Professor of Psychology Gail Sahar will head to the Middle East this summer as one of 10 U.S. academics selected for a special program organized by the Palestinian American Research Council and sponsored by the U.S. State Department. She expects the trip to enrich the courses she teaches and to further her own scholarship.
Why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? As a social and political psychologist who studies attitudes toward controversial issues, culture and ideology, I have long been interested in Palestine. However, I was interested in the region well before my professional identity was formed because my father was born in Palestine in 1920.
The scholarly connection. I have done research about Americans’ beliefs about why Arabs and Muslims resent the United States. For example, I examined Americans’ explanations for why the 9/11 attacks happened and more generally why there is so much hatred of the U.S. in the Middle East.
Looking deeper. A comparison of attitudes and beliefs of Palestinians and Americans would be quite interesting and contribute significantly to the literature in political psychology. I know of very few such studies at the present time. There are a number of different attitudes that could be examined, such as each group’s beliefs about terrorism, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or the role of the U.S. in the Middle East. An easy starting point for this research might be to replicate the study I did on attitudes toward the U.S. and the 9/11 attacks with Palestinian respondents to better understand their perceptions of the causes and appropriate responses to the situation.
From the field to the class. I have always wanted to teach a course specifically on the psychology of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Not only would this course allow me to demonstrate the social-psychological mechanisms that influence international conflict, but it would also help students to better understand a conflict that is increasingly recognized as central to so much instability in the Middle East and the rest of the world. I can hardly think of a region more important for American students to learn about, hopefully replacing stereotypic views of its people with more informed ones.