Erica Chenoweth | Associate Professor at Josef Korbel School of International Studies

Erica Chenoweth

Erica Chenoweth, Ph.D. is Associate Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and an Associate Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO). An internationally recognized authority on political violence and its alternatives, Foreign Policy magazine ranked her among the Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2013 for her efforts to promote the empirical study of civil resistance. Chenoweth received the 2014 Karl Deutsch Award, which the International Studies Association gives annually to the scholar under the age of 40 who has made the greatest impact on the field of international politics or peace research.

Erica-Chenoweth_P3My Definition Of Success | I suppose I used to think of success in material terms. If I had notoriety in my profession or a decent income, I would be successful. This has changed over the years. These days, success means satisfaction with the way I show up for my life. I feel most successful when I am able to meet challenges with grace and achievements with humility. I can’t always control outside circumstances, but I can learn how to respond to them.

I Am Driven By | I am motivated by a strong desire to reduce or eliminate violence wherever it is unnecessary. I am also motivated by important questions that haven’t yet been answered with empirical data.

A Key Talent | I think curiosity and open-mindedness has been my most critical strengths. When Maria Stephan and I were having an argument in June 2006 about whether nonviolent resistance could be more effective than violent resistance in pushing for systemic change, I was doubtful but curious. It was that curiosity that motivated me to collect the data and conduct a systematic empirical study on that question. As a result, we uncovered an incredibly important finding—that nonviolent resistance was more than twice as likely to succeed as armed insurgency from 1900-2006. Ultimately, Maria was right and I was wrong! But having made this important discovery, Maria and I wrote a book on the topic, and I’ve been conducting more research, traveling, writing, and talking about it ever since. For one trying to replicate and develop curiosity, I’d recommend becoming insistent on “getting the data.” Instead of just accepting long-standing myths (like “violence is more effective than nonviolent action”), be willing to challenge conventional wisdom, question long-standing assumptions, and look up the response to unanswered questions. This practice can open up all sorts of unexpected pathways.

Erica-Chenoweth_P2The Characteristics Of Success | I think I have an analytic mind, some skills at analysis, and an ability to locate “big questions” worth researching. I also have an ability to communicate sophisticated research findings to non-academic audiences. Each morning I spend some time collecting my thoughts before heading into work so that I feel refreshed and focused in the day’s tasks. Whether I am preparing to teach a class, give a lecture, or participate in a seminar, I spend a few moments centering my mind on the goal of being as useful as possible in the task ahead. When I am not working, I try to spend lots of time outdoors – it fills the soul.

Principles I Live By | To consistently watch my own thinking and motives, maintain accountability to others in my actions, clean up my mistakes when I make them, and help others.

Dealing With Doubt | I think most people suffer from “imposter syndrome” to some extent. This is the idea that you’re not at all as competent as people think you are, and an underlying fear that people will someday discover that! I’ve certainly had imposter syndrome before—especially when I first took a fellowship at Harvard University and was surrounded by so many brilliant thinkers. I think this self-doubt ultimately motivated me to work harder while I was there. I organized workshops, engaged with faculty and students, published some of my research, finished my doctoral dissertation, and even began work on a volume that I co-edited with another fellow there. In short, I put in a lot of work and, as a result, got the most out of the experience. I left Harvard with a great reputation; I am respected among my former colleagues there.

Erica-Chenoweth_P1My Future Dreams And Ambitions | I’d like to write a novel someday!

The Best Advice I’ve Received |  “If you want self-esteem, do esteem-able acts.”


I Am Inspired By | The Reverend James Lawson is one of my great role models. As one of the leaders of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, he introduced Martin Luther King, Jr. to the theory and practice of Gandhian nonviolence. His campaign to desegregate Nashville’s lunch counters and department stores was wildly successful and was replicated in hundreds of cities throughout the United States. However, Rev. Lawson is one of the most self-assured yet humble people I have ever met. He fully realizes the immense power he has, yet he never gives the impression that he is more powerful than he is. He is not prideful, nor does he have false humility. He is person fully empowered with his gifts and talents, a willingness to share those with others unselfishly, and a vision for what justice looks like in the world.

Useful Links |

The success of nonviolent civil resistance: Erica Chenoweth at TEDxBoulder

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