In Memoriam: Murray A. Straus

Two of our ‘ISRA greats’ — Professor John Archer (left) presenting Professor Murray Straus (right) with a life fellowship.

Two of our ‘ISRA greats’ — Professor John Archer (left) presenting Professor Murray Straus (right) with a life fellowship.

On May 13, 2016, longtime ISRA member and life fellow Murray Straus died at the age of 89. Here, ISRA has assembled a link that briefly summarizes Murray’s career [] and a blog [] for friends and colleagues to share recollections and sentiments.  A very moving eulogy for Murray is provided below. ISRA is very grateful to Dr. David Finkelhor for allowing ISRA to post it here.

Honoring Murray Straus

Just 3 months ago in February, Mongolia became the 49th country in the world to ban corporal punishment by parents. In 1990, when Murray Straus published his first research on spanking the number of such countries was 3. Think of that: the children of 46 more countries, around a quarter of the countries in the world, banning the hitting of those children. And in almost every one of them Murray’s scientific studies and scholarly summaries were cited to persuade these policy makers to change centuries or millennia of traditional unthinking brutality.

Children in Benin, Turkmenistan, Moldova, Bolivia, places Murray despite his extensive travels had never been, are safer and less frightened today because of Murray’s work. I want to just pause and bring into our midst the voices of appreciation from those children, and children yet to be born, whose lives are happier, more care free, whose futures are brighter and less anxious, and the voices of parents, as well, whose bonds with their children are stronger and more affectionate because of him. An amazing legacy

He didn’t do it with a sword, or an edict, or fiery rhetoric, or a radical technology. He did it with a very modern invention, and one that he was passionate about. That invention was empirical, statistical social science that he believed could increase our understanding of the human condition and reverse the causes of some of our once considered intractable miseries.

Murray had a prodigious curiosity. He was a disciplined and creative scientist. But he also was a moral visionary. He wanted to change the world. And he had a very inspired yet well considered hunch. It was that violence and abuse in the core institution of the family was the well-spring of much other human grief and adversity, and that the newly developed tools of social science could both reveal this truth and suggest the necessary remedies.

The final verdict isn’t in, but most of the evidence is trending strongly in support of his hunch, and the tide of scientists and policy makers joining his band-wagon is immense. Murray saw this. He was encouraged by it. He was optimistic that the fruits of his vision would be harvested in time.

Social progress is slower than technological progress. It is sad that he didn’t live to see, and we may not live to see either, the full flowering of his vision.  

But all of us know and admire what an energetic, persistent, indomitable, persuasive, principled and joyful warrior he was on its behalf.

When it comes time to chisel the Mt Rushmore of violence eradication, I hope there he will be, his beaming face and shining forehead, forever to be honored by the much happier and confident families and children of a future world.
David Finkelhor
Professor of Sociology and University Professor
Director, Crimes against Children Research Center
Co-Director, Family Research Laboratory
University of New Hampshire