How does research impact social justice?

Noah BenSHeaInterview with Noah benShea, Executive Director of The Justice Project.

Recently, SAGE announced its support of The Justice Project, an interactive online platform focused on supporting educational, environmental, economic, and social justice. The mission of the Project is to unite the ideas, individuals, and movements dedicated to promoting justice, to broadcast calls to action related to justice, and ultimately to make a just difference in a world that is often indifferent.

After only a few interactions with The Justice Project’s passionate executive director Noah benShea, it was clear that this was a man who lived out the Project’s mission with every breath he took. With a background in academia, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask Noah a few questions about how scholarship makes a real-world impact on supporting a just cause:

1. First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?

A number of years back I heard the great business guru Peter Drucker being asked what was the first question he asked the Chairman of GE, or GM, when serving as private advisor. Without hesitation, Drucker replied, “Easy. The first question I always asked was, ‘Do you know what business you’re in?’”

When I heard that, it was like being hit with a bamboo stick by a Zen Master. And I asked myself, “Noah, do you know what business you’re in?”

My answer was immediate and soul reassuring, “I’m in the business of being a source of strength to others.”

I have been a Dean, a fellow at esteemed long range think tanks, an international bestselling author, a nominee for a Pulitzer Prize, etc, etc,  but behind it all, my reason for being was to be a source of strength to others.

2. For our readers who are hearing about THE JUSTICE PROJECT for the first time, please let us know what it is.

THE JUSTICE PROJECT is an interactive platform that initiates dialogue and broadcasts calls to action by lending an ear and giving a voice to just causes in the areas of Economic, Environmental, Educational and Social Justice.

Our commitment is not only to make a difference but to make a just difference.

We don’t expect to finish the work but neither are we excused from it.

We are a non-profit 501c3 California corporation.

3. How did THE JUSTICE PROJECT get started?

Echoing my answer to the question above, my mission statement is to be a source of strength to others. THE JUSTICE PROJECT is a public affirmation and action arm of that personal commitment. I am indebted to Sara Miller McCune and SAGE who invited me to do this good work and envisioned the nobility of this effort. While there are those who might consider championing this cause to be Quixotic, it is also civilized. And the true defining mark of a civilization is how people with power treat people without power.

4. As you know, SAGE is very passionate about research and believes that scholarship lies at the heart of any healthy society. In your opinion, how does research impact social justice?

In a world where we are exposed to more information than ever before, it becomes very important how we process this data.  Research, or scholarship, is meant to provide a method for a deeper consideration and understanding of any material or notion.  With that in mind, a research orientated approach to processing information enables one to filter through incoming data, dismiss frivolous rumors, and assess valuable concepts.  The cognitive process of scholarship, therefore, is the antithesis of those parents of injustice: assumption and presumption.  Through scholarship, research, and a cognitive behavior that is learned from their implementation, an individual moves beyond jumping to the quick answers and easy conclusions that inhibit an understanding of an idea as complex and rich as social justice.

5. How has your own personal research impacted your current work with THE JUSTICE PROJECT?

At the age of 30 I found myself as a Fellow at a world renown think tank, and while it was flattering, it was also profoundly revealing. Great minds, I discovered, were not limited by their intellect but by their hubris, fears, inherited social bias, and the like, and by reactionary stances to how and where they were raised.

A major theme in my life time of research and focus, has been in the cross fields of philosophy, psychology, and theology but the recurring metaphor in all these areas that has held my interest – and been the subject of much of my writing and speaking – is why people get stuck where they do and what is the liberating vision that can serve those dealing with addiction to inherited attitudes or patterns of self-enslavement that are born out of or in reaction to those attitudes.

6. For the SAGE Connection readers who are busy researching, studying, learning, teaching, working, and balancing work with their personal lives, it may be difficult to find time to advocate for  educational, environmental, economic, or social justice. What are some small things that we can do to make an impact?

Victor Hugo wrote that if you want to clean up the world the place to begin is by sweeping your porch.

The little things in life are not of little value. At THE JUSTICE PROJECT our intention is not to just make a difference but to make a just difference. Be just with yourself and with others in all of life’s little things.

Jacob, in my book JACOB THE BAKER, reminds us, “Of all the things you can make in life, why not make a difference.”

7. Can you please let us in on any future plans and directions for THE JUSTICE PROJECT?

Before talking about you were you are going, it is important to remember where you are.  At this point, The Justice Project has laid the foundation and scaffolding for creating a vibrant and reflective interactive community.  We are receiving content and conversation from a myriad of organizations, individuals, and action groups, including first hand testimony of “What Justice Means to Me.” In addition, our writing competition – the first in a series of competitions that will later include video and heroes in justice history – is offering us a wider audience and additional material to broadcast into the internet ether. We are lending an ear and giving a voice; we are educating and being educated

While we are thankful for the place that we are carving out in the virtual community, we are looking toward the future, when we will be able to take our next step into building a more tangible and pro-active collaborative community.  With that in mind, we are laying plans and are in partnership with other important justice seeking communities/non-profits/universities/think-tanks for the implementation of events such as conferences, white papers and film festivals.  In both the cyber and traditional community events and activities, our goal will remain consistent even as it broadens and deepens.  That is, we aim to be an interactive platform that initiates dialogue and broadcasts calls to action related to educational, environmental, economic, and social justice.


Noah benShea is one of North America’s most respected and beloved poet-philosophers, and a source of strength to millions around the world. He is the international bestselling author of 23 books translated into 18 languages, including the famed Jacob the Baker series. He has spoken and taught at the best universities; served as a Dean at UCLA, visiting lecturer at MIT and The Fuqua Graduate Business School at Duke University, guest professor of Philosophy at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School, and a Fellow at several long range think tanks including USC’s Center for the Humanities, and the esteemed Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

A highly sought after public speaker, he has been the subject of a National PBS Special, is a private adviser to corporate and political leaders, serves as an Ethicist for the The Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, was nominated for the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas that Improve the World Order, and in 2007 his work in Russian translation won 1st Prize at the European Intellectual Book Fair in Moscow. He has addressed the Library of Congress, been published by the World Bible Society in Jerusalem, and Oxford University Press. Noah benShea is also the National Laureate for the ALS Association and Executive Director of THE JUSTICE PROJECT

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