, 2002), although more explicit in its definition, by explaining that peace with nature encompasses ecological consciousness, biodiversity, and natural balance. Another interesting component of this model is that it explicitly includes health, which is unique to this model.


The Integral model includes principles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Earth Charter (1997), which takes an ecological sustainability-focused approach to a culture of peace. According to the Earth Charter preamble (1997), at this critical moment in Earth's history, "we must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace." The Earth Charter contains sixteen principles, guided by the following themes: respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, social and economic justice, and democracy, nonviolence and peace. Each of the sixteen themes is elaborated with more specific actions for how the principle translates into action. In the Earth Charter, the principle of universal responsibility goes beyond our relationship one another to include future generations and the biosphere (Brenes, 2004).  


Culture of Peace at Different Levels: From the Individual to the Household to the World

The United Nations reports that they are over 6.8 billion people living on earth at this time. How can we establish the model for all people to live in peace? While the UNESCO model takes an international approach, the Flower and Integral models incorporate personal peace or inner peace as critical components of a culture of peace. As the world is made up of billions of individuals, each individual can develop personal peace practices to create a sense of inner peace, which will then expand into their personal relationships and community, and out to the wider world. Thus when thinking about a culture of peace, we need to consider both the micro (self) and macro (global) levels.


Realizing that the global family is a collection and coalition of many smaller families, it implies that in attempting to establish a global culture of peace, we need to establish a family level culture of peace, which can expand into a community culture of peace and eventually into a global culture of peace. The family unit varies culturally, from small nuclear families to extended families. A family culture of peace would mean having peaceful relationships with one's parents, siblings, spouses, and children, or other relatives.


Therefore, in creating a culture of peace, we need to establish values, attitudes, knowledge and actions at all levels of human relationships, starting with one's relationship to oneself, and extending to the family and wider community. In this way, all people will be able to learn the way of living in peace from their family, and will acquire the needed values, knowledge and skills to be able to live in peace with other members of the wider society. Therefore, to establish a global culture of peace requires establish a local family level culture of peace.


It should be noted that a culture of peace can be promoted at all levels at all times, and does not need to happen in a linear fashion. From the individual to the family level, peace extends outward into the local community. Local communities can develop initiatives to create a local culture of peace. This can they extend beyond, regionally and to the world. In the section Building a Culture of Peace In Your School, we will look at how to apply these principles to everyday life in your school, community, and beyond.


The global culture of peace starts with you!


Questions for Comprehension and Reflection


  • What are some examples of how the culture of war manifests in your life, community or country? What are some ways that you can take action to dismantle the culture of war?
  • Examining the UNESCO, Flower, and Integral models for a culture of peace, what are the strengths to each model? What are the weaknesses? Which model applies best to your community? Consider trying to develop your own model by integrating aspects from the different models or other aspects that are not included.
  • Think about the culture of peace in your life, from the personal level, to your family, to the regional, to the global. What are some ways that you can act now to promote a culture of peace at different levels? Make a list of different actions and commit to at least one practical, feasible action that you can start with today.
  • Begin thinking of how to apply culture of peace principles to your school and classroom. 



Adams, D. (1995).  UNESCO and a Culture of Peace: Promoting a Global Movement. Original edition out of print. Available at:



Adams, D. (2005). Definition of Culture of Peace. Retrieved from: http://www.culture-of-peace.info/copoj/definition.html


Adams, D. (2009). World Peace Through the Town Hall. Self-published. Available at: http://www.culture-of-peace.info/books/worldpeace.html 


Brenes-Castro, A. (2004). An Integral Model of Peace Education. In A.L. Wenden (Ed.), Educating for a Culture of Social and Ecological Peace. Albany: State

     University of New York Press. p. 77-98.


Earth Charter. (1997). Retrieved from http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/pages/Read-the-Charter.html


Groff, L. & Smoker, P. (1996) Creating global/local cultures of peace. In UNESCO (Ed.) From a culture of violence to a culture of peace. Paris: UNESCO. p. 103-127.


Toh, S.H. & Cawagas, V.F. (2002). A Holistic Understanding of a Culture of Peace. Presented at the APCEIU Expert Consultation on EIU, Fiji.


Wessels, M. (1994). The Role of Peace Education in a Culture of Peace: A Social-Psychological  Analysis. Peace Education Miniprints No. 65. Malmo, Sweden: School

     of Education.


UN General Assembly. (1948). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/


UN General Assembly (1999).  A/RES/53/243: Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. Retrieved

     from http://www3.unesco.org/iycp/uk/uk_sum_cp.htm


UNESCO. (2010). Culture of Peace: What is it? Retrieved from: http://www3.unesco.org/iycp/uk/uk_sum_cp.htm 

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