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Lewin, Kurt Zadek


LEWIN, KURT ZADEK (1890–1947), psychologist and author. Lewin, who was born in Mogilno, Germany, was professor of psychology at the University of Berlin until 1932 when he foresaw the rise of the Nazi regime and went to the United States. He taught at Stanford, Cornell, and Iowa universities (1935–45) and organized and directed the research center for group dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1945–47). Lewin was considered one of the most original psychologists of his generation. He was a pioneer in group dynamics; he introduced field theory, and his writings on the nature of causation all were innovations. From his earlier collaboration with the Gestalt school he moved to problems affecting group life. In his books Principles of Topological Psychology (1936), The Conceptional Representation and Measurement of Psychological Forces (1938), he tried to develop a systematic theory of psychology by a mathematical description of behavior in a "life space," using vectors, geometry, and topology to interpret psychological situations. Lewin applied his dynamic theories to Jewish psychosocial needs. Zionism was to him a sociological necessity. He contended that to belong, develop normally, and have contact with nature, the Jews must have their own country. He visited Palestine several times. He accepted a chair at the Hebrew University, to organize its department of psychology, but the plan did not materialize because of lack of laboratory funds. He then devoted himself to research on the problems of Jewish maladjustment and self-acceptance as a member of a minority group. In 1945 he established the Commission on Community Interrelations of the American Jewish Congress, a research action program to combat antisemitism. He also planned to organize an international Jewish institute of action-research. He outlined plans for a United Nations' international organization of group dynamics. Lewin was associated with Jewish educational work all his life. His philosophy was that "an early buildup of a clear and positive feeling of belongingness to the Jewish group is one of the few effective things that Jewish parents can do for the later happiness of their children. In this way parents can minimize the ambiguity and the tension inherent in the situation of the Jewish minority group, and thus counteract various forms of maladjustment resulting therefrom." In addition to his numerous papers and 70 experimental studies published with his students, Lewin's principal works include A Dynamic Theory of Personality (1935); Field Theory in Social Science (1951); and "Bringing up the Jewish Child," in The Menorah Journal, 28 (1940), 29–45.


Tolman, in: Psychological Review, 55 (1948), 1–4; R. Segalman, "A Test of the Lewinian Hypothesis on Self-Hatred Among the Jews"(1967 – thesis, n.y. University); J. Rothman, Minority Group Identification and Intergroup Relations: An Examination of Kurt Lewin's Theory of Jewish Group Identity (1967); Alfred J. Marrow, The Practical Theorist: The Life and Work of Kurt Lewin (1969).

[Menachem M. Brayer]

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