In Memoriam

Gene Sharp, 1928–2018

Gene Sharp, former CFIA Associate and scholar of nonviolent political resistance, dies at 90

The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs recently mourned the loss of Gene Sharp, a political scientist and former associate of the Center. Sharp, who died in his Boston home shortly after his ninetieth birthday, founded the Center’s former Program on Nonviolent Sanctions in Conflict and Defense (PNS). 

The rationale behind PNS was based on the simple premise about the nature of political power—that it is rooted in and continually dependent upon cooperation and obedience, and that either can be withdrawn. In 1983, Sharp founded the program along with the Albert Einstein Institution, which focuses ''not on pacifism, not on any mahatma nonsense, but on pragmatic nonviolent struggle."

Under Sharp’s direction, the Program on Nonviolent Sanctions was devoted to research and policy studies on the nature and dynamics of nonviolent sanctions, and the possible development and refinement of social, economic, psychological, and political sanctions for use in the resolution of future international and domestic conflicts.

After Sharp's tenure as founding director, PNS continued in the spirit of its founder and subsequently merged with a human rights organization at Harvard called Cultural Survival in 1995. According to David Maybury-Lewis, founder of Cultural Survival and director of the combined program—newly minted as the Program on Nonviolent Sanctions and Cultural Survival (PONSACS)—this program was ideally situated to address nonviolent alternatives for the preservation of all peoples and their cultures. PONSACS flourished for ten years at the Center, and eventually closed in 2005. 

Gene Sharp’s no-nonsense attitude toward nonviolent struggle spurred him to author many books and articles, including the notable booklet, From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation. This “ninety-three-page guide to toppling autocrats” became essential reading for orchestrators of nonviolent revolts.

Many people linked luminaries such as Gandhi, Thoreau, and Martin Luther King, Jr. to Sharp’s work, though Sharp took a more pragmatic and less moral approach to keeping the peace. Regardless, his decades of work in the pursuit of nonviolent struggle—translated in scores of languages all over the world—leave an indelible mark on our society, and he will be missed.  

Mary Steedly, 1946–2018

Image of Mary SteedlyMary Steedly, professor of anthropology at Harvard University, passed away on January 4, 2018, at age 71. Steedly was a Faculty Associate since 2007 and former Harvard Academy Senior Scholar from 2005–2014. To read more about Mary Steedly and her love of writing and dogs, read her obituary in the Harvard Crimson, “Mary Steedly, Cornerstone of Anthropology Department, Dies at 71.” Photo credit: Tony Rinaldo

Calestous Juma, 1953–2018

Image of Calestous JumaCalestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development at Harvard Kennedy School, passed away on December 15, 2017, at age 64. Juma was a Faculty Associate since 2012. To read more about Calestous Juma and his contributions, modesty, and good humor, read “The Human Element: Remembering Calestous Juma,” in the Harvard Kennedy School Magazine. Photo credit: Martha Stewart