1993 – Donald Harman Akenson

Ireland, South Africa and Israel may seem worlds apart. But similarities among groups in these politically troubled countries help explain why they cannot maintain peace within their borders.

The similarities also can help predict the events that lie ahead, says Donald Harman Akenson, winner of the 1993 award.

In his 1992 book, God’s Peoples: Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel and Ulster, Akenson looks specifically at Ulster-Scots Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed Church Afrikaners and the Jews of Israel.

The groups share some common traits, particularly a belief that God has promised them the land they struggled to get. Believing they are God’s chosen people, the groups also share fear of an outside enemy, the legacy of an “exodus” experience and a concept of group purity.

The groups have experienced similar conflict with outside forces through events such as the fraying of the Ulster covenant by the Catholic civil rights movement of 1969; the worldwide response to apartheid after 1969; and the claim of the Jews to “greater Israel” after the 1967 war.

“By understanding the convictions of these groups, politicians can better deal with the emotionally charged issues they face,” Akenson says.

He argues that, “patience — not confrontation — is the key to ending such conflicts.

Already, there are signs of a gradual dissolution of the covenental mindset in South Africa and Northern Ireland; however, the Jews in Israel had not at the time of his writing shown any signs of softening their position.”

Akenson, a professor of history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, has written 11 works, including Small Differences: Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants 1815-1922, and four novels.