Revisiting Kurt Lewin’s action research for a world in crisis

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“Moses led Israel through the desert for forty years, until the generation that had lived as slaves might die, and the rest learn to live as free people. Perhaps there are still no faster or better methods for the permanent cultural re-education of a nation.”
German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890 – 1947) made this Biblical reference in 1943 in his proposition how to instil democracy in post-war Germany. In the following years, Lewin developed an approach to applied research which he named action research. At the heart of action research in all its variations is the desire to change the world for the better by moving cyclically between action and research, practice and theory.
The theme of Jewish perspectives on a world in crisis prompts me to interrogate Lewin’s seminal contribution to this family of methods in relation to his Jewishness. While he is widely recognized as a key figure in the development of reflective practice approaches and applied research, his work has not undergone a systematic interrogation through a religious lens equivalent to the extensive literature on the Christian roots of a parallel strand of action research. In my paper, I appraise the suggestion by previous commentators that Lewin was motivated by his experiences as a Jewish émigré from Nazi Germany. However, it seems more constructive for contemporary crisis responses to explore in what ways Lewin’s action research shows any specifically Jewish features. To this end, I examine Lewin’s writings in the light of Jewish thought, education and social action.


ConferenceBritish Association for Jewish Studies Annual Conference 2021
Internet address


  • Jewish Studies
  • action research
  • Kurt Lewin


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