Sheila H. Katz

Professor Emeritus
Affiliated Departments

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Sheila H. Katz, Ph.D., is a former professor of Middle Eastern History and Contemplative Studies in the Liberal Arts Department. For 24 years, she taught the history of Palestinian-Israeli relations, the multicultural history and practice of meditation, and global perspectives on music and social change.

Her book Connecting with the Enemy: A Century of Palestinian-Israeli Joint Nonviolence (2016) is the hidden history of two peoples' alliances across deep polarization, and Katz has presented it to universities, bookstores, activist networks, conferences, and community centers, among other locations, across the U.S., Ireland, Northern Ireland, Spain, and New Zealand. She leads a three-week silent meditation retreat where she plays guitar for ecstatic chant in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, each winter, and a one-week silent meditation retreat for women to cultivate compassionate action in the world.

Katz received a doctorate in Middle Eastern History from Harvard University, where she organized seminars on Middle Eastern women and taught for eight years. Her first book, Women and Gender in Early Palestinian and Jewish Nationalism (2003), investigates the origins of conflict through intertwined gender and national identities in the early 20th century. She has published numerous articles and reviews. Her teaching is informed by travels to multiple countries, including Laos, Thailand, Japan, Australia, and Ethiopia. She is a lifelong practitioner of yoga and enjoys biking to Berklee for seven miles along the Charles River. Her best teachers are her colleagues and grandchildren.

Career Highlights
  • Taught 21st-century musicians courses on topics such as Palestinian-Israeli relations, gender and power in history, mystical and contemplative traditions, contemplative studies, and global perspectives on music and peace
  • Lived in Jerusalem for six years to found a network that brought Palestinians and Israelis together for the first time
  • Workshop leader on race, class, and gender inequality in Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, England, France, Sweden, Italy, Greece, and the U.S.
  • Cofounder of Nishmat Hayyim (Breath of Life) Meditation Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, which teaches mindfulness meditation based on ancient and contemporary wisdom from Jewish, Buddhist, and secular texts
  • Contemplative practice student of Soto Zen Zoketsu Norman Fischer, rabbis Shefa Gold (two-year chant leaders training), Sheila Weinberg (two-year Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training), Alan Lew, and Jeff Roth (two-year Sylvia Boorstein)
  • Practitioner of extended silent retreats, including dozens of week-long retreats, a month-long retreat, and 100 days of meditation with Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village monastery, France, and others at Spirit Rock, California; Insight Meditation Society and the Forest Refuge, Massachusetts; and Elat Chayyim in New York and Connecticut
  • Professor Emeritus, Berklee College of Music
In Their Own Words

"We're preparing our 21st-century musicians to be global citizens. Musicians have a language that expresses and transcends boundaries and cultures, so [they] are particularly positioned to have an impact."

"I’m a ‘perspective junky’ drawn to the study of history and to contemplative practice to learn fresh ways to respond to the profound challenges we humans face. I don't believe that history repeats itself. I think that we're always living in a new moment but that the past is constantly influencing us—in our personal lives and as a society. I subscribe to the notion that the more aware you can be about what has gotten you to where you are, the better prepared you are to take the next step, to respond in nonreactive, proactive ways.”

"I'm always teaching history in a way that raises questions that people need to ask themselves now. I am interested in contradictory realities: how to take compassionate action despite our passions, hatreds, and delusions, and how to navigate both our differences and deep interconnectedness. Whether we're reading something from the Hindu Vedas or a narrative of an African slave, the issues our human ancestors dealt with are still relevant. Students often give me a song they've created and say they've written it as a result of things we learned in their history class."

“I was not much older than my students are now when I went to live in Jerusalem to form a network through which Palestinians and Israelis could meet as peers for the first time, listening to the others’ stories of persecution and survival, loss and love."