'Readings in Nonviolence' features extracts
from our favourite books, pamphlets or other material on nonviolence,
or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions welcome).
Adam Curle, a pacifist man who struggled
for peace in a militarised world
By Clem McCartney and Roberta Bacic
It seems relevant this month to use this space
to refer to Adam Curle as he died early October. I would like
to stress that my interest in bringing him into our pages
resides in the fact that as a pacifist he moved in circles
far beyond pacifism and was able to make his contribution
in that context. I met him for the first time in Croatia in
1997 when he was already 80 years old. We were trying to support
a group of village people in finding out the truth of rumours
of a mass grave that was the consequence of the Balkans war.
It was a difficult situation where many people wanted to organise
and direct us and in this context he was open and trusting
but never lost sight of himself and what he thought was important.
This was the period during the confusion after the break-up
of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, when he began to lose
hope in achieving change through negotiations between political
leaders and he valued more the impulses of individuals to
work for better societies. An obituary by Tom Woodhouse from
the Peace Studies Department at Bradford, reproduced below,
captures the Adam well. When he refers to Adam inspiring the
Osijek Centre for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights, my
sense is that he was more stimulated by the people involved
in that centre and similar efforts elsewhere in the Balkans
than that he felt he inspired them. They learnt from each
In 1981, when asked how it was possible to address
effectively the issue of making peace in a militarised world
“ I have often been asked how we handle the fact that
peacemaking involves having a relationship, often a close
relationship, with people who are committed to violent solutions
to their problems. Do we tell them we disapprove of what they
are doing or urge them to repent and desist? And if we don't,
how do we square this with our principles? For my part I reply
that I would never presume to criticise people, caught up
in a situation I do not share with them, for the way in which
they are responding to that situation. How could I, for example,
preach to the oppressed of Latin America or Southern Africa?
Nevertheless, I explain that I do not believe in the use of
violence as either effective or moral; my job is to try to
help people who can see no alternative to violence to find
I am as much concerned with the human condition
in general as with specific conflicts, which often represent
only the tip of a pyramid of violence and anguish... I am
concerned with all the pain and confusion that impede our
unfolding and fulfilment. Often, of course, circumstances
force us to focus on extreme examples of unpeacefulness. However,
if we were to limit our attention to these, we would be neglecting
the soil out of which they grow and would continue to grow
until the soil were purified. In this sense the social worker,
the teacher, the wise legislator, or the good neighbour is
just as much a peacemaker as the woman or man unravelling
some lethal international imbroglio”.
Adam Curle Quaker and pioneer of peace studies in Britain
’Guardian’, Wednesday 4th October, 2006
The legitimacy and growth of peace studies is perhaps the
greatest and enduring legacy of Adam Curle, who has died aged
90. In 1973, he was appointed to the first chair in peace
studies in Britain, at Bradford University, a department that
is now the largest and among the best known centres for such
work in the world. It has stimulated and provided a model
for many other programmes. Peace and conflict research, once
regarded with suspicion, is now established in universities
Adam would not have claimed any credit
for this growth, but those who knew him as friends, students,
colleagues, peace activists, or simply through reading his
books, were inspired by his gentle charisma to spread the
values of peace through education and action. Education aside,
he was also innovative and courageous as a peacemaker, pioneering
citizen mediation and peace building.
Adam defined what education for peace should entail in his
inaugural Bradford lecture, The Scope and Dilemmas of Peace
Studies, published in 1974. Among his prolific output, two
books, Making Peace (1971) and Education for Liberation (1973),
signalled his move into peace studies.
Adam was born Charles Curle in L'Isle-Adam, north of Paris.
Adam, the name by which he was universally known, came from
his birthplace. His father, Richard Curle, was a journalist
and writer and close friend of the novelist Joseph Conrad.
His mother was Cordelia Fisher. One of her sisters, Adeline,
married the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Other relatives
included the historian FW Maitland; Julia Margaret Cameron,
pioneer of photography; Virginia Woolf, novelist and feminist;
and the artist Vanessa Bell.
His mother planted the seed that led to
his pacifism and his decision to become a Quaker. As Adam
recalled: "She hated war, to which she had lost three
of her beloved brothers, and was determined that she would
instil her loathing of it in me as well."
Educated at Charterhouse school, Adam
read history and anthropology at New College, Oxford. In 1939,
he married Pamela Hobson, with whom he had two daughters.
They divorced some years later. During the war, he served
in the army, rising to the rank of major. After the war he
worked at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London,
helping to resettle British servicemen who had been prisoners
In 1950, he became a lecturer in social psychology in the
psychology department at Oxford University, and two years
later was appointed to the education and psychology chair
at Exeter University. During the late 1950s he travelled widely
in Asia and the Middle East and met Anne Edie, from New Zealand,
who was working in community health development in Dhaka,
in what was then East Pakistan. They married in 1958, and
had one daughter. From 1959 to 1961 he was professor of education
at the University of Ghana, where he and Anne joined the Quakers.
In 1961 he became director of the Harvard Centre for Studies
in Education and Development.
Problems of conflict and violence began
to feature in his work, particularly because of his direct
experience as a mediator during the Nigerian civil war (1967-70)
and the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. Then came the invitation to
lead the new Bradford department - itself the idea of a small
group of Quakers.
Adam retired from Bradford in 1978 but
worked on as a peacemaker, often under Quaker auspices, putting
into practice the idea that education was concerned with emancipation.
This value was also embodied in the principle of "speaking
truth to power" asserted by Quakers. The techniques of
peacemaking (whether mediation, problem solving, negotiation,
policy analysis, advocacy, or non-violent activism) are what
he called "tools for transformation".
He worked to bring people together in
conflict-torn areas, including India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe,
South Africa, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and the Balkans.
In Croatia, when in his late 70s, he was the inspiration behind
the Osijek Peace Centre, which symbolised resistance to the
war and inspired a prolific peace network. He was awarded
the Gandhi peace prize in 2000 in recognition of his long
commitment to peace work.
It is not easy to capture in words the
deep affection that people formed for this extraordinary man.
He was warm, humorous, modest and wise in equal measure. Visitors
were welcomed by him and Anne, whether in America, Yorkshire
or, in his later years, in retirement in London. Their hospitality
was legendary. Both were avid gardeners and grew the vegetables
that graced the dishes cooked by Anne, to the delight of their
In his early years, Adam played the flute,
and maintained a love of music throughout his life. A deeply
spiritual man, remaining a Quaker but influenced also by the
Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism in recent years, he was never
pious or doctrinaire. Just to be in his company was enough
to feel a palpable and joyous sense of knowing what it means
to be human. Intellectually energetic to the last, he published
his final book, The Fragile Voice of Love, shortly before
He is survived by Anne, his daughters
Christina, Anna and Deborah, and several grandchildren and