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Autumn 2006 | Volume 29, Number 4 | Features

A Balanced Empathy

Professor uses The Lemon Tree to Explore Relationships Between “The West and the World”

THIS AUTUMN, SEATTLE PACIFIC University Professor of History Don Holsinger introduced a new text to his sophomore-level Common Curriculum course, “The West and the World.” The book is one he hopes will have as profound an impact on his students as it has had on him.

Holsinger describes The Lemon Tree, a true story about an Israeli family and a Palestinian family written by journalist Sandy Tolan, as meticulously researched and sensitively told. “It shows deep understanding and empathy for both Palestinians and Israelis,” he says. In class, Holsinger’s students will be required to read the book and write reflections about its content.

In the process, he hopes that they will develop a “balanced empathy” and begin to see what people on both sides of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict have in common. “They speak closely related languages; both trace their ancestries back to Abraham; and their basic values are similar,” says the professor. “They also share a passionate attachment to the same piece of land. The book really helps students understand how much these people share.”

Holsinger has been teaching courses in the Common Curriculum — SPU ’s general education program required of all students — for the last seven years. A specialist on Middle Eastern and Islamic history, he participated in a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation that monitored the tense boundary between the Israeli and Palestinian-controlled sections of the West Bank city of Hebron in 2000.

He shares these experiences with his students in “The West and the World,” a course that explores the historical interactions between the West and other civilizations from the dawn of the modern global age to the present. Students examine a variety of world regions with the assistance of books, including Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and thought-provoking films such as The Mission and Gandhi.

The central question of the course, says Holsinger, is “How has Western civilization influenced and been influenced by other cultures?” Ultimately, he continues, the course examines “Christian responses to a constantly changing world.”

As conflict continues in the Middle East, Holsinger believes The Lemon Tree’s theme of reconciliation has potentially powerful and far-reaching implications. “It’s about having the courage to reach out and overcome a natural human tendency to fear others,” he explains. “My hope is that students will have their eyes opened and their hearts touched by this book. It inspires a vision of reconciliation — for Israelis and Palestinians, but also for other peoples around the world, and here at home.”

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