Skip to main content


During the time of the cluster team members will organize small internal multi disciplinary USC seminars for faculty and graduate students on theoretical questions, research progress and on curricular development as well as occasional talks by guest speakers per semester which will intensify the connection, communication and collaboration of faculty and students exploring the core issues of the research cluster.



Defining Resistance

Wednesday, November 3, 12:00 - 1:30 PM

Faculty members of the cluster met to discuss the meaning and scope of the term ‘resistance’ in the context of genocide resistance. The seminar consisted of three ten - fifteen minute presentations, followed by discussion.

First, Richard Dekmejian of the Department of Political Science discussed the methodologies stages and varieties of genocide resistance, primarily in the context of the Armenian genocide, including: strategies for genocide prevention by potential victims (including seeking accommodation from and expressing loyalty to the state, and preparing for active self-defense); remembrance and restitution for survivors; and outside intervention (in particular, the idea that it intervention must be decisive, and it is much more damaging and dangerous to talk about intervention and then not follow through with it.) He stressed the notion that genocides are preventable, and that we understand what the major warning signs of an impending genocide are (such as the dangerous combination of crisis conditions and a powerful elite leadership.)  However, such prevention requires a constant monitoring or “global scanning” for such conditions, and a long term monitoring of failed states to remove genocidal pre-conditions.

Next, Wolf Gruner of the history department discussed the historical development of genocide resistance studies, particularly in the context of Jewish resistance to the Holocaust.  Resistance can be seen as individual or group, and formal or informal, and can include any form of defiance/protest/non-conformist behavior. The group generally agreed that resistance must be intentional. In the 1970s, research focused primarily on group resistance, and resistance was typically taken to be about organized group resistance. Since then, more research has been done about individual acts of resistance, and there has been a reevaluation of the role of leadership in the resistance of Jewish communities during the Holocaust.

Finally, Beth Meyerowitz of the Department of Psychology talked about the psychological aspects of resistance before, during, and especially after genocide, focusing on the recent, highly-localized Rwandan genocide. She raised interesting questions about how to understand resistance after genocide, especially in a political situation in which future genocidal attempts are highly possible. For example, are Gacaca genocide trials an effective form of resistance? Can they be considered effective even if the victims recognize that the truth is not always told at these trials? Is the refusal to teach school children about the genocide (or to use the words ‘Hutu’ and ‘Tutsi’) a form of resistance? What about Kagame crossing into the Congo and pre-emptively killing rebels who are most likely planning future genocidal activities? Is this resistance or a war crime—or both?

The group discussed the scope of resistance (from individual to state), and the fluidity of resistance: how someone who resists today might be complicit tomorrow, participate the next day, then resist again the day after that. There was discussion about the risk of acting pro-actively when it comes to genocide resistance, and the moral dilemma of where the boundaries of resistance lie—for example, can a community leader willingly sacrifice a small portion of her/his people to save the rest?


SPECIAL EVENT: Lunch seminar with Carl Wilkens:

February 1st, 2011.

Carl Wilkens, the founder of World Outside My Shoes and former head of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Rwanda, was the only American who remained in the country when the 1994 genocide began. His choice to stay and try to help resulted in preventing the massacre of hundreds of children over the course of the genocide. 

The Cluster held a special lunch meeting with Carl Wilkens, during which participants had the opportunity for more personal and in-depth discussion. Several undergraduate students attended, in addition to faculty members from the research cluster.  He shared his personal account of what he witnessed and an inspiring call to action against bigotry and violence. 

After the lunch meeting, Wilkens gave a public talk about his experiences in Rwanda (jointly sponsored by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, 2020 Research Cluster “Resistance to Genocide”, Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, Louchheim School of Judaic Studies, and the Office of Religious Life.)


Defining Genocide

Friday, March 11, 10:00 - 11:30 PM

At this internal seminar the group prepared for the upcoming International Workshop by reading and discussing the work of Christian Gerlach. Gerlach was invited as the keynote speaker of the International Workshop and the subject of several of the panelists’ papers. In his writings Gerlach seeks to move scholarly discussion away from the use of the terms Holocaust and genocide and towards a conception of “extremely violent societies.” He encourages this transition since both terms are over-determined socially, culturally, and politically; while, at the same time, neither has a very clear nor universally agreed upon definition. By turning to a more objective, if not clinical, term—for which Gerlach proposes several defining characteristics—scholarship should, he argues, be able to move away from the pathos and politics of the traditional terms. This reading led to an animated and informative discussion amongst the Cluster’s participants.




Rescue seminar with Susanne Beer

February 29th, from 2:00 - 3:30 PM at the Shoah Foundation Institute:

Visiting scholar Susanne Beer, research fellow at the Institute for Advnaced Studies in the Humanities in Essen, Germany, gave a presentation on her research on the topic of rescue, which was enlightening and well-attended. 

Susanne is part of a project called “Frames of Reference and Help,” which seeks to offer an interdisciplinary insight into pro-social behavior under restrictive conditions. The project examines helping behavior from a historical and social psychological perspective by conducting quantitative and qualitative analyses on a large amount of archival sources. In contrast to earlier approaches that have focused on dispositional features of human personalities, the project applies concepts borrowed from the analysis of figurations and frames of reference.  Its aim is to reconstruct the actions and situational perceptions, underlying assumptions and perceived social obligations of helpers. 

Susanne’s personal research interest is in understanding the historical contexts that enabled and fostered resisting behavior during the deportations of German Jews from 1941 to 1945. her thesis deals with so-called "silent heroes" - people who helped Jews in hiding between 1941 and 1945.  She is working with 54 biographies of German helpers and reconstruct their social backgrounds, milieus and decision-making processes.