A Tribute to Herbert C. Kelman

March 22, 2022
Herbert Kelman

Herbert Chanoch Kelman passed away peacefully on March 1 at age 94. He was predeceased by his beloved wife and partner of 67 years, Rose Brousman Kelman.

Professor Kelman’s career began in 1947, when he graduated magna cum laude from Brooklyn College and from the Seminary College of Jewish Studies in New York. In 1951, he received his PhD in social psychology and personality from Yale University. After completing his PhD, he spent three years at Johns Hopkins University on post-doctoral fellowships from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and the US Public Health Service, where his primary research emphasis was in the area of social influence, which became a central theoretical focus of his career. During this period in Baltimore, another focus of his life and career, international conflict, also began. He was one of a small group of social scientists who in 1952 founded the Research Exchange on the Prevention of War—one of the first attempts in the new field of peace research. The following year, in 1953, he married Rose Brousman, who became active with him in the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, which Professor Kelman helped establish.

Herbert Kelman
Harvard file photo

While a Fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1954–55, Professor Kelman was instrumental in founding The Journal of Conflict Resolution, which began publication at the University of Michigan in 1957. The journal represented a major milestone in the development of the peace research movement and remains a critical outlet for interdisciplinary work in peace and conflict research.

During the next two years, 1955–57, Professor Kelman worked at the National Institute of Mental Health, where he completed a monograph entitled Compliance, Identification, and Internalization: A Theoretical and Experimental Approach to the Study of Social Influence, for which he was awarded the 1956 Socio-Psychological Prize of the American Association of the Advancement of Science.

His Harvard career began in 1957, when he joined the Harvard faculty as a Lecturer on Social Psychology in the Department of Social Relations, where he remained until 1962. He was then appointed Professor of Psychology and Research Psychologist at the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution at the University of Michigan. Among his many accomplishments during this period, Professor Kelman edited and contributed to International Behavior: A Social-Psychological Analysis, which was published in 1965 and is widely accepted as the definitive presentation of the social-psychological dimensions of international relations.

In 1968 Professor Kelman returned to Harvard as the Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, a position he held until 1999, when he became the Richard Clarke Cabot Research Professor of Social Ethics. During his 54 years at Harvard, Herbert Kelman was remarkably prolific. He held numerous prestigious academic appointments including the Distinguished Visiting Professor at the American University in Cairo (1977); Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC (1980–81), at which time he was also a Guggenheim Fellow; Visiting Scholar at the Truman and Davis Institutes at Hebrew University in Jerusalem (spring 1985); Sterling McMurrin Distinguished Visiting Professor of Liberal Education at the University of Utah (fall 1985); Jennings Randolph Distinguished Fellow of the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC (1989–90); and Visiting Professor at the University of Economics in Vienna (1994).

Professor Kelman’s achievements and contributions to the disciplines of social and political psychology, toward resolving the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and, in the larger sense, toward understanding and preventing international and inter-group violence, were significant and remarkable. His life’s work, shaped largely by his experience as a Holocaust survivor, was informed by a profound concern with human dignity and the danger of dehumanization. In his own words:

The central motivating factors in my work on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict have been my concerns about a secure future for Israel and about justice for the Palestinian people. Both of these concerns are directly linked to my experience with the Holocaust.

The most difficult moments in my Israeli–Palestinian work were those at which I had to confront . . . Israeli policies, practices, or isolated acts that involved humiliation, harassment, and arbitrary treatment of Palestinians, depriving them of their dignity and identity. Such moments painfully reminded me of what happened to my own people and what I personally observed in my childhood. I have never, until now, shared these reactions with anyone other than my wife, for fear of being misunderstood. I am not comparing the Palestinian experience to the Holocaust. I have strongly rejected any attempt to draw such an analogy, just as I have rejected the analogy between Palestinian terrorism and Nazi pogroms. But one of the central lessons that I have drawn from the Holocaust is the need to be supremely vigilant to any action that degrades others merely because of the category in which they are placed and excludes them from one’s own moral community. Although such actions may be far removed from mass murder or ethnic cleansing, they establish an inexorable logic that readily points in that direction.

Professor Kelman’s disciplinary work focused on four areas—the ethics of social research, conformity and obedience, nationalism and national identity, and international conflict and its resolution, with a particular focus on the Israeli–Palestinian crisis. The major themes of his work were the moral dimensions of human behavior, the dynamics of individual and social change, and the application of social science to social issues and its contribution to the problems of war and peace. One of Professor Kelman’s most significant contributions was his development of the interactive problem-solving methodology, a Track II diplomatic approach to resolving conflict, which continues to be used.

He was a prolific writer, having authored well over 200 publications. Among his most significant and widely quoted works were, as mentioned above, International Behavior: A Social-Psychological Analysis and Crimes of Obedience, with V. Lee Hamilton.

Professor Kelman was the recipient of over 30 prestigious awards throughout his academic career, including the Kurt Lewin Memorial Award of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the New York Academy of Science Award, the Lifetime Contribution Award in the Division of Peace Psychology from the American Psychological Association, the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order from the University of Louisville, the Austrian Medal of Honor for Science and Art, the Gold Medal of Honor of the Federal Capital of Vienna, and the Grand Medal of Honor for Meritorious Contributions to the Republic of Austria. In 2011, Vienna’s IICP was renamed the Herbert C. Kelman Institute for Interactive Conflict Transformation.

Professor Kelman’s intense involvement in the Middle East began during his Harvard years. In 1977, he became Chair of the Middle East Seminar, co-sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Under his chairmanship, the Middle East Seminar became a major forum on modern Middle East politics at Harvard University. In 1993, he and his graduate students founded the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution (PICAR). The program is based on the scholar-practitioner model, which calls for a continuing interaction of practice with research, theory building, and training.

Herbert Kelman’s life and his foundational work are a testimony to great achievement, moral courage, and spiritual resource. He will be deeply missed.

Sara Roy, Associate of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Lenore Martin, Associate of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies