Some Biographical Material on Lawrence Davidson
Lawrence Davidson is a retired professor of history from West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic research focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He taught courses in Middle East history, the history of science and modern European intellectual history.
Education and Career
Lawrence Davidson was born in 1945 in Philadelphia PA. He grew up in Elizabeth NJ in a secular Jewish household. In 1963 he matriculated at Rutgers University for his BA. At Rutgers, Davidson developed a left leaning activist orientation to the problems facing the US in the 1960s. In 1967 he moved on to Georgetown University for his MA.
At Georgetown University he studied modern European intellectual history under the Palestinian ex-patriot Professor Hisham Sharabi. Sharabi and Davidson subsequently became close friends and one can date his interest in Palestinian, as well as Jewish and Zionist, issues from this time. His years at Georgetown (1968-1970) coincided with the height of the Vietnam war and Davidson became one of the founding members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at Georgetown. Davidson managed to both strongly agitate against the Vietnam war and complete his MA during these years.
In 1970, with the breakup of the SDS, Davidson left the United States for Canada. This was a voluntary exile. He spent the next six years in Canada and obtained his PhD (1976), also in modern European Intellectual history, at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. At that point he returned to the United States.
The mid 1970s was a bad time for the academic job market in history. Davidson spent several years as an adjunct instructor at various colleges and universities, as well as working for a time as a middle manager at Alexian Brothers Hospital, a Catholic hospital in St. Louis. Subsequently he was contracted to write the history of Alexian Brothers’ oldest hospital. This led to his first book length work, The Alexian Brothers of Chicago (1990). During this period he also published numerous articles in a number of different areas including medical history, history of education, US foreign policy and, increasingly, articles having to do with Zionism and the Palestinian question. Many of these latter pieces appear in the early issues of the Journal of Palestine Studies edited by Professor Sharabi.
In 1989 Davidson joined the faculty of history at West Chester University as a tenure track professor. He remained at this institution for 27 years and maintained an increasingly productive publishing record. He retired from WCU in May of 2013.
Lawrence Davidson has written a number of books:
In 1998 he published Islamic Fundamentalism-An Introduction, (Greenwood Press). An updated second edition appeared in 2003. A third edition should be out in 2013. This work sought to contribute to an effort to counter the stereotyped and sometimes racist approach of much American writing on Islam. It describes the history and basic beliefs of Islam and compares Sunni and Shi’ite expressions of the religion. In addition it seeks to inform American readers about the impact of US foreign policy on the evolving outlook Muslims hold of the American government. The largely lobby driven U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has helped create an environment in which an increasing numbers of Muslims have become legitimately critical of US behavior.
In 2001 he published America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood (University Press of Florida). In this highly original work, Davidson exposed a number of historical errors that had accumulated in the histories of America’s evolving relationship with Zionism and Israel. He demonstrated that the notion that the State Department had been anti-Semitic in the years prior to 1948 was incorrect, and also showed that there had been an active Arab American lobby contesting Zionist claims about Palestine as early as the 1920s. Overall America’s Palestine paints a much more nuanced and complex picture of the early history of US-Zionist relations than had been previously presented.
In 2006 Davidson co-authored, with Arthur Goldschmidt, the eighth edition of A Concise History of the Middle East (Westview Press). A ninth edition appeared in 2009 and a 10th in 2012. The Concise History is probably the most widely used textbook on Middle East history in the United States. Davidson contributed a series of short biographies of notable Middle East historical figures to the work as well as helped structure a debate style approach to the book’s discussion of contemporary events. The juxtaposition of the authors’ different points of view makes this a unique and valuable (as well as highly readable) textbook.
In 2009 Davidson published Foreign Policy, Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest (University Press of Kentucky). This work locates the source of US foreign policy formulation in the activity of powerful lobbies rather than in the White House or State Department. It shows that, in selective areas, this has been the case since the founding of the nation and flows from the structure of American politics. The argument builds on a number of theoretical constructs such as factocracy, natural localism, the idea of thought collectives and information environments, etc. The work also challenges the notion of national interest, suggesting that in an environment in which strong lobbies influence policy formulation, the concept of national interest cannot really reflect reality.
A book on the phenonmenon of Cultural Genocide was published in March 2012 by Rutgers University Press.
Contributing Editor to Logos – A Journal of Modern Society and Culture
Many of Lawrence Davidson’s recent writings of article length have appeared in Logos, an on-line journal for which he is a contributing editor. Those interested may find this work at www.logosjournal.com.
Since his time at Rutgers University Lawrence Davidson has evolved a left oriented critique of American society and its behavior in the world. From his point of view American culture rests on a prevailing individualism tempered only by group alliances held together by special and parochial interests. The result is low levels of empathy for those outside one’s group and a marked disadvantage for all elements of society which lack the ability to organize themselves into special interests. Despite this fragmented, self-centered outlook the evolving nation state and its media have been able to inculcate and preserve a collective picture of the nation as god-blessed and in possession of an ideology and political system that must be spread worldwide. Thus, the ability to act in contradictory ways is a fact of life in America.
In terms of foreign policy, Davidson sees the United States as, historically, an expansionist and exploitative power that supports only those regimes that cooperate with its acquisitive policies. Sharing in the ideological and political orientation of the United States has hardly proven necessary of such regimes. What is necessary is that foreign governments cooperate economically and do not share in counter ideologies deemed in competition with America.
Also, in Davidson’s estimation, the combination of America’s self-centered and self-glamorizing world view and prevailing provincialism of its people has created a wide and dangerous gap between how the average American sees his nation’s behavior around the world and the actual on the ground consequences of that behavior. Popular ignorance of actual U.S. foreign policies allow the American citizenry to be easily misled by the country’s political and media elites.
Role of the Public Intellectual
Lawrence Davidson’s evolving career as a public intellectual, has been devoted to presenting the above critique to the public in a way that can best promote citizen awareness. In this endeavor he has focused on the realities of American behavior in the Middle East in juxtaposition to the popular conceptions of that behavior evolved over sixty five plus years of propaganda. As a consequence he has become an outspoken critic of the U.S. alliance with Israel and the Zionist treatment of the Palestinian people.
Often in conjunction with his wife, Janet Amighi (an anthropologist specializing in Iran), Davidson speaks at churches, rotary clubs, colleges/universities and other venues in the eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey area. In so doing he sees himself contributing to a slow but steady change in opinion when it comes to American conceptions of the plight of the Palestinians in particular and the Arab world in general.