Academically inclined from a young age, Peace and Justice Studies professor Catia Confortini cites her Catholic upbringing as one of the reasons why she is interested in the intersection of feminism and peace and justice studies today.
“I was kind of constantly teased because I liked reading books more than boys or fashion or makeup, but when I was young, I felt but didn’t understand or have the ability to articulate patriarchy [in the Catholic church],” Confortini said.
While she began to recognize issues of gender inequality, it was not until much later in life that she could explain what patriarchy was and how it impacted issues of social justice. Her initial curiosity in peace and justice studies arose from observing her surroundings as she grew up in the 1970’s, a politically charged time when people actively protested for social justice.
“Everyone was Catholic when I was growing up, but in the Catholic church, there is a long tradition of social justice … I think ethically and politically, my interest came from that,” Confortini said.
Professor Confortini studied political science in Italy as an undergraduate, but when she went to Ireland to study abroad, she met a group of nuns and found that her true passion was exploring the impact of feminism on social justice.
“Academically, [my interest] developed later through undergraduate studies in Italy, but most of all when I went abroad to study in Ireland,” she said. “There, I met a community of Catholic nuns that [were] very progressive leaders in their churches and in their community, and it was quite natural to connect feminism to questions of justice and human rights.”
When she came to the United States for graduate school, Confortini continued to pay tribute to her Catholic heritage as she chose to do her masters in peace studies at the University of Notre Dame. Confortini started teaching at Wellesley in 2010 after she wrote her PhD dissertation on the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the longest active women’s peace organization in the world today.
“Founded in 1915, it still exists and even has consultative status with the UN [and it] turns out one of the founders of this organization was a professor at Wellesley, Professor Emily Greene Balch, who won a Nobel Peace Prize,” she said. “I think mostly there weren’t that many people back then (more and more now) whose specialty was feminist peace research. So Wellesley hired me for a two-year visiting lectureship at Wellesley.”
Furthering her love for collaborative work with women in the field of peace and justice, Confortini founded the Feminist Peace Research network in 2016 and continues to write with other authors in this network. The network recently completed a project consisting of three workshops organized in Finland, Sweden, and Norway to connect feminist peace scholars, practitioners and activists to establish a diverse network in terms of geography and feminist peace approaches studied.
“The principle is that we collaborate and co-author papers to support each other, so I have two papers that are co-authored coming out,” Confortini said.
After spending decades working in the field of peace and justice, Confortini finds feminism crucial to the understanding of peace and justice studies because of the power dynamics it shapes.
“Although the field [of peace and justice studies] has repeatedly and continues to marginalize feminist perspectives, if it took feminist perspective into consideration, it would be a different field,” she said. “Various forms of power are important to understand not only how the world works but also how it could work differently. You also have to understand gender power as one of these forms.”
Confortini feels strongly that Wellesley students who are passionate about making a difference in the field, especially abroad, should contribute to peace and justice studies in a way that is productive not only for the students’ learning, but also for the issue being assessed.
“Remember that wherever you go, there are people who have been fighting for a long time, and they really know the ins and outs of what is going on in the place, the community and the culture, so they know a lot that they can teach you,” Confortini said.