- Strengthen and extend research and teaching capacity through new faculty appointments in the School’s four core research programs (described below).
- Deepen the normative expertise and scholarship directed to the concept of integral human development and its application through dignity-based approaches that integrate these core research programs to serve the common good.
- Prioritize research projects with colleagues in the Global South, including some of the sites recommended in the University’s Strategic Framework.
- Expand the PhD program and establish postdoctoral fellowship programs to support faculty research and train the next generation of researchers and leaders.
- Create an incentive and support structure for faculty and research staff to pursue ambitious ideas requiring collaborative multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research.
Core Research Programs
The world today faces multiple challenges to human dignity, some of which are perennial (corruption, poverty, war, gender-based violence), and others which are new or unprecedented in scale (climate change and environmental degradation, inequality, and the erosion of democracy and human rights). Such challenges demand policies and practices shaped by thinking that is systemic, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, ethically informed, and deeply attentive to cultural and historical contexts, including the contributions of faith traditions on normative questions.
Accordingly, the Keough School’s Strategic Plan 2030 is organized around four established and/or emerging areas of core expertise:
- Sustainability and Environmental Justice
- Poverty, Inequality, and Marginalization
- Democracy, Governance, Institutions, and Rights
- Systems and Structures of Violence and Peace
Each of these four areas [hereafter “research programs”] constitutes an ecosystem of scholarship, teaching, policy and practice that fosters collaboration among Keough faculty, staff, and students as well as partners across the University and beyond. Each of these four areas is pursued with an explicit commitment to human dignity, the idea of the common good, a preferential option for the most disadvantaged, and ecological integrity. Thus, while they have diverse goals and priorities, the programs are designed to promote integration across multiple dimensions.
Each research program features signature collaborative projects, as well as individual research projects related to that thematic area, and draws upon the relevant work and regional and country expertise of the School’s institutes and centers. The four programs will benefit from and contribute to the research and scholarship of other Notre Dame colleges, schools, and programs, and of partner institutions and networks nationally and globally. They are also intended to advance IHD, inform ethical and effective policymaking, and prioritize diversity and inclusion.
1. Sustainability and Environmental Justice (SEJ)
SEJ seeks to address the plight of communities most vulnerable to the consequences of climate and environmental change. This program involves concerted research on climate vulnerability and adaptation, the food–energy–water nexus, land use economics and policy, the differential impact of the environment on gender, racial, ethnic and other groups, the evaluation of social-environmental change and policy interventions, poverty-natural resource linkages, and just and sustainable energy transitions.
Aligned with the concept of IHD, this program focuses on the interdependence of ecosystems and human well-being, and is rooted in long-term engagement with communities affected by growing inequality, economic injustice, and environmental degradation. Practically, SEJ examines contemporary socio-environmental challenges from disparate perspectives and employs a range of methods that cut across disciplinary and thematic boundaries. It brings together social scientists, engineers, biologists, humanists, and policy professionals to stimulate new thinking, generate new evidence, and develop innovative responses to the challenges facing our common home.
The Keough School now has 10 faculty whose research addresses environment and sustainability issues. Their work is distinguished by an emphasis on the social dimensions of environmental issues, a problem-oriented and evidence-based approach, and a normative concern with social and environmental justice. A strength is the interdisciplinarity required to make progress in this field, including the incorporation of theory and methods from the humanities and more humanistic social sciences (e.g., anthropology, human geography) with disciplines that emphasize more quantitative approaches (e.g., economics, engineering, and political science).
Research in this area is buttressed by support from all of the institutes within the School, as well as new Keough-based initiatives such as Pamoja ND Africa Initiative, and FLARE, a global network of scholars, policymakers, and practitioners focused on forests and livelihoods. Research on this topic benefits from partnerships with existing cross-cutting initiatives, notably the Environmental Change Initiative, the Eck Institute for Global Health, ND-Energy, and GLOBES.
Representative Research Project: Decarbonization and Social Justice. Rapid and permanent decarbonization is crucial for slowing the pace of climate change. This process will require the remaking of multiple and massive infrastructural, institutional, and governance systems across the world. Ensuring that a normative presumption of justice is a feature of policy debates, and that actions prioritize structural justice is a crucial element of this research project. Existing activities in this project area include multisectoral, multidisciplinary investigation of nexus issues (e.g., energy/land, energy/water, forestry/agroforestry, and climate adaptation and mitigation); deep decarbonization scenario assessment; and hazard/disaster resilience. The Environmental Change Initiative of Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) country index and urban adaptation assessment platforms support decision-making in relation to climate risk management and adaptation. A next step is for Keough to extend its partnership with this initiative to develop an approach and indicators to measure and track adaptive capacity to enable more fine-grained decision support.
2. Poverty, Inequality, and Marginalization (PIM)
PIM takes a dignity-first approach to searching for solutions that alleviate poverty, inequality, and marginalization. Drawing on the integrated perspectives of scholars from different disciplines, the program prioritizes on-the-ground contexts, the people and communities experiencing hardship, and the intersection of poverty with gender, ethno-racial and other kinds of marginalization. Grounded in research and teaching, it strives for solutions, backed by action, that matter on the ground.
A number of Keough School faculty work in this area, as do research staff in the Pulte Institute, who conduct field research and/or collaborate with local or international researchers. In addition, the McKenna Center for Human Development and Global Business focuses on the intersection of business and society by specializing in three areas relevant to PIM: social entrepreneurship with resource poor communities, the future of work in the age of AI, and solution-oriented partnerships with global firms in pursuit of more socially and environmentally sustainable business models.
This collective expertise from different disciplines, sharing an emphasis on IHD, has put in place several existing projects, programs, and networks that can serve as the platform for new research, policy and practice initiatives scaled to purpose. The Keough School faculty’s commitment to collaborating across disciplinary boundaries provides the foundation for such creative and ambitious projects, which other institutions may not pursue. Such high-risk projects can jump start research excellence in new areas.
Representative Research Project: Poverty Engagement and Innovation Lab (PEI-Lab). Paths out of poverty are multidimensional. A dignity-based approach implies that these paths must be developed together with poor households, a collaboration that is invaluable in itself. The key objectives of the PEI-Lab are: (1) to have faculty, staff and students work with impoverished communities to launch sustainable businesses or organizations, and with disadvantaged communities to seek solutions to challenges related to health, education, crime and other issues fundamental to poverty and inequality; and (2) to produce policy reports and conduct outreach activities to disseminate the knowledge produced by the Lab.
Cross-cutting Research Project: Sustainability, Inequality, and Poverty Lab (SIP-Lab). The intersection of sustainability, inequality, and poverty is an area where the Keough School can carve out a distinctive niche. Here the programs on Sustainability and Environmental Justice, and on Poverty, Inequality and Marginalization are natural partners in exploring how the erosion of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning further limits the prospects for the poor to adapt and move out of poverty. The differential effects of climate change reflect global and social structures. A multidimensional and interdisciplinary approach to measuring inequality and the life conditions of poor households is essential to understanding and predicting how poverty and inequality are related to climate change
Accordingly, the SIP-Lab will develop interdisciplinary criteria for assessing the impact of climate change on poor communities, along with multidimensional indices of poverty and inequality in different world regions, in order to assess how environmental change is affecting levels of inequality and poverty. The Lab will also evaluate existing and proposed climate and sustainability policies and propose new policies that account for the constraints and challenges poor people and environmental sustainability. The work is grounded in interdisciplinary research and engagement with key policy and practice stakeholders, and partners.
3. Democracy, Governance, Institutions, and Rights (DGIR)
DGIR works with multiple partners to examine local and global threats to democracy and explore how best to build and support effective states, expand political participation, strengthen the rule of law, improve the protection of human and civil rights, and enhance cooperation across national borders. It considers the roles of various governance actors—international institutions, nation-states, subnational governments, social movements, nongovernmental organizations, religious and community authorities, and firms.
The Keough School is committed to lead in democracy research, to support work on this subject across the University, and to convene national and international stakeholders to find solutions to the crisis of democracy.
A resurgence of nationalism, populism, and authoritarianism has unsettled democratic institutions and complicated efforts to manage complex global issues. Faced with these challenges, some argue that societies must choose between competing governance priorities—effectiveness, inclusiveness, and respect for basic human rights. We reject that premise. Instead, we believe that governance can achieve its most important ends only if it includes all parts of society, embraces human dignity and recognizes local context and culture. We therefore seek to identify institutional arrangements and policies that balance technical expertise, broad public input, and respect for human rights.
The Keough School has distinctive strengths in this research area, thanks especially to the Kellogg Institute’s work on democracy and democratic backsliding and the Klau Institute’s work on human and civil rights and racial justice. The School also has a cluster of scholars who research social movements, civil society actors, and the political participation of women and other marginalized groups. We also have considerable expertise on the politics and policymaking of non-democratic systems. Finally, Keough now has expertise in the architecture and decisionmaking of the United Nations and other multilateral organizations. What it lacks to complete the picture is additional expertise on migration and refugees, international political economy, and digital/technological governance
Representative Research Project 1: Building global democratic resilience from below. This project will explore how substate actors—working both within countries and across borders—can support the institutions, norms, and narratives needed for democratic governance to flourish around the world. It will support research on bottom-up mechanisms for buttressing democratic principles and practices, and explore the roles transnational social movements, international NGOs, and globally engaged municipal and subnational governments can play in reinforcing democratic governance. The project will also examine the tensions within such efforts, considering how social movements can in some cases feed violence or radicalization, how international NGOs can lose public legitimacy in the communities where they work, and how city and subnational government networks can become trapped in symbolic rather than substantive activities. As a research, teaching and policy resource, this project will document case studies in a new Substate Transnational Action Repository [STAR] that traces the promise and pitfalls of these emerging forms of networked governance.
Representative Research Project 2: Retooling multilateralism for rights protection. This project asks: (1) How well are existing multilateral institutions working, not just from the vantage point of member states but also from that of rights-bearing individuals and communities? (2) How and why are multilateral governance arrangements in these realms changing and with what consequences for rights protection? (3) What new principles and practices for multilateralism emerge by viewing the design of international institutions through the lens of human rights? To address these questions, the project will bring together social scientists, humanists, policy experts, international lawyers, and affected citizens to develop new metrics for assessing the performance of multilateral institutions that integrate technical efficacy and rights protection criteria. In addition, project will support new research on the dynamics and consequences of reform in key multilateral institutions. Finally, the project will foster a variety of outreach activities to communicate findings and best practices to key policy audiences.
4. Systems and Structures of Violence and Peace (SSVP)
SSVP seeks to advance knowledge of the causes of violence, build durable partnerships across ethnic, class, religious, gender, and racial boundaries, and strengthen institutions and social processes to promote justice and peace. SSVP has three broad animating themes: 1) the causes and processes of violence and conflict, with a particular focus on the intersectional dimensions of violence; 2) peace and peacebuilding, from mediation to conflict transformation, as well as popular and elite mobilization and the opportunities and obstacles to peacebuilding; and 3) the production of knowledge, histories, and normativities of violence and peace—the philosophical, religious, ethical, and epistemic dimensions of violence and peace, as well as their connections to state and popular power across numerous contexts.
The program draws on the wealth of interdisciplinary expertise, scholarship on religion, and practitioner experience in the Keough School to advance evidence-based, theoretically sophisticated, and empirically grounded research and curricular programs. Dedicated to the promotion of human dignity, collective wellbeing, and the protection of the planet, SSVP’s normative research includes a wide range of topics, methods, and perspectives, while remaining grounded in IHD.
Representative Research Project 1: The Peace Accords Matrix (PAM) explores a series of related questions: How and why does peace accord implementation succeed or fail? How can peace accord negotiations, design, and implementation help policymakers and peacebuilders transform the cycles of violence and war? How can peace accords research contribute to promoting strategic peacebuilding and IHD? Building upon its success in Colombia, PAM is expanding and deepening this pioneering research to foster research-informed practice, with the aim of becoming a global knowledge hub for policymakers, peacebuilding practitioners, implementation agents, students, and researchers of peace accords negotiation, design, and implementation.
Representative Research Project 2: The Project on Peace and Development investigates how mediation and peace process design skills may support countries in advancing humanitarian, development, and constitution-making, and ending political violence. The current focus of this project is a collaboration between a range of scholars, practitioners and experts from the Afghan diaspora and within Afghanistan, and relevant Keough School faculty and institutes. The goal is to convene and support Afghan actors in identifying opportunities for an inclusive political process in Afghanistan that can assist in the short-term with negotiating humanitarian access, medium-term with sustainable development and constitution-making negotiations, and in the long-term with securing a peace settlement.
Peace and violence challenges are highly complex, dynamic, and multileveled, requiring expertise from across the social sciences and humanities, as well as from conflict-affected communities. Keough is well positioned to contribute to new empirical and normative research on the patterns and causes of mass violence, discrimination and inequality, as well as on opportunities and challenges to securing human rights and peace in ways harmonious with environmental wellbeing. Given contemporary global challenges concerning peace and conflict, we are particularly committed to strengthening research and practitioner expertise in the areas of migration, sustainability, and political identity.