Heribert Adam

Heribert Adam, SFU sociology professor emeritus, is the 2008 winner of the Sterling Prize in support of controversy

Controversy, conflict, democracy

October 16, 2008

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By Susan Jamieson-McLarnon

A research career immersed in some of the world’s most volatile political situations has earned SFU sociology professor emeritus Heribert Adam the 2008 Nora and Ted Sterling prize in support of controversy. Worth $5000, the prize honours his work on South Africa’s former apartheid regime and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

"Controversy courts me," rather than the other way around, says Adam, who pursues rigorous research on the difficult issues of ethnic and racial conflict.

Originally from Germany, Adam went to South Africa to research the "Nazis of Africa" and their race laws. A strong opponent of apartheid, he was eventually banned and refused a visa for associating with anti-apartheid activists.

He joined SFU’s sociology department in 1968 where he continued his close examination of South Africa. Along the way he met Nelson Mandela.

"While he was still imprisoned, we sent him a copy of one of our books," which Adam co-authored with his South African wife, UBC sociologist Koglia Moodley. "About three months later we received a warm, hand-written letter from Mr. Mandela asking us if we could drop by the prison one day to autograph it for him. We didn’t meet in person until after his release."

In recent years, Adam turned his attention to the Middle East and the issues that prevent peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. He asks: "Are there lessons to be learned from the South African negotiated settlement?"

In their recent book, Seeking Mandela, Adam and Moodley speculate what might have happened in the Middle East if there had been what they call a "Palestinian or Israeli Mandela" to provide leadership in the ethnic conflict. They doubt that even a Mandela could achieve reconciliation in Jerusalem.

Adam held the SFU Simons Chair in graduate liberal studies and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He is the author or co-author 10 books and more than 200 articles. In 1998, he received the Konrad Adenauer Prize from the Humboldt Foundation.
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