Wednesday, November 21, 2007
This posting is partly to give a flavour of the sort of issue that will be addressed at next year’s Summer School in Birmingham. We briefly touched on the sensitive issue within and across different faith communities of conversion to other faiths and active proselytizing by some faiths, or groups within them (e.g. evangelical Christians). We also saw some of the difficult issues of marriages across religious divides in the film, The Syrian Bride, where one son returns home with a Russian bride and young child. In Birmingham, the issue of conversion and marriage across religious faith communities is currently a very hot topic among Sikhs, Hindus and Musllims. (Kaur is the Sikh name identifying females, while Khan signifies Muslim identity).
In particular, what is alleged is that Hindu and Sikh young women are being lured by Muslim young men into compromising (sexual) positions after evenings out, where they may have been ‘plied’ with alcohol or had rohypnol (the so-called ‘date rape’ drug) mixed with their drinks. They are then photographed and told they will be ‘shamed’ with their communities, unless they convert to Islam. Many cases have been reported, or at least have been claimed, and these are circulating within the Sikh and Hindu communities. In particular, it is claimed that there is a building in Birmingham, called ‘K to K’, where this all takes place. Speakers at gurdwaras and temples are encouraging local communities to be vigilant, and, of course, these allegations heighten tensions between communities.
To a very large degree, it is evident that this is something that sociologists call a ‘moral panic’, where particular kinds of ‘anxieties’ become focused upon a particular phenomenon, which then becomes amplified and distorted (especially through the role of the media). Indeed, there are few cases that can be identified, despite the large number reported (each, in turn, apparently personally ‘known’ to someone close to the person reporting it), and those cases that are identified seem to be about something entirely different, namely love matches between young men and women across religious boundaries.
Yet the different communities are convinced something is happening. The police are interested in ‘understanding’ this new phenomenon and, in so doing, reinforce the sense that something must be happening. This in turn serves to make relations between the communities tense (in October 2005 there was a riot with one death in the Lozells area of Birmingham, when African/Caribbean youth responded to a local community radio station report that a young African refugee woman had been raped by Pakistani youths at a local Pakistani beauty salon. Subsequently, no such event could be found to have taken place). Rumour can be very powerful, but difficult to counter.
In part, we can explain what is going on in the same way that we explain the existence of that significant proportion of North Americans who believe that they have been abducted by aliens. On the one hand, reporting of alien abduction serves to communicate the circumstances associated with being abducted (the descriptions of the aliens, the nature of the space ship, what happens on the ship, etc, all of which ‘recovered’ under hypnosis) and this then enters back into individual reports of abduction. People come to ‘know’ how to be a plausible alien abductee. The very similarity of the reports – itself a social construction – serves to confirm the sense that there must be something to it, or how else do so many individuals distributed across the USA have the same experiences?
So what cultural anxiety might underlie the phenomenon of alleged ‘forced conversions’? Several things seem relevant, quite apart from any historical tensions among the communities. First, all three communities in the UK, Sikh, Muslim and Hindu, have a cultural tradition of ‘arranged’ marriages, which take place in a wider cultural context of the UK where ‘love’ marriages initiated by young people are typical. Among different ethnic groups, South Asian communities have the lowest inter-ethnic marriages (compared to high ratio of intermarriage between whites and African-Caribbeans, for example). Given, the common cultural traditions among South Asian groups (as well as ethnically relatively segregated schools and residential areas) might we not expect that the pressure upon the conventions of arranged marriages might come first from relationships across different divisions within South Asian groups? Add to this that Muslim and Sikh communities present a mirror-image of each other with regard to visible markers of religious identities. In the Sikh community, religious identity is carried by males (turbans, unshaven beards, etc) while females ‘pass’ more easily in the wider community, unmarked by religious identity (indeed, female educational achievement among minority ethnic groups as in the wider population is also higher than that of males). In the Muslim community, religious identity is carried by females (head scarf, long loose garments, etc) and there is greater restriction on female participation in public life, such as employment.
In a context, where young Sikh (and Hindu) men have been demonstrating outside Muslim houses and mosques where young Sikh (and Hindu) women are believed to be ‘hidden’ (or, are ‘hiding’), is this not also a case where the politics of gender are very evident? The cultural anxiety is also manifesting itself as a gender anxiety about the freedoms of women. Is this not something, we also addressed at the Summer School concerning boundaries and the apparent need to maintain them in the face of potential threats? But in this case, we see how the boundary itself can become inflated and itself the source of threat. As the American sociologist, W.I Thomas said, if people believe things to be real, those beliefs become real in their consequences.
This is currently a very live issue in Birmingham with faith leaders being asked by their communities to take a stand, and faith leaders not knowing how to respond (except by asking if the Anglicans wouldn’t mind organising a task force!).
Note: Just googling ‘Kaur to Khan’ will give you immediate access to websites and blogs from within the Sikh community showing the nature of the angry responses to the supposed phenomenon of forced conversion.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Is it Possible to Change?
For about two months ago, at the end of a mind-spinning India trip, I had to join a group of people whom all come from different countries, identities, boundaries, religions and looks for two weeks. Meeting people at conferences, having casual/ intellectual conversations were probably things we all do frequently. Living semi-together (under the same roof, in different rooms), however, was something new and it changed the concept of the meeting more than I had expected.
First, I saw myself trying to categorize people hastily. Earlier I do it, earlier my mind would be rested. Gender, nationality, religion and profession were my tools. I think I worked unconsciously on that for a few days and then I gave up. I had to come up close to 30 different rooms in my brain. Day by day, I realize everybody was unique. I realized how individual differences can be very significant. There were times when I managed to put two people in the same bubble, but I would see it would easily break when a controversial topic comes up. Everybody being different and having the same opportunities (right to speak, food, room, travel) has been my dream society for a long time. I was at the right place. By the end of the second day, I was physically excited to be part of the summer school.
At the first processing session, I caught myself with so many prejudices. When I was told to find the same and opposite of myself, it was very difficult to find someone filling these positions. What was the same? Not similar but the same, this was heavy. It was not my choice, but I had to find someone. This situation reminded me of other similar experiences in life. We feel not ready to make choices, commitments, but we have to do them anyway. It never feels like the right time, right place. So we go with quick judgments. In such limited time, without knowing people well, I did so. My decision on opposite, depended on my assumption of someone’s political view (which later turned out was not true), and the same looked like a mix of different identities (later turned out very different identities). I realized that I make assumptions on people depending on their groups, religions, countries rather than age, gender and profession. Somebody close to my age, a female, and even the same profession means nothing to me to have a connection. If I think we share some values on intellectual level, or politically, I unfold easily.
More than anything, nationalism and secularism have been bothering my mind. Talking and learning about those two subjects were very helpful for me. Although I was learning for my part, I felt that some of the information we were getting could be too complicated for the ones who did not know much about the subject. Kurdish issue, for example, was something we did not have a lecture on specifically. Many people did not even know why Kurds were not recognized as minorities. Under these circumstances, we watched a movie called “Journey to the Sun” which I did not know about beforehand. I strongly reacted to the movie as I saw it as a learning tool for the group. Many people who do not know about Kurdish issue in Turkey, would automatically believe that Turkish police would treat all Kurds badly, Turkish bosses would yell and take advantage of their employees just because they were Kurds, and many other assumptions that could be set to minds very easily. Moreover, the time that incidents take place were not mentioned so that the audience would think that is usual for Turkey. At this time, I was very part of this group and I really cared about people’s first assumptions on the issue. I would be very comfortable discussing the movie on an intellectual level if I were with people familiar with the subject. Yesim Ustaoglu is a director who is known for her sided political movies, that is why we did not see any reasoning in the movie. As long as Turks keep marrying Turks, I think it is a problem of state and politics. Comparing the Kurdish issue to the Palestinian issue would be totally nonsense. I strongly defend this opinion, and I know many people want to see the two almost identical. That is why I brought up the question of talking about Palestine. If we were to discuss state oppression, many more people were informed about Palestinian issue compare to Kurdish issue. I never intended to offend Adam related to his identity. On the other hand, I was not comfortable an Israeli commenting on Kurdish issue in Turkey, in front of Turks and Kurds almost as an expert. This was the time I changed my mind about my thesis subject. Before, I was planning to do research about the wall separating Israel/ Palestine and its effects on both sides. After this incident and a few others during summer school, I thought I would not be objective or it would be funny on an international level to present something in a few months deeply. I decided to solve my problems with secularism and nationalism first and I decided to understand secular nationalism in Turkey.
Another important thing happened during summer school was constant questioning and thinking. We were listening about ideas and countries first, and then we were commenting back on them by sharing with each other. I tried to see how an idea can reflect itself differently on different people. How a religion can be interrupted differently. How nationality can be an important component of identity for one person and how gender is more important for another one. In this group, if I looked a little carefully, I could see many details that shape identities, relationships, and even new groups.
While meeting, connecting and sharing with so many different people, I learned a lot. Some of the information I had, got updated, some changed. At the end of the 10th day or so, I was very confused with everything I learned. That was the time when people started to ask each other: “So, what do you think is going to happen?” My question was less patient: “What’s happening?” Many values I respected were in danger. Whose truth was more true? How come people believe in different things? How come people believing in different things can be married? Why am I not allowed to marry a non-Muslim? If my religion is not the most important part of my daily life, why should it be of my entire life? Or do I even have the right to question this rule? How about other religions? How much of them can we question? How is it possible to manage believing and thinking at the same time? Jews seem to be doing this very well, what is their secret? And many other questions were wandering in my mind. The most important question that I still couldn’t find answer was at the top though: Is my faith in danger if it reduces itself to equality with other beliefs? Do I have to believe that it is the true and best one in order to keep my devotion to it?
Going to Alevite community was another lifetime experience for me. This was a belief and community that I was not familiar with. I observed the ceremony very carefully, and took notes from the lecture. As much as I respect it as a culture, I do not/ I cannot see it as a religion. There are no written references about the belief, and it rejects some certain requirements of Islam. Not only that, but also the socio economic level of the society caused me some prejudice. I am sure I would be less judgmental if the women in the room were 30-40 year old college graduates. Is that why I felt myself closer at the ceremony in Adam’s room, Bursa? Is it because all these people were clever and open minded to me so the thing they believed in must have been more meaningful? Or is it because it was closer to my faith and the way it is practiced?
Identifying myself with my race, nationality and religion would not be something I like to do at the first place. I would mostly prefer to be perceived with my individual qualifications. Despite my will, the first thing people ask when I go abroad is “Where are you from?” “You Muslim?” Nobody cares what I study or what I think about world hunger. Religion and nationality are critically important to identify one another. I do not specifically include or exclude myself from those groups. I simply try to focus on different details. Until we went to Selimiye Mosque with the group, I had no strong feelings of belonging to any group. I thought there were no groups that would accept me as I am, and there were no groups I would accept them the way they were.
When I went to Selimiye, I felt a strong connection with the mosque. Maybe it was because all the mosques I go are very touristy and I do not go very often, but there was something different. After a very long time, and perhaps after heavy conversations about religions and borders, I felt like a “Muslim”. I covered myself properly and I felt like it was my territory inside the mosque. At this time, I was not a female, not a summer school fellow, not a graduate student, I was simply a Muslim. I focused on this spirituality and prayed for a few minutes. Little bit later, I saw some of my group members were coming in, and women members were not covered properly. As a person who does not care about this at all outside, I got strongly offended by this behavior in the mosque. I did not think about it before, I was just feeling that it was wrong. I didn’t want to “warn” anybody, still being respectful; I went upstairs to the women section which was empty. I kept praying by myself in peace until the other female members of the group showed up. I avoided eye contact and just moved to the other side without giving them any explanation. It was about prayer time and I wanted to join the “Muslim group” to pray together. Still upstairs but far away from the other women, I looked down and saw that they were all men. It would be awkward to pray with men, I got confused. I looked back and saw the women, no, I wanted to be with Muslims. I looked down, I saw men, I had to be with women. Stuck in the middle, I looked at myself and my situation was exactly the same what I am dealing in life. I feel close to many groups but I don’t belong to any of them. Either I don’t want them or they would not accept me, at the end, I am alone. I am trying to figure out everything by myself. This state of loneliness seemed very depressing for a few minutes. I realized many things in such short time with a simple experience.
When I got out I felt like sharing this experience with someone. Looking for someone “similar”, I walked to Enver. As he is a “Muslim”, and a “thinker”, I thought he would understand me, maybe he had similar experiences. He listened to me carefully and gave me the comfort of “I feel you, I understand you” My estrangement lasted a few more minutes and then I got back to being a member of the group. Suprisingly, I was ashamed that I moved away from some of them in the mosque rudely. I felt like giving an explanation but I couldn’t. The next morning, Rahel asked me if they offended me in the mosque, she also felt bad that I moved away. I was touched that she sensed something and cared to learn about it. When I shared my experience, I knew she understood and felt it very well. Later on, we talked about many things, and it was very comforting to talk to somebody who can understand what I have been through.
What was more important to me while opening up to people? If you ask me the people’s common characteristics that I had a stronger connection, I cannot do any generalization that I did at the beginning anymore. They were Muslim, American, Jewish, Bosnian, man, woman, young, old, professor, student etc. I thought the most important feature I was looking for was sincerity and analytical thinking capacity. Everything else were spices, the taste was hidden at the deep.
Nationality and religion are very important keys to understand the people, but people are a lot more than that. Although they keep people “safe” and “control” them for their own good, they build strong boundaries that can prevent connection with one another sometimes. I guess it is true then, we cannot love through control. In this summer school, I questioned the limits of this control and left them behind to reach people. I think I am getting closer to build new borders now. I discovered them first, questioned for a long time, removed some and added some. At the end, I do not think it is possible to completely get rid of them, but they are subject to change as everything else. And this potential gives me hope for more improvement.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
In view of important constitutional reforms submitted to referendum on October 21, Bartholomeos raised several issues that have negatively affected the Patriarchate in Turkey, like the historical recognition of the Patriarchate’s ecumenical nature, the return of buildings, monasteries and churches unjustly seized by the Religious Foundations Directorate and the re-opening of the Halki Theological School, shut down in 1971.
“We want all our citizens to live in harmony and prosperity. Minorities in Turkey enrich the country. Reforms will follow normal procedures, step by step. It is my duty to inform the appropriate institutions and I shall closely follow developments to solve the problems,” said President Gül after he listened carefully to the ecumenical patriarch’s plea.
“Everyone welcomed us warmly and with kindness. They listened to what we had to say carefully and promised to do everything possible to meet our needs,” said the ecumenical patriarch when he left the presidential palace.
Patriarchate sources noted though that similar pledges were made four yeas ago, in 2007, by Prime Minister Erdoğan. Now it is hoped that the circumstances might be more favourable.
The patriarch also visited Parliamentary Speaker Köksal Toptan and opposition leader Deniz Baikal. The latter expressed misgivings about the religious leader’s requests, suggesting that they might stoke Islamic fundamentalism.
The scheduled meeting between Bartholomeos and Prime Minister Erdoğan was instead postponed because of the deteriorating situation along the border with Iraq and the terrorist actions of the PKK. (NT).
Sunday, October 7, 2007
After quite a long time, we have finally established a blog of our own. We have all been very busy lately, so a silence in the e-mail communication between us - that had taken place to some extent, immediately after the summer school, but stopped as our day-to-day obligations took over - was somehow not surprising. We all have our daily duties, obligations and other things that occupy us, so it seems very hard to maintain regular communication with people living on the other side of the globe.
Nonetheless, in order to make the communication channel more visible and "tangible", we have - as promised at the school's last night in Yenisehir Palas - put some efforts and finally created this blog domain for our common use. As you will recall, the entire idea of that last night was related exactly to problems of our continuous communication, once we all leave Istanbul and go back to our lives in countries where we live. Well, this blog is an attempt to spur more communication between the Fellows, offering a place where the discussion we started in Istanbul can continue for as long as we like. So, consider this blog to be our "virtual" Istanbul, our virtual Academy for exchange of thoughts, ideas and news. However, this does't mean that the blog is exclusively reserved for "serious" stuff - quite contrary, all of the news, thoughts, poems, stories, jokes from the Fellows are more than welcome.
This is the Fellows' site. But, also this does not mean that our dear lecturers and teachers cannot consider it as their own space as well. We invite all of them to join us in this modest web endeavour, to give us their thoughts, news and other things they consider to be relevant for our common experience. We also invite them to offer their new ideas to us, their new essays, books and analyses on all of the matters we talked about in Turkey, so we could continue our discussion.
The main body of this blog will be reserved for the Fellows' contribution, be it short greetings, some news or entire essays and articles you wrote recently. On the right side of the blog you will find the archive of all of the posts, as well as some of the Fellow photos and other relevant stuff. We also invite all of you to post your photos at the section provided.
Let us hope that this blog will become a useful mechanism for nurturing our spirit of discussion, as well as our friendship. (The password for posting is available at Selma Sevkli and Eldar Sarajlic, so please contact these Fellows if you want to post something -or simply send your articles/essays to avoid technical difficulties and we'll publish them for you
Saturday, October 6, 2007
ODTÜ rector says they will go to the European court if the headscarf is allowed in universities
ANKARA – Turkish Daily News
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
University rectors have mobilized against the possibility of the new constitution allowing students with headscarves to enter university facilities, saying that they intend to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary, reported the daily Hürriyet yesterday. The Rectors' Committee, an advisory board of all university rectors, will meet today to discuss the amendments proposed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The committee will be chaired by fiercely secularist Higher Education Board (YÖK) Chairman, Professor Erdoğan Teziç, who has quarreled over the issue with the government in the past. Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) Rector Professor Ural Akbulut criticized the government's handling of the efforts to create a new constitution, and said, “it could have been more democratic.” He said there was no urgent need to change the Constitution and called for a broader reflection on the necessary amendments. The headscarf is a religious symbol and should not be allowed in educational institutions, and once allowed in universities, those who do not wear headscarves will feel pressure, he added. “We have seen it everywhere in the region. In Libya, there is no law about not covering oneself. However, over 20 years, all girls in universities covered themselves due to pressure,” he said. Any incremental sacrifice on secularism will bring about bigger changes, said Akbulut, adding that there are no gray areas when it comes to secularism. İnönü University Rector Fatih Hilmioğlu told Hürriyet that there had been a headscarf problem in the past but it was now solved. “Students got used to it. Any change will drag Turkey to chaos,” he said. Member of YÖK, Enver Hasanoğlu, said he did not believe there will be any changes concerning the dress code at universities, adding, “we will discuss the issue if anything changes.”
The Republican People's Party (CHP) opposes any changes on the issue and its Istanbul deputy, Professor Nur Serter, said once the headscarf is allowed Islamists will increase pressure on girls.
Friday, October 5, 2007
by Adam Seligman
There were many moments in the 2007 ISSRPL that lend themselves to reflection
Among the many different aspects of this encounter that lend themselves to reflection is how ambiguity and ambivalence are built into social life and as there is not ability to fully define or understand a situation or an encounter; interpretation, the drawing on existing assumption, the imputation of reasons, meanings, interests and strategies is always part of what we bring to almost every encounter. Moreover, these assumptions, sets of reasons and interpretative grids are not only individually produced, but to great extent reflect our own collective presuppositions, prejudices and the “ground” upon which we stand when we are forced to approach and deal with and make sense out of an always changing, never-fully-given-to-understanding reality. “Explanation is where the mind rests” says David Hume. This resting place is, more or less, Durkheim’s collective representations: the emic, internal, language of each community. This place is, moreover, connected to the sacred space of each community, where outsiders do not enter. It would not be possible to enter this place without, at the same time, sharing in the collective experience of the sacred.
All of these aspects actually came to play a role in the interaction with Abd which, in turn, highlights them in what may be useful ways. Abd lectured us on the Thursday
In the event,
While these were my own reasons, it is important to note that other interpretations were certainly being offered by other members of the discussion. In fact as I later heard, one of the small groups that met following the larger discussion – a group, interestingly, made up of Jews, Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians etc. saw the difficult not as Adam’s relation with his friend, but of a Jew ejecting a Palestinian. Now I must admit that when told this, I was surprised as it certainly was not in my mind as the event unfolded. But that is not to say it was not or could not be a dimension that many experienced. After-all the Jewish/Israeli/Palestinian knot of complexities was very much with us. On Thursday, at the movie Journey to the Sun, one of the Turkish fellows reacted very strongly, saw it at first as anti-Turkish propaganda and one of the first things she said was: “What about the Palestinians?” This was off topic and I pointed out that 2 years ago we did a summer school in Israel and she was welcome to speak to the participants to see if a fair presentation of the problem was offered. The reason I am mentioning this incident following the movie is to show that the matter was very much before us. It was before us as well for in synagogue on Saturday one of the men given an honor had the prayer for the dead said for his son who was killed at the terrorist attack on Rehov Emek Refaim in
Now, at the same time all this was going on, something else was going on as well
As we all know the group voted overwhelmingly to ask Abd
So what is the point? What can we learn?
A number of things strike me as important. For one, reality is ambiguous if only because it takes place in the continuum of time. We can never know the whole context of any interaction or any event. Indeed, there is no “whole” context. Events take place in time and time is history. Where does one stop in tracing the etiology of a particular event? Again, Hume: “Explanation is where the mind rests”. There is no final or totally explained event. There is only the place where we stop asking questions. This place, in turn, can be very different for different people. Moreover and to no small extent, the mind “rests” in the space of collective representations (to use Durkheim’s phraseology). This, by the way, is what makes the summer school such a difficult and exhausting experience for us all. We bring together people who very much do not share collective representations. We cannot just muddle though on the assumption that everyone is basically the same. It becomes clear that we are not (sure, we are the same in our needs, but that is true for us and chimpanzees as well). We live in very different collective universes, do not share these representations and our minds “rest” in very different places. Moreover, we are forced to unpack these explanations and view the very fragile and particularistic basis for our judgments (judgments that outside the school, we assume to be of universal validity – such that any “reasonable” person would share).
To hark back to last year’ story of the cross in Mostar. We experience events
This is why, for me, the issue of boundaries and the self-definition of the group was of such importance. For if the group could posit its own boundaries (which it did) it was an indication that shared experience or practice (in this case of participation in the school) could allow people with very different sets of collective representations (and so, of course, very different ideas of what is sacred), to come together – sharing a common, circumscribed purpose – even if they did not share an overarching set of ‘cosmic’ or embracing meanings.
I think we are on our way to underst
(Note: All names in the essay have been deliberately changed.)
Introductory Essay by Adam SELIGMAN - Tolerance as Practice: A Pragmatic Anthropology of Civil Education in a Post-Secular Age
Experience of the ISSRPL
Adam B. Seligman
Tolerance implies living with, abiding or – in the medieval usage, suffering – the presence of that which we find objectionable. If something or someone were not objectionable, there would be no need to tolerate its presence.
Tolerance thus presents us with a double burden. It dem
Simply stated, not so simply practiced
If we make use of Freud’s notion of the “narcissism of the small difference”, i.e. that he or she who is slightly different from me is, in a sense, a continual threat to my identity
When faced with the “small difference” we thus tend in fact to one of two moves. The first is to turn the small difference into a rather large one – ie. what is often called today “othering” the other, pushing him or her or this or that group beyond the boundaries of shared humanity (a process which defined to a great extent traditional Christian attitudes towards Jews, many current attitudes towards Moslems in the West, the orientations of some Christian evangelicals in the
This, as I say, is one, common move. The other, equally common, is to obviate the need for tolerance in a different direction. In most cases we tend to elide the problem of tolerance with an appeal to some essential, underlying or overarching similarity with what is different. We tend to trivialize the difference
There are two problems with this move: First, it usually comes in t
There is however yet another reason that this process cannot be stable (leaving aside the normative or ethical aspect)
However simple an idea, the reality of tolerance is almost always unworkable – resolving itself into either affirmations of sameness, which obviate the need for tolerance by positing the essential identity of all relevant social actors; or, by positing the absolute
The following is an exploration of how to bear that burden.
B. STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
The following reflections are the result of over a decade of engagement with the problem of tolerance
In the course of these many years those of us engaged in this project have often been confronted by colleagues, advancing the very reasonable claim that tolerance was too negative a term, weighted down with medieval baggage
Over the years of engagement with these topics some of us have come to the conclusion that pluralism is, indeed, a worthy desideratum; that is to say, it is a state of social existence that we should work towards achieving. The construction of a social
The usual move at this point is to invoke different theories of democratic
What is lacking is thus a serious inquiry into the type of actors
What I make so bold as to assert in the following is if we intend to realize our dreams of pluralism what is needed is not simply specific institutional rules of social organization (freedom of organization, conscience, universal franchise, rights etc.) acting as some sort of third party enforcer, but rather an appreciation of tolerance as a virtue that must be inculcated at the most fundamental levels of socialization. What is wanted
As noted, a decade of experience
John Dewey makes the important distinction between science as a statement that gives directions or states meanings
Art presupposes practice. And practice, action is, after all, always temporary, contingent
The issue of practice
C. INSTITUTIONAL BACKGROUND
In essence, we are in the International Summer School on Religion
As many of the following vignettes as well as the analytic conclusions have emerged from the work of the International Summer School on Religion
The ISSRPL was first conceived in a restaurant in
The ISSRPL is an annual international, inter-religious summer school of approximately two weeks that meets in a different country every year. It provides a framework where students, civic leaders
The ISSRPL combines a global perspective on religious thought with social scientific research on tolerance, civil society
The ISSRPL meets each year in a different country. In line with its commitment to substantive dialogue across traditions
The ISSRPL mission is to educate a new cadre of religious
The 2003 Summer School was held in Bosnia I Herzegov
One of the most important functions of the ISSRPL has in fact been to provide a sort of international, global,
While such gathering of dozens of people from different countries
One of the most important
Boundaries by definition impose constraints. By constraining they differentiate, limit, restrict, define
Because of this the traditional or the given – that is, what we think we already know - is what is authoritative. It is what defines the field of our vision, including our innovative
The future of course can bring new frames. It can reorder what is in the frames. It can, in Gregory Bateson’s terms, turn existing frames into “muddles” –
The very openness of the future thus carries the potential to question existing categories
To some extent the integration of existing boundaries with future possibilities is the boundarywork of each generation, in a sense it is as well the work of each
A similar tension, with similar processes, sometimes more creative, sometimes less so, between past
To be sure, the concrete cases of “decentering”
The 2005 ISSRPL in
In both vignettes, we see how a breakdown of expectations (in the one case of the meeting with a senior official of the PA,
In the 2006 School, this was illustrated most vividly by the visit to the former Bone Hospital on the outskirts of Stolac in Bosnia
An in some way similar moment in 2005 happened in the IDF cemetery at … where the citizen soldiers of the nascent IDF who fell in the struggle over the Jerusalem corridor in the 1948 was were buried. At that moment (
While these are rather dramatic examples of such processes, it happened in minora often,
A Pakistani Muslim woman was surprised when staying with Muslim hosts in Stolac that her host were warmer towards
An Israeli orthodox woman who had an 8 hour layover in Budapest on her way back to Israel from Sarajevo told her husb
A similar dynamic of being forced to re-conceptualize just who constitutes the boundaries of oneself, one’s other
In my own case, it was a moment in 2006, leading prayers in the orthodox Jewish synagogue in
In all cases boundaries of inside
This issue of boundaries however goes a good deal beyond the perception of group membership
A good example of this happened in Mostar in 2006. Mostar is still a tragically divided city, even though the famous bridge that Tudjman’s forces had bombed
Here is a good example of what I am referring to. We both use the word, cross, we both think we mean the same thing, but in fact we do not. We have just enough shared meaning
Now, in most circumstances of daily life this is irrelevant, if for at least two very different reasons.
a) It may be that we have different affectual, symbolic, historical
b) Though the word, concept, place or thing, may have a wide
While this is the most usual form of such circumscription in contemporary society, it is a far cry from being the only type. Thus, whether we are Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims or Atheists, when we use the word CROSS in a university seminar on the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre we all agree that we use it differently than the way our Catholic colleagues use it in their Sunday liturgy.
What this contextualization of meanings points to – is that we do not so much share meanings, as share use of words. A more useful way of conceptualizing what I called the circumscription of meanings is to underst
This is a significant point. We share usage rather than meaning. For often, entering into situations of dialogue we feel we have to arrive at shared or common meanings. This however is often illusionary, frustrating, ultimately destructive of one set of meanings, resonances, identities
Needless to say, in some cases, this whole problem does not even arise. When we discuss parts for the lawn mower with the mechanic, the overlap of meaning is probably close to 100%. Usage
This however is not a state that should be strived for in much that is beyond the realm of spark plugs or gasoline/oil ration in a chain-saw. It is certainly not a state to be strived for when discussing those matters that we each most intimately identify with, what for each of us represents the core of truth, belonging
On the other h
One possible alternative that I have suggested above
If we could do this, we could simultaneously transpose the whole problem of boundaries of self
Shared usage would minimize the need for share meanings, or at least, allow us to construct a shared world where the ‘shared’ aspect of the meanings did not ‘go all the way down’. Or even more the point, that allowed us to admit to this fact. Quite consciously we would, from the start set out a circumscribed underst
I think there is a certain hesitancy to admit that we often share – or could conceivably only share – usages without necessarily sharing meanings (though we could share these as well, if only we could agree on them). The point however is that we could live together without such shared meaning, as long as we agreed to shared usages. All too often, our dem
E. FROM SHARED USAGE TO THE SUBJUNCTIVE
In the summer of 2003 we sat down for a meal in a
In 2006 we arranged for the fellows to attend Jewish services on the Sabbath
This subject, that of empathy
1. Boundaries of the ‘could be’
Argument can be made that what constitutes society, that is to say, what makes the social a sui generis entity, irreducible to any other is precisely a shared “could be”. To great extent, this is what symbols do more than anything else: they represent a “could be”.
This shared “could be” (or sometimes, “what if”) is the nodal point of where a society comes together as symbol users. Terrence Deacon begins his important book on The Symbolic Species by invoking the subjunctive as what distinguishes us from other mammals
What we share as symbolic beings is potentiality. A community of fate is such because of its sharing of what “could be” (if they rounded up all the Jews in Pol
In this context, it is useful to recall, that when the psychoanalyst Marion Milner comes to discuss the very ability of ego to perceive the other as external object she comes back again
Of course, through the example of Greek tragedy something else becomes clear as well; that though the capacity to empathize, to share in the potential space of a “what is” may be inherent in the human species as symbol users – the specific forms of this cultural creativity, of the formation of this potential space are not at all given or constant. These change, are structured
The question before us is really one of how can this empathy be established between groups without destroying their borders
To get a h
This type of activity –
What is important in such acts of iterated civic ritual is not the truth value of what is communicated in the invocation (say the terms of please and thank you) but something very different. We are inviting our interlocutor to join us in imagining a particular symbolic universe within which our actions are to be construed. When I preface my requests with please and thank you I am, after all, not giving a command (to pass the salt) but I am very much recognizing your agency (your ability to decline my request). Hence, in the please and thank you, I am in a formal and invariant manner, communicating – to both of us – that our actions together, should be understood as voluntary actions on the part of free and equal individuals (who can therefore also decline, hence my ability only to offer a request).
By framing our interaction in this ‘illusionary’ manner, the frame actually pulls us in after it, making the illusion the reality. And the reality will last only as long as the illusion is adhered to. So for example when we ask our children to please feed the dog
The continual possibility to fall out of the illusion does not however make of it a lie – anymore than children’s play is given the lie when mother calls them home for dinner, or a play by Euripides is given the lie to by exiting the theatre
Of course, by presenting our actions in this light – more precisely by constructing a symbolic universe where our activities with one another can be understood in this manner - we are also in a sense actually denoting these as the real nature of our interaction. The ‘as if’ quality of the ritual invocation, its subjunctive sense, is also what makes it real. What is - is what can be. Again, the blurring of boundaries.
One possible hypothesis that we can offer is that what is accomplished in the rituals of politeness is the positing of a possible, even plausible mode of activity between interlocutors – the building of an illusion that pulls them out of a more Hobbesian world of the war of all against all – and of course one that works only so long as all are party to that possible world (through sharing that mode of speech and approach), represented by the formal codes of polite invocation. What is fascinating of course is the mode of speech (the please and thank you) are both sign and signifier in one. They both point to a particular way of human social interaction (of mutual respect) and are at the same time an instance of such mode of interaction. By saying please and thank you, we are both symbolizing a fundamentally civil recognition of one another – and, actually, acting out and instantiating such behavior in the world. Such civil modes of address are what Peirce called an index, with the unique characteristics of both being about society and mutually creative of it.
Such indexing creates an as if universe that is necessary for human life in the world. It is connected to the subjunctive aspects of all iterated activity
In this reading,
And it is here perhaps that we would do well to re-engage with our earlier discussion of shared usage rather than shared meaning as possible bases of life together in civil society. If in our earlier discussion we juxtaposed meaning to usage, here we may well complement that by juxtaposing empathy to what I will call practice. Thus, meaning: empathy: usage: practice. And here of course we are drawing heaving on John Dewey’s stress on joint activity in “the use of things” as being particularly crucial in the forming of disposition. “Making the individual a sharer or partner in the associated activity so that s\he feels its success as his success, its failure as his failure” is for Dewey the key to a common life. The point I wish to stress here, is that we can do this without joining together in a subjunctive universe of shared meanings or the feelings of a shared community of fate (beyond that of sharing in the enterprise at h
And here is where the whole preceding discussion of the performative aspect of the shares subjunctive becomes immensely interesting. For the very fact that what constitutes the shared could be is a set of performative acts, makes it just possible that what unites the performers is not or not only, the shared meanings inherent to the act, but the very shared aspects of the performance – that is, its shared usage. In fact, what we almost always see as an enactment of shared meanings, may not be much more than a shared enactment –
This has been a perspective most developed by students of ritual
I would like to explore this notion in the context of one of the most challenging of the summer school’s experiences – that of the idea that no one people of group has “ownership” on suffering and how this played out in the very difficult case of Stolac, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the summer of 2006.
Very early on in the history of the summer school we developed a rule that no one person or group can claim a monopoly on suffering. With time this was revised, in an appropriately subjunctive mood, to become a rule where each must act as if, he or she (
It may make sense to explain the origin of this rule, which was in the very first summer school, in Mostar in 2003 when an evening was organized on the subject of women and purity (and rituals of purity). The evening was titled, Women and Water after a book by
On later clarification, some of the ISSRPL fellows
In any case, it was in the following discussion that the group accepted the principle that no one had a monopoly on suffering and so no one group could claim the type of moral superiority, or privileged access to a moral good that so often goes with such suffering (the reasons for which however remain unclear – but that is another matter). Over the course of the next two summer schools this principle and its elaboration, from principle to practice – i.e. that we must act ‘as if’ we do not have a monopoly on suffering - became part of the opening clarification of ground rules at the start of every school.
I am unsure how much this rule was actually adhered to, but it may well be that without it, matters would have gotten much more out of h
In this section however we wish to discuss what happened in 2006, in Stolac in
3. Reflections on Stolac
After one night spent in
Another flavor of Stolac can be found in the following story. As R. needed to make a phone call, she bought a calling card at the local post office, which was a Croatian calling card in a town which is located in Bosnia- Herzegovina. When she wanted to use it in Mostar located half an hour away, she could not as it could not be used in the Muslim part of the same country. (In a similar manner, one cannot purchase bus tickets to
Most fellows enjoyed the fact that they could be in close contact with locals and saw being hosted by families as an entry into society. Some families were more hospitable than others and for example invited fellows for dinner. Sometime language became a barrier, but in most cases people were very creative as in the case of on family who invited a friend to translate so that they could convey their story to the fellow. Most host families were Muslim returnees to Stolac who had endured much trauma during the war. All encounters can be seen from many points of view, for example host families were paid for hosting the fellows, as economic survival is hard on Muslim returnees this was perceived as a fair and good thing. It is also interesting to note that some of the families which were perceived by the fellows are really eager and nice were the ones who gave the organizers the most difficult time and kept bargaining for more money.
As said, host families in general were eager to tell their story
The context of victimhood was most important to understand the experience of the fellows in Stolac as this context influenced their experience greatly. Coming from very different background, the fellows soon learned the basic working assumption of the ISSRPL that no people hold a monopoly on suffering. For the organizers, this means that to be able to teach in a diverse setting, we have to posit that it is quite impossible to posit whose experience of atrocity is worse than an others’. That does not imply that in a certain historical moment, one suffering is not single out, but it means that people entering a diverse situation are willing not to let their feelings as victims cloud their perception of the other.
Doubtless, the question is very complex, for certainly there are times were the situation is clear cut as in the case of Bosnian Muslims, they were assassinated as were the six millions Jews, the Tutsi in Rw
This process was called in the school the “de-centering of self”, making sure one see his or her own suffering not only from their own perspective but also from the point of view of the other. The process of de-centering is a process of underst
The war presented a strong background to the encounter of the fellows and the host families. More so, fellows encountered a situation in Stolac were Muslims returned to their land but were not welcome by the Catholic residents who identified with the Croats. This explosive situation was not made clear to the fellows at the start of the program, it was assumed by the local organizers that the fellows read all the material distributed and knew the context in which they found themselves. Even if some had the time to read the materials documenting the atrocities committed in Stolac, the fellows could not, at the beginning of their stay, fully understand or process this information or what was at stake. As the situation was not fully made explicit, some fellows wondered why they did not encounter the Catholics in Stolac, and this led to some questioning. This questioning in turn was interpreted by the local organizers as a lack of understanding. It took a few days for the group, (it really became clear only in
A small group of Muslim local leaders were stubborn
In one way the choice of Stolac was not conducive to the goal of the summer school to de-center the self as the questioning leading to this de-centering was not possible in this city for the Muslim organizers. One lecturer from
One lesson to be drawn is that in a traumatic context, the Summer School methodology of outside/inside reflective questioning and the resulting de-centering might not be feasible or as effective. I must add that Stolac was a difficult, intense but also worth while setting, just reflecting on the limits of the methodology is important for the group and the organizers.
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