Nonviolence Glossary

Below is a list of common terms you will see in the study of nonviolence.  Click on any of the words below to scroll to their definitions.

AhimsaDirect ActionNonviolent CommunicationSatyagrahaViolence
AparigrahaNAACPPositive PeaceShanti Sena
Beloved CommunityNegative PeacePrincipled NonviolenceSNCC

Agape: Greek word for unconditional love for humanity.  As opposed to Eros love (romantic), Philia love (brotherly/sisterly love for friends) or Stroge love (love between mother and child), Agape is a “disinterested” love, meaning that a person who has Agape is not interested in whether the other person loves them back.  They simply love because they are, because they acknowledge the humanity in the other.

Ahimsa: A Sanskrit and Pali word meaning “non-harm,” “non-injury” or “non-killing.”  Ahimsa means committing to abstaining from causing harm to any living being, including harm of the body, mind and spirit.

Asteya: A Sanskrit word meaning “non-stealing.”  Gandhi described this not only as an act of taking something that belongs to another, but as simply having more than one needs.  As Dorothy Day said, “If I have two coats, I’ve stolen one from the poor.”

Aparigraha: A Sanskrit word meaning “non-possession” or “non-grasping.”  Gandhi taught that we should not view any possessions as “ours,” but simply that we are trustees of it.  He believed that all we have has been entrusted to us by God, and ought to be used for the well-being of all.

Beloved Community: A concept first coined by American philosopher Josiah Royce, Dr. King adopted it and used the term often to describe the ideal community he is working to create.  This is a community where all conflict has been reconciled and all communities live with justice.  In the words of Dr. King, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”

CORE: Congress of Racial Equality, a key organization during the Civil Rights Movement.  Read more here.

Direct Action: Step five within the Six Steps of Kingian Nonviolence, direct action means to take nonviolent action against a form of injustice to dramatize an issue or to give yourself leverage for negotiations.  Examples of direct action include protests, marches, sit-ins, labor strikes, walk-outs or boycotts.  Gene Sharp identified 198 different methods in his book, “Politics of Nonviolent Action Part II: The Methods of Nonviolent Action.”

MIA: The Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization that was formed to coordinate the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.  Dr. King was elected as their spokesperson, beginning his ascent into a national leadership position.

NAACP: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a key organization during the Civil Rights Movement, who are still active today.  Read more about them here.

Negative Peace: A situation lacking visual or verbal signs of violence, but often times created by the use of violence, force, fear or intimidation.  Many people misunderstand the true meaning of “peace,” and believe that we can create peace by waging war, or by incarcerating “the bad people.”  This, at best, creates a negative peace.  Read King’s articulation of this concept here.

Nonviolence: Within the Kingian framework, “nonviolence” is more than the simply the absence of violence (“non-violence”), therefore it is never written with a hyphen.  Rather than being the absence of violence or the opposite of violence, it is viewed as the antidote to violence.  Read more here.

Nonviolent Communication: Nonviolent communication is a methodology created by Marshall Rosenberg.  It is a skill-based approach used to resolve conflicts between individuals.  Read more here.

Pacifism: An opposition and a refusal to the use of violence and war on moral or ethical grounds.  Often mistaken for a passive form of nonresistance, Dr. King once wrote that “true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistance to evil.”

Positive Peace: Is a peace with justice for all people, rather than simply the absence of violence.  See “Negative Peace” for more.

Principled Nonviolence: Also called integral nonviolence or holistic nonviolence, some advocates differentiate between these and “strategic nonviolence.” Advocates of strategic nonviolence may only be committed to nonviolence as a tactic and a strategy for social change, whereas a principled approach is a commitment to nonviolence as a way of life, extending beyond the protests and the political organizing into all aspects of our life.

Reconciliation: The sixth and final step of the six steps of Kingian Nonviolence, this is the end goal of any nonviolent campaign.  This is about bringing two sides that were in a conflict together in the spirit of Beloved Community, resolving the conflict and being able to move forward together as peers.  It is not about separating two people or two communities who are in a conflict (i.e. peace treaties between warring nations), but about bringing them together.

Satyagraha: A term coined by Gandhi’s movement in 1908, combining the Sanskrit words “satya,” meaning “truth” or “absolute reality,” and “graha,” meaning to “seize hold of” or to “cling to.”  Combined, the term can be loosely translated to mean “the force of truth,” or to “cling to truth.”  Gandhi never liked the term “passive resistance,” because he believed there was nothing passive about his work.  He used this term to describe his nonviolent campaigns.

SCLC: Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization founded by Dr. King following the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.  SCLC began as an effort to coordinate the work of southern churches active in the Civil Rights Movement.  Read more about them here.

Shanti Sena: Sanskrit for “Peace Army,” this is a term Gandhi used to describe those active in his nonviolent movement.  Gandhi first coined the term when discussing the idea of a volunteer, nonviolent peacekeeping force to disrupt violence within the Indian population.  Read more here, and check out the Metta Center’s efforts to create a Shanti Sena here.

SNCC: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a key organization during the Civil Rights Movement.  It was founded by students (with the help of Ella Baker) in 1961 to help coordinate the emerging lunch counter sit-in movement.

Swadeshi: A combination of two Sanskrit words, “swa,” meaning “self” or “own,” and “desh,” meaning “country.”  Literally translated, swadeshi means “own country,” but it is more loosely translated to mean “self-rule” or “self-sufficiency.   It can refer to the need to cultivate inner peace (in our own hearts and locally in our own communities) before attempting to create peace in the world, but also refers to the idea of localism, of “thinking globally and acting locally.”

Violence: Within the Kingian framework, violence is defined as “physical or emotional harm.”  Read more here.