Judith Oleson

Director, Tom Porter Program on Religion and Conflict Transformation, Lecturer in Conflict Transformation

As Director of the Tom Porter Religion and Conflict Transformation Program until summer 2022, Judith oversaw research initiatives, a practice clinic, special events and facilitates student leadership and interfaith partnerships. She taught courses in Conflict Transformation Leadership, Transitional Justice, and Reconciliation for both graduate and DMin students. She also developed a course for the theology/social work dual degree program, “Transforming Conflict within Family, Organization and Community systems.”

Before coming to academia, Judith served for thirty years as a social worker and program administrator in Minnesota. Her last eight years there was as the Executive Director of a Family Services Collaborative where she facilitated a partnership between city, county and tribal government to decentralize and build an integrated family support system in a city of 90,000. Due to her leadership in community collaboration, Judith was awarded a Bush Fellowship enabling her to complete a Master’s in Public Administration at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, where she studied leadership, mediation and negotiation. Following she was selected for an internship with the United Nations Development Program/Global Compact in New York, and then served on a UN mission to Kazakhstan to mediate failed UNDP/Community partnerships working toward anti-poverty Millennium Goals.

Judith’s dissertation for her DMin degree, “Sacred Leadership: Facilitating Reconciliation” examined the leadership skills needed to facilitate reconciliation in conflict-ridden organizations and communities. Based on her research, she was awarded a grant to develop and teach a course for religious leaders at the Episcopal Divinity School.

Judith founded and coordinated an interdisciplinary minor in Peace and Conflict Studies at Gordon College, where she taught in their Sociology/Social Work Department for ten years. She directed the Social Work Field Program and taught courses in Group Process, Organizational Systems, Qualitative Research Methods, Peacemaking and Reconciliation. Judith developed a course in post-conflict social reconstruction that she taught at the European Center for the Study of War and Peace in Croatia for five years.

Her current research is on Interfaith organizing and advocacy to address militarism and the ethics of virtual violence. She is also exploring how interfaith collaborations respond to conflict while working for social change. Her previous research focused on reconciliation processes between Indigenous Communities, Governments, and the Church for years of child removal policies that resulted in cultural genocide in the US, Australia, and Canada, as well as the relationship between individual and collective healing in communities.

Selected Publications

“Hosting a True Roundtable: Dialogue Across Theological and Postcolonial Divides” in Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations: Global Awakening in Theology and Praxis, Intervarsity Press, 2014

“Baptists, War and Peace” The Sage Encyclopedia of War, Sage Publications, 2017

“Feminism and Peacemaking: US Historical Perspectives,” A History of World Peace Since 1750, Routledge Press, 2018



  • Religion Fellows Award, Boston University to complete research entitled, “Indigenous Identities Lost and Reclaimed: Post-Colonial Struggles for Religion and Race”
  • Leadership Fellow Award- Bush Foundation (competitive fellowship established by the former CEO of 3M Company) to attend the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University to study mediation and organizational collaboration
  • Scholarship to attend “Foundations for Leadership Course” with Peter Senge, Society of Organizational Learning
  • Initiative Grant, Gordon College: Peace and Conflict Studies Research
  • Researched four undergraduate programs in Peace and Conflict Studies through campus visits and interviews with administrators, faculty, and students. Wrote policy paper and developed curriculum, successfully positioning strategic vision to establish new minor
  • Initiative for the Study and Practice of Peace Grant, Gordon College: Reconciliation Processes
  • Created opportunity for students to witness reconciliation initiatives and historic national events, and conduct qualitative interviews with individuals focusing on individual/collective healing experiences and processes: American Indians in Maine and First Nation Peoples in Canada
  • Initiative Grant, Gordon College: Reconciliation Processes between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Communities in Australia Research
  • Conducted individual and group interviews with Aboriginal, nonprofit, government, and religious leaders
  • Fellowship, Kroc Center for International Studies, Notre Dame University
  • Based on successful proposal, received funding for three professors to attend summer institute with leading scholars to review/revise Peace and Conflict Studies curriculum for impending implementation
  • Episcopal Association Grant, Episcopal Divinity School/Harvard University: Sacred Leadership – Facilitating Reconciliation. Developed and taught course for pastors and community leaders

Academic Experience

Co-Director, Program on Religion and Conflict Transformation and Lecturer

Boston University School of Theology (9/2016 – present). Research and Clinic oversight, Facilitation of Interfaith partnerships, Program Development and Grantwriting, Taught Transitional Justice and Reconciliation: Healing Collective Wounds. Developed and led travel seminar to the Balkans (1/18), taught DMin online course, Conflict Transformation for Religious Leaders

Associate Professor, Sociology/Social Work

Gordon College (8/2005 – 9/2016). Tenured 2010. Taught Research Methods and developed/instituted applied learning component, building collaborative partnerships with community-based nonprofits in Lynn, MA to provide students with hands-on opportunities. Taught Theory and Practice of Groups and Organizations, designing new methodology to create experiential learning environment. Students created nonprofit business plans (mission, vision, strategy, budget, staffing, evaluation) and present their case in a competitive “pitch” presentation. Taught Field Seminars (14 seminars/semester), designing and implementing new curriculum and approach based on critical self-reflection and professional support. Taught two courses as part of Peace and Conflict Studies minor – Peacemaking: Personal, Social, Global and Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation. In collaboration with Center for Christian Studies, organized and facilitated 3-day dialogue on Postcolonial Theology at with international theologians and facilitated several follow-up pre-sessions at AAR annual conference.

Adjunct Teaching
  • Episcopal Divinity School: Adjunct Professor, Sacred Leadership – Facilitating Reconciliation (2006)
  • University of Minnesota-Duluth: MSW Program Field Supervisor; Faculty Education Instructor
  • The College of St. Scholastica: Social Work and Sociology Instructor
  • The College of St. Thomas: Adjunct Instructor, Children at Risk
  • University of Wisconsin-Superior: Social Work Instructor, Field Seminar

Leadership and Management Experience

Founder and Coordinator

Peace and Conflict Studies Program, Gordon College (9/2009 – 8/2015). Established new minor, researched and developed curriculum, and hired/managed adjunct faculty. Convened and facilitated meetings of faculty from eight disciplines to oversee/advise program and provide input on enhancing and strengthening content. Launched and directed internship component, creating partnerships with local, national and international organizations.

Senior Field Practicum Program Coordinator

Social Work Department, Gordon College (9/2005 – 8/2015). Directed Social Work Senior Field Practicum Program, collaborating with 50 agencies on the North Shore and greater Boston. Developed and taught orientation program curriculum for students and field supervisors. Provided semester-long job search coaching with juniors to prepare for Field Practicum. Managed contracting process with organizations and students, developed evaluation methodology to measure CSWE competencies, and identified learning activities to support competency measures. Supervised students and conducted site visits/interviews with field supervisors for placement evaluations. Facilitated Community Advisory Board (leaders/staff from field practicum sites) to obtain input, feedback, and direction to enhance program content and practicum experience.

Executive Director

No Ordinary Time, Boston (10/2003 – 7/2005). Provided leadership development training and coaching for faith-based community organizers (ages 18-30) and church leaders in the Boston area. Organized workshop series on reconciliation in collaboration with the Boston Theological Institute.

Director (intern)

United Nations Global Compact and UNDP Business Partnership Office (6/2003 – 9/2003). Organized and participated in second UN Global Compact conference to determine best practices for conflict management in international partnerships. Directed/managed mission to Kazakhstan to train UNDP staff and multinational leaders in conflict resolution and collaborative partnership development/management. Mediated between UNDP and oil company leaders.

Executive Director

Duluth Area Family Services Collaborative (9/1995 – 7/2002). Hired to facilitate and mediate partnership between three Public School Districts, County Social Services, Health Departments, Arrowhead Regional Corrections, City of Duluth, and Tribal Government to integrate and improve quality of service delivery systems. Led needs assessment and facilitated monthly executive committee meetings to identify outcome measures, develop strategy, and build collaborative approach to service delivery. Developed and directed five Family Resource Centers, 12 family education programs, and provided contractual oversight to 20 agencies. Led strategic planning, service delivery, and staffing redesign, budget development, program development, and board development; spearheaded fundraising and development initiatives; instituted training plans for cross-discipline teams; established outcomes measures, monitored programs, and oversaw program evaluation and reporting. Managed budgets and federal, state, and county funding sources. Established a collaborative grant submission process to replace competitive model. Launched innovative employment program, providing pre/post services to 600 parents to support sustainable employment. Five-year tracking showed high job placement and retention rates. 500 parents tracked for 5 years program. Successful grant submission provided funding to create corporate partnerships resulting in on-site post-employment coaching for job retention. Established and ensured strong model of parental involvement and advocacy, with representation on Governance Committee. Trained parents to conduct community needs assessment interviews. Orchestrated innovative partnerships to strengthen health delivery support systems for isolated parents/families, expand school-based mental health services, and increase after-school opportunities for youth 10-fold.


Early Childhood Education Programs, Duluth Public Schools. Supervised 80 ECFE and Head Start staff, facilitated team management process, developed and managed budget, coordinated grant programs, and served as primary representative to state agencies.

Consulting Experience

Co-Trainer/Program Evaluator

Public Conversations Project (2014 – present). Facilitated conversation on gun policy in Montana, and designed and implemented evaluation to measure impact of understanding of/empathy for persons with opposing view. Trained community leaders, building skills to support facilitation of future sessions. Follow-up evaluation in process.

Organizational Development/Mediation Consultant

Numerous nonprofits and communities of faith (2005-present). Met with church executive committee to design and implement conflict resolution process, creating dialogue and healing process with newly hired clergy. Facilitated congregation-wide meetings and trained leaders to facilitate small group meetings. Met with executive committee to assimilate input. Co-facilitated and mediated multiple meetings with Executive Committee and Board of Directors, designing process to resolve deeply seated conflict between members.

Strategic Planner and Grant Writer

International Center for Conciliation (2010 – 2011). Worked with Founder/Executive Director to create strategic plan to expand organizational capacity and fundraising strategy. Managed updates of training manual used to train international partners in dialogue methodology.

Organizational/Program Planner

Numerous nonprofits focused on children, domestic violence, and grief support.

Professional Association Memberships

  • American Association of University Professors
  • American Academy of Religion
  • Peace and Justice Studies Association
  • North Shore Peace and Justice Group


“The Transformational Process of Witnessing Truth and Reconciliation Commissions between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Communities,” Peace and Justice Studies Association International Conference, James Mason University, Virginia (October 2015)

“Gun Rage and Reconciliation,” Transpartisan Conference: A House Divided Cannot Stand, UMASS Boston (June 2015)

“Mediating Conflict in Houses of Worship,” Montana Mediation State Association Annual Meeting (May 2015)

“Dialogue Across the Colonial Divide,” pre-meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Chicago (November 2012)

“Public Apology as a Post Colonial Theological Practice,” Storyweaving: Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theology Conference, Whitney College, Melbourne, Australia (January 2012)

“Preparing Students in Conflict Transformation for Local and Global Contexts,” International Social Work Conference: Global Context / Local Solutions, Augsburg College, Minneapolis, MN (June 2012)

Presented research on Public Apology (comparative analysis of Australia, Canada, and US) for a Faculty Forum, Gordon College (April 2012)

“A People Immune to War,” War and Peace / Ethics, Evil, Law, and the State, Warsaw, Poland (May 2011)

“Teaching Reconciliation,” Imagining the Future: The Reconciled Community Conference, Bethel University (February 2009)

“Engaging and Sustaining Leaders for Effective Partnerships: Gordon in Lynn,” International Conference on University/ Community Partnerships, UMASS Boston (April 2007)

“Christ and Gender Equity,” Christ and Culture Conference, Gordon College (September 2006)

“Reconciliation Leadership – Initiatives of Change,” Caux, Switzerland (2005)