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Home >Theology of Peace and War > Wesleyan Quadrilateral > Experience: Alternatives to War > Nonviolent Action

Nonviolent Action

During the two millennia of Christianity there is a continuous history of nonviolent responses to conflict situations. It began with Jesus and the apostless, continued in the early Christian church, and remained an approach used by Christians over the centuries. Secular society has also produced many examples of nonviolent action. The 20th century, which saw two world wars and many smaller ones, also saw the emergence of active nonviolence as a means for dealing with military aggression, political oppression, and colonialism.

In this section we look at experience in the 20th and early 21st centuries. We consider principles and techniques of active nonviolence. We provide sources for further information on the subject.

A Century of Experience
Principles and Techniques


In 1906 Mohandas K. Gandhi began developing techniques of nonviolence to oppose oppressive laws in South Africa. Returning to India in 1915, he turned his attention to British colonialism and the quest for Indian independence. Gandhi's experience provide a base of practical knowledge for Martin Luther King, Jr.[linkage to be supplied] in 1955 and thereafter in the American civil rights movement. In the 1980s as the Soviet Empire began to crumble, nonviolence became the hallmark of liberation in Eastern Europe and within the Soviet Union itself. Others around the globe have engaged in nonviolent action for a variety of causes.

Here we offer several articles dealing with this experience. In the section on resources we provide reference to other sources for accounts of experience with nonviolent action.

The Global Spread of Active Nonviolence
by Richard Deats

More and more, active nonviolence is taking the center stage in the struggle for liberation among oppressed peoples across the world. This is an alternative history, one that most people are scarcely aware of. What follows, in necessarily broad strokes, are some of the highlights of this alternative history.

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The Year 1989
by Pope John Paul II

Excerpts from Centesimus annus, 1991

It seemed that the European order resulting from the Second World War and sanctioned by the Yalta Agreements could only be overturned by another war. Instead, it has been overcome by the non-violent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth....

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Nonviolence as a Legitimate Means toward Peace in Palestine
by Mubarak Awad

Nonviolence International

The term nonviolence has been used in many ways. It has been used to describe pacifism, a lifestyle, a set of beliefs, an instrument of power and a strategy for liberation, and a method of achieving economic empowerment. Our discussion refers to nonviolence as a means of affecting lasting change and resolving conflict. Nonviolence motivates people to act justly and ethically and to demand just and ethical action, particularly by those in power, without resort to physical harm. The first premise of nonviolence is never to participate in anything that is immoral, and to speak truth to those who would wield power.

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Also see:

Increasing Use of Nonviolence in History
by Sanderson Beck

A listing of examples from the last 500 years plus one from 454 BCE is contained in a Nonviolent Action Handbook by Sanderson Beck.

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Other articles to be added

You can find information about Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence movement and about Martin Luther King, Jr. [linkage to be supplied]and the U.S. civil rights movement in the section on 20th Century Prophets and Theologians of this website.



Experience with nonviolent action during the 20th century has helped develop deeper understanding of basic principles and practical knowledge in using various action techniques. This has occurred in many countries in varied circumstances.

In many instances the application of nonviolent techniques is accompanied by other means for accomplishing campaign goals. This can include moral, political, and economic support from allies; elections and plebiscites; reliance upon legal rights carried out through courts and even by the police or military in a protective manner; publicity through newspapers, radio, television, internet. But usually nonviolent action serves as the catalyst for change.

Blessed Are The Meek: The Roots of Christian Nonviolence
by Thomas Merton

It would be a serious mistake to regard Christian nonviolence simply as a novel tactic which is at once efficacious and even edifying, and which enables the sensitive person to participate in the struggles of the world without being dirtied with blood. Nonviolence is not simply a way of proving one's point and getting what one wants without being involved in behavior that one considers ugly and evil. Nor is it, for that matter, a means which anyone legitimately can make use of according to his fancy for any purpose whatever. To practice nonviolence for a purely selfish or arbitrary end would in fact discredit and distort the truth of nonviolent resistance.

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How Nonviolence Works
by Glenn Smiley

While in all societies throughout history, there must have been men and women who, by reason of superior intelligence were able to compensate for lack of strength by more innovative means, it has not been until the relatively recent past that an organized third way of addressing conflict has emerged. It is to this third way that we address ourselves, as we seek to develop a method of training in nonviolence.

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198 Methods of Nonviolent Action
by Gene Sharp

Gene Sharp, long-time researcher on nonviolence, has identified 198 methods of nonviolent action. They include the following major categories:

  • Nonviolent Protest and Persuasion
  • Social Noncooperation
  • Economic Noncooperation: Boycotts
  • Economic Noncooperation: Strikes
  • Political Noncooperation
  • Nonviolent Intervention

These methods were compiled by Dr Sharp and first published in his 1973 book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Vol. 2: The Methods of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973). The book outlines each method and gives information about its historical use.


Albert Einstein Institution

Founded in 1983 by Dr. Gene Sharp, The Albert Einstein Institution is dedicated to advancing the study and use of strategic nonviolent action in conflicts throughout the world. It is committed to the defense of freedom, democracy, and the reduction of political violence through the use of nonviolent action. The Institution has actively consulted with resistance and pro-democracy groups (including groups in Burma, Thailand, Tibet, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Serbia, and the Occupied Territories).

The Institution has publications on nonviolent action, some of them downloadable, include strategies for resisting coups, going form dictatorship to democracy, and self-reliance defense without war. There is a listing of Dr. Sharp's many books on nonviolence, including the latest, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential (2005), that includes 23 case studies of nonviolent action.

Nonviolence International

Nonviolence International promotes nonviolent action and seeks to reduce the use of violence worldwide. NI believes that every cultural and religious tradition can discover and employ culturally appropriate nonviolent methods for positive social change and international peace. Founded by Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad in 1989, NI has resource centers and affiliates in Aceh, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Jerusalem, Bangkok, Moscow, and Washington, D.C.

Nonviolence International has available an Annotated Bibliography of Nonviolent Action Training containing basic training resources for those who engage in nonviolent action training.

Fellowship of Reconciliation

Another excellent resource is the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Information on this organization is provided on this website in the section on Pacifism. Go to.

Other Organizations

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