9/11 expert Robert Jay Lifton at Evergreen April 25

Published: April 12, 2006

Event Date: April 25, 2006

Lifton headlines the 20th anniversary Willi Unsoeld Seminar

The Willi Unsoeld Seminar is bringing noted author and psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton to The Evergreen State College on Tuesday, April 25th at 8 p.m. The free event takes place in the Communications Building Recital Hall at Evergreen and is open to the public.

The annual lecture series, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, honors Willi Unsoeld, leader of the first American expedition to reach the summit of Mt. Everest on May 22, 1963. A philosopher, theologian and mountaineer, Unsoeld was a founding member of the Evergreen faculty. He died in an avalanche on Mount Rainier in March 1979.

This year’s speaker, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, has spent his life trying to understand the horror and violence that is an undeniable part of human experience. Following September 11, 2001, he undertook a study of Islamist apocalyptic violence and American responses to 9/11, culminating in his 2003 book Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World.

His writings on Nazi doctors (their killing in the name of healing) and the problem of genocide; nuclear weapons and their impact on death symbolism; Hiroshima survivors; Chinese thought reform and the Chinese Cultural Revolution; psychological trends in contemporary men and women; and the Vietnam War experience and Vietnam veterans have appeared in a variety of professional and popular journals. His newest book, Crimes of War - Iraq, coedited with Richard Falk and Irene Gendzier, was published in February 2006.

Lifton is lecturer in psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance, and distinguished professor emeritus of psychiatry and psychology at The City University of New York. He was formerly director of The Center on Violence and Human Survival at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and had previously held the Foundations’ Fund Research Professorship of Psychiatry at Yale University for more than two decades.

Lifton’s work fits in well with the philosophy of Willi Unsoeld. “For me, the ultimate goal of all education is to help people treat each other better,” said Unsoeld, explaining his educational philosophy about a year before he died. “If I were to rip the heart out of all the educational philosophy which I have absorbed during my eight years at The Evergreen State College, I would crystallize it into a single paradoxical resolution of the old educational conundrum: ‘Are you basically a ‘content’ person or a ‘process’ person?’ The start of my answer would be an unabashed statement: ‘I am definitely a process person.’ By this I mean that the highest value which I attach to the educational enterprise is the encouragement it gives to the development of supportive relationships among people.”

As he saw it, the basic assumptions upon which Evergreen curriculum rested were that knowledge is holistic, leading to cross-disciplinary programs instead of traditional courses; that education is a life-long process in which the emphasis should be placed on learning how to learn while enjoying the company of a community of co-learners; and a major part of the curriculum should be aimed at the transmission of moral values within a social context.

Willi Unsoeld’s wife, former U.S. Representative Jolene Unsoeld, will introduce Dr. Lifton. He will sign copies of his books, which will be available for sale after the lecture.

For more information, call (360) 867-6402.

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Robert Jay Lifton
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