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James Gilligan


James Gilligan is a leading American psychiatrist who has specialized in studying the causes and prevention of violence. He is a widely published author of both articles and books on subjects such as violence as a public health problem, causes of violence, psychology of violence, punishment and violence, violence prevention, structural violence and more. Gilligan is former Director of the Institute of Law and Psychiatry at Harvard, and taught at the Harvard Medical School for 35 years. He served as President of the International Association for Forensic Psychotherapy from 1999-2002 and is now a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Adjunct Professor of Law at New York University.

Gilligan began his career in prison psychiatry, when war-zone levels of violence – homicides, suicides, riots, hostage-taking, mass rapes, arson -- occurred throughout the Massachusetts prisons in the 1970s. Gilligan led a team from the Harvard Medical School charged with bringing the level of mental health care in the prisons up to community standards. His work in the prisons provided a social-psychological “laboratory” in which to learn about the causes and prevention of violence, and it is where he pioneered his first extremely successful anti-violence programs.

The concepts and principles of violence prevention that James Gilligan developed during his 25 years working with prisoners have been adapted for use in prisons and prison mental hospitals in the U.S. and around the world, including New Zealand, Singapore and Poland. He has served as a consultant on the causes and prevention of violence to President Clinton, Tony Blair and the Law Lords of the House of Lords, the Secretary General of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Court in The Hague, and the World Economic Forum’s Committee on Negotiations and Conflict Resolution. 

In 2003, Gilligan was given the Annual Achievement Award by Physicians for Social Responsibility (a co-winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize). In 2004, a highly successful violence-prevention experiment that he designed and evaluated in San Francisco jails was awarded first prize in “Innovations in American Governance” by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

In 2011, the Times Literary Supplement named his book, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others, Book of the Year.  2016 he was a contributing author of New York Times best-seller The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Most recently he co-authored Holding a Mirror up to Nature:  Shame,  Guilt, and Violence in Shakespeare (2021) with law professor David Richards.

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Shakespeare’s Murderers

Jan. 3, 2023

Centuries before psychoanalysis was born, William Shakespeare was analyzing the root causes of male violence and giving detailed, intimate, almost microscopic second-to-second descriptions of what goes on in the minds and he…