Faculty Feature: Dr. Nurit Novis Deutsch

Nurit602x640We are very excited to be welcoming Dr. Nurit Novis Deutsch to our faculty this Fall.  Dr. Nurit Novis Deutsch is a clinical psychologist, lecturer and researcher, specializing in the psychology of religion, values, morality and identity. She also writes educational programs, focusing on intersections between social psychology and value education. Two of the topics that have long fascinated her, both in psychology and in education, are prejudice and pluralism. As a child belonging to a Liberal religious Jewish community in Israel, Nurit’s Conservative synagogue was the target of frequent vandalism and hostility, as many Orthodox Jews in Israel see Conservative and Reform Judaism as illegitimate. Meanwhile, prayers in synagogue were full of calls for universal love and inclusion. This made her wonder what it is about religion that, in Gordon Allport’s famous words “makes prejudice and unmakes prejudice”. Today, Nurit researches various aspects of religious and national prejudice in the Israeli context. For example, she studies the link between complex identity and inclusiveness, the relation between various types of God concepts and prejudice, and the role of ideology in delineating out-groups. She also researches value pluralism, cognitive complexity and cross-cutting multiple identity structures as ways of increasing pluralistic thought among students, especially those who hold a strong national or religious identity. The goal of her educational work is to facilitate committed yet pluralistic identities among students.

How is all of this connected to Holocaust education? The psychological study of prejudice, racism and out-group rejection was heavily influenced by the occurrence of the Holocaust. When asking themselves “How could the Holocaust take place?” some researchers favored the situational approach. In line with Hanna Arndt’s thesis about the “banality of evil”, they argued that the Holocaust proves that even decent individuals, when put in situations of powerful social influence, conform to violent and inhumane norms. For example, Solomon Asch, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, showed that people will change the way they answer and even how they perceive reality when conforming to “group-think”. Stanley Milgram, the Jewish American son of immigrants who lost their family in the Holocaust, devised his well-known “Obedience studies” to measure the willingness of random participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to submit electric shocks to others. Meta analyses of this study have shown that around 65 percent of participants in comply, regardless of time or place.

Other researchers focused on the personal dispositions of perpetrators and tried to find evidence of personality traits which characterize people who are high on prejudice, or evidence of psychopathology among Nazi leaders. An example of this is Theodor Adorno’s classic work “The Authoritarian Personality”. Adorno, a German with Jewish roots, was forced into exile by the Nazis, and part of his response to Nazism was a study of what constitutes an authoritarian personality.

Other researchers took an interactional approach to the question of evil – they saw the Nazis’ actions as a product of situational pressures and personal dispositions. Later, additional approaches were added by psychologists, sociologists and political scientists, using evolutionary psychology, psychoanalysis, and the study of ideology, identity and morality to attempt to explain such phenomena.

The course which Nurit will be teaching in summer of 2015 at the Weiss-Livnat International MA in Holocaust Studies, integrates two parts: psychological and educational. The first part will focus on theories and studies from the field of psychology regarding the dark side of humanity: prejudice, racism, violence and evil. Using the Holocaust as a case-study, we will ask the following questions: How were Nazi soldiers capable of committing the atrocities they did, and what might this teach us about the human propensity for evil?; How could the silent majority stand by as these atrocities were taking place, and what might this teach us about the bystander effect and conformity?; How do ideology and stereotypes converge to foster prejudice and racism, and what can this teach us about moral development? In debating these questions we will consider the both situational and personality perspectives.

The second part of the course will turn to the field of education: We will make use of psychology’s findings in order to devise educational programs which foster tolerance, pluralism and non-violence, and which educate students about the dangers of racism, prejudice and violence. Holocaust education will be our guiding framework for planning these programs, but they may be used in broader educational frameworks. The course will make use of the diverse background of its students by encouraging students to apply these discussions to their specific contexts and countries of origin.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/


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