Ursula Franklin, prominent physicist, holocaust survivor, university professor, public intellectual, pacifist, and one of the giants of Canadian feminism, passed away on July 22nd at the age of 94. As the many tributes and obituaries in the wake of her death highlight, she wore many hats and accomplished an impressive amount in her long life. I first became interested in Dr. Franklin as public intellectual when I heard her as a panelist on CBC’s The Current (our NPR/BBC equivalent) five years ago.[1] The news of her recent death prompted me to delve further into her ideas and work.

Despite the fact that I (and I would assume most other WIT readers) am nowhere near conversant in archaeometry, there is much within Dr. Franklin’s body of work and public engagement that excites me. She has provided us with much fodder for feminist theological reflection. In addition to being a top-rate scientist, and the first female faculty member to attain the title University Professor at the University of Toronto, Dr. Franklin was also a Quaker and an outspoken peace activist. Feeling there was no room for her anti-militaristic views in post-war Germany, Dr. Franklin moved to Canada in 1949, which she discussed in a 2010 radio interview:


[Interviewer]: So after all you learned from the traumas you faced, when you came to this country it was not solely about your personal space and what you might want to learn; you came to this country to speak out.

[Dr. Franklin]: And mostly to act out. Not to tell, but to do what I think good citizens are supposed to do, and can do, to nourish democracy.”[2]

Dr. Franklin was the first person to challenge me to consider peace as something more than the lack of open war. It was a theme upon which she often spoke. She said:

 I define peace not as the absence of war but as the presence of justice and the absence of fear. There’s peace when people don’t have to be afraid, and people don’t have to be afraid when where is genuine justice: period. It seems to be so, so difficult, although it is so, so obvious.”[3]

Thinking on this definition, I have come to see how the false equation of peace with the absence of war has many implications – many of which have been detrimental to the work of genuine peacemaking. One implication that ‘peace’ becomes associated with quiet. As Dr. Franklin I am sure would agree, peacemaking is rarely quiet work. Those working in pursuit of peace often disrupt the quiet of their communities, and are often framed as ‘disturbers of the peace’, rather than as its makers.

urban-998216_1920When militaristic violence is considered the opposite of peace, it also becomes harder to name other types of violence as trespasses. As the work of scholars like Carol Penner and Malinda Berry demonstrate, (and the community at Our Stories Untold can attest), the equation of peace with quiet has made it difficult for traditional ‘Peace Churches’ to respond appropriately to both the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

I’ll let Dr. Franklin’s own words from “Reflections on Theology and Peace,” flesh out the implications of her definition:

For me, the most appropriate definition is that peace is the absence of fear, it is the Ursula_Franklin_book_coverdaily reality of the biblical promise, ‘Fear not.’ If we look at peace as the absence of fear, we find we are linked not only to those who, like us, fear a nuclear war or a holocaust environment of destruction, but also to those who have reason to fear a knock on the door at night, and those who fear that there will be no food for their children or that their children may not return from school because they have been arrested and imprisoned. It links us to those in our country and abroad who have reason to fear that there may be no meaningful employment for them, that they will always be short of shelter, and that their lives will not count for much. It links us to those who fear the delicate ecosystem of our planet will not survive the selfishness and ravages of greed. It links us to those who fear that the folly of the few will damage and destroy the lives of man. The definition of peace as the absence of fear illustrates that the central element needed to bring peace on all levels and to reduce fear is justice.[4]

In addition to her reflections on fear and peace, there is much else in Dr. Franklin’s body of work worthy of study. If you’re looking for a role model, consider her! As a woman in male-dominated field, as a professor who sought out research projects that would shed light on the impact of the world’s issues on the lives of the young and the marginalized, as an outspoken person willing to call those in leadership to do justice and make peace with the power they have been granted, Dr. Franklin is a figure I continue to increasingly admire. May we all have the courage to act out as she did.

“Peace is not the absence of war – peace is the absence of fear.”

[1] The radio show was hosting a multi-generational discussion on feminism in honour of International Women’s Day. There was a lack of inter-generational agreement (the very type Maria mentions in her recent post) about the status of women in Canada, as well as discrepancies in each participant’s understanding of feminism. Then 89 years old, Dr. Franklin was both the most eloquent and the most informed of the participants on the panel. I ended up being late for my class that day, because I was sitting in my car in the college’s parking lot captivated by what I heard coming out of my radio.

[2] “An Interview with Anna Maria Tremonti (The Current, CBC Radio, 6 May 2010, recorded at the Toronto studio)” in Ursula Franklin Speaks: thoughts and afterthoughts, 1986- 2012 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014), 224.

[3] Ursula Franklin Speaks, 226.

[4] “Reflections on Theology and Peace, 1987” in The Ursula Franklin Reader: Pacifism as a Map (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2006), 49.

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