SPOKANE, Wash. - Why did the Nazis hate the Jews? Why did the Hutus hate the Tutsis?
Hate is everywhere, but the fundamental question of why one person can hate another has never been adequately studied, contends Jim Mohr of Gonzaga University, who is developing a new academic field of hate studies.
The goal is to explain a condition that has plagued humanity since one caveman looked askance at another.
"What makes hate tick?" Mohr, director of Gonzaga's Institute for Action Against Hate, wondered. "How can we stop it?"
Gonzaga founded the institute a decade ago after some black law students received threatening letters. It has since started a Journal of Hate Studies, hosted a conference and offered its first class on hatred last spring.
The hope is that other universities will follow suit, said Ken Stern of the American Jewish Committee in New York, who has been involved in the effort. "We wanted to approach hate more intelligently," he said.
Stern, who has spent 20 years battling anti-Semitism, said the need for hate studies became obvious when people started fighting groups like the Aryan Nations, which once flourished in this area. Opponents galvanized against the Aryans, but didn't really know how best to fight them, Stern said.
"We were flying by the seat of our pants," he said. "There was no testable theory."
There is not even a good definition of hate, Stern contends.
Philosophers have offered numerous definitions: Rene Descartes said hate was the urge to withdraw from something that is thought bad. Aristotle saw hate as the incurable desire to annihilate an object.
In psychology, Sigmund Freud defined hate as an ego state that wishes to destroy the source of its unhappiness.
Gonzaga, a Jesuit university best known for its basketball team, offered a class on the subject taught by five professors from different disciplines.
Student Kayla De Los Reyes was in that class, and said the information both horrified her and gave her hope.
"Hate is something that is part of the human emotional makeup," she said. "Everyone feels it at one point or another. You have to learn to control it."
The goal is to create an academic home where a variety of disciplines, including history, psychology, religious studies, anthropology and political science, can be brought together to focus on hate. It's the same sort of effort that led to the creation of disciplines like black studies or women's studies, Mohr said.
Such academic efforts are not without controversy. Some skeptics fear they are little more than attacks on the dominant power structure.
"This stuff tends to be one dimensional and presumes the guilt of an archetypal white male," said Glenn Ricketts, spokesman for the National Association of Scholars.
Indeed, De Los Reyes said one of the more interesting topics in the class involved white privilege. The most recent Journal of Hate Studies contained articles about oppression of gays, Nazi experiments on Jews, the local battle against Aryan Nations, and Muslim support for suicide bombings.
Heather Veeder, a graduate assistant for the institute, said the organization has an important mission.
"Hate thrives in areas not illuminated by education," she said.
But Stern said it is too easy to blame ignorance for hate. People can have plenty of knowledge about something and still hate it, he said. The problem is when one person or group can separate another person or group from their humanity, thinking of them as an "other," Stern said.
"We dehumanize them and justify violence against them," Stern said.
There is no simple answer to why people hate, Mohr said. Hate can be sparked by greed, or fear, or a tribe bonding together in opposition to another. People looking to belong will hate others to fit into a group, he said.
With all the political conflict in the United States, it can seem that hate is on the rise. Some people seem to hate President Obama. Some hate Muslims. Some hate homosexuals.
But Mohr said he wouldn't pursue a field of hate studies if he didn't think something positive could be achieved.
"We can change," Mohr said. "There has to be hope."