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The Pursuit of Happiness and the Other: Being a Syrian Refugee Child in America


This dissertation is based on the accounts of four Syrian refugee children who now live in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn. It focuses on the children’s narratives of their treacherous flight out of Syria into refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey, their accounts of their daily lives in the Bay Ridge area, and their views about the future. Each child has had similar experiences, coping with the tragic loss of family members and friends during the Syrian Civil War. Through their journeys the loss of the other destabilizes the self, forming a mode of being-with-other that allows the dead the possibility of “living-after.” It opens the children to being responsible for the wellbeing of the dead other, shaping the children’s narratives as a response to the non-responsive other. For the children, the dead other stimulates a way of being-in-the world that is constantly (re)orienting their moral experiences. The dead other becomes an open-ended engagement.

This intersubjective relationship to the dead other is examined through Islamic ethics and Sūfī ideals the children have been socialized into and have learned to uphold. The dissertations focuses on Islamic philosopher al-Ghazālī’s concept of “happiness” and philosopher Ibn ‘Arabī’s notion of barzakh (“obstacle” or “separation”), the in-between space of “the world of imagination.” These concepts emphasize Islamic and Sūfī ideals as lived experiences for the children, informing individual virtues as a set of characteristic patterns of knowledge, rationality, motivation and action. The significance in examining Islamic ethics and Sūfī ideals in relation to the children’s lifeworlds is the understanding of ethics as a relationship between moral norms and unpredictable situations. These situations of unpredictability, exemplified through the openness towards the dead other, are a form of being and becoming for the children shaped through their dynamic (re)interpretation of the past and the unpredictability of the future.

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