The Solomon Asch Center was created in 1998 to advance research, education, practice, and policy-relevant study in ethnic group conflict and political violence. The mission of the Center is to sustain and enhance the efforts of social scientists to identify the origins, trajectory and impact of violent intergroup struggles. Original research and findings are employed to devise workable strategies addressing the most intractable conflicts with innovative public policy solutions. These solutions target institutions and practices that provoke ethnopolitical violence, including the assessment of constitutional design, state strategies, and applied policies that eliminate, regulate, or resolve conflicts of ethnicity, nationality and/or identity.
The particular salience of group identity to the study of ethnopolitical conflict is routinely underestimated when addressed by the separate yet parallel efforts of two distinct disciplines: political science and psychology. One unique contribution of the Asch Center is to synthesize more effective public policies that account for the social psychology of group violence in a specific political or regional context.
The Asch Center has established collaborative arrangements with a network of international sites that includes organizations in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Israel/Palestine, and Sri Lanka.
A highlight of the Asch Center's current programming is a unique Summer Institute. It features an interdisciplinary curriculum to prepare academics and other professional practitioners to address issues of ethnopolitical conflict at their home institutions, as well as international network sites.
Seventy-five Fellows with diverse backgrounds from across the United States and more than 20 other countries have participated in these intensive ten-week sessions of lectures, discussions, and working groups. Several past Fellows subsequently pursued Asch Center-sponsored postdoctoral work at selected sites overseas. The most recent Summer Institute was held in 2005.
The Asch Center is engaged in a number of initiatives relating to refugees and internally displaced populations. These groups, among the most vulnerable casualties of ethnic group violence, swell with each new outbreak of hostilities between contending groups: current estimates suggest a global tally of forty million people.
The well-trained researcher or practitioner in this complex area recognizes the need for a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach that integrates psychology with an understanding of the contextual, historic, political, and cultural factors active in these conflicts. The Refugee Initiatives support the crucial work of those devoted specifically to implementing interventions both during and after the outbreak of inter-group violence. The development of rigorous program evaluations is one important example of this agenda.
The Solomon Asch Center recently moved from the University of Pennsylvania, and is now an independent center at Bryn Mawr College. Financial support for specific research and activities has been generously provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, the MacArthur Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, and individual donors.
During their respective tenures as Presidents of the American Psychological Association and Canadian Psychological Association, Martin E. P. Seligman and Peter Suedfeld jointly called for new initiatives directed toward the understanding and amelioration of ethnopolitical conflicts. In direct response, the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict was created in 1998 at the University of Pennsylvania to advance research, education, practice, and policy in the areas of ethnic group conflict and violence.
The links below provide further background on the impetus for and early development of the Asch Center. They include three articles that have appeared in the APA Monitor, as well as details of the groundbreaking Derry Conference at the Initiative for Conflict Resolution and Ethnicity (INCORE) and held in Northern Ireland during the summer of 1998.
From the American Psychological Association Monitor: