By Samantha Greenfield || Senior Staff Writer
This week’s Common Hour speaker, Jeffrey Alexander, titled his speech “Cultural Trauma, Social Solidarity, and Moral Responsibility: Reactions to the Holocaust and Other Modern Mass Murders.” Alexander is the Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology at Yale University and is the co-director of the Center for Cultural Sociology there. He gained his BA from Harvard and his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.
Alexander has authored or co-authored 10 books and was one of the editors of the journal Sociological Theory. He is currently a co-editor of the “American Journal of Cultural Sociology.”
Today Alexander focused on cultural trauma stemming from the Holocaust and more generally something he calls the “trauma drama.”
Alexander begins by introducing the concept of social solidarity. He says, “Because by constructing cultural traumas, socially groups, national societies, and sometimes even entire civilizations not only cognitively identify the existence and source of human suffering; but may also, take on moral responsibility for it, insofar as groups identify the cause of trauma in a manner that implies their own moral responsibility.”
The most extraordinary development in the post-World War II era is the powerful identification of Christians in the west with the millions of Jewish people that were murdered in the Holocaust.
For so many years Christians had deemed the Jewish people subhuman, “excluding them from civil society, punishing them economically, and persecuting them culturally and politically, and sometimes of course doing far worse.”
Alexander explains the process of this powerful identification in relation to moral responsibility. The Holocaust was not an event in isolation; it had effects on entire societies worldwide by redefining their perceptions of perpetrators and victims.
Alexander argues that the collective identification of victims of genocide could prevent the reoccurrence of such traumas; however, as we see genocide continuing today, Alexander notes that there is no guarantee.
Senior Samantha Greenfield is a senior staff writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.