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Emotionally Vulnerable Storytelling as Peacebuilding: Muslim/Jewish Interfaith Activism in the United States

  • Author(s): Tauberg, Mindy Wynn
  • Advisor(s): Chavez, Leo
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License
Abstract

How do American Muslim-Jewish interfaith activists use emotionally vulnerable storytelling in service of their goal of realizing a pluralistic society in which minority groups with histories of conflict support one another as allies? As with many groups in conflict, American Jews and Muslims often grow up with truth perspectives that differ so radically that they are unable to find a narrative whose truth value can be agreed upon by members of both groups. How do Jewish-Muslim interfaith activists learn to communicate and reconcile differences in the truth values of their respective group narratives? What is the role of this kind of knowledge production in constructing a collective identity as interfaith activists?

In order to answer these questions, I spent four years conducting participant observation at One Hamsa (a pseudonym), an interfaith organization aimed specifically at bridging Muslim and Jewish communities in Southern California. Using an engaged feminist activist approach to conducting and writing ethnography, I attended meetings, formal and informal events, and conducted interviews of One Hamsa leaders and participants. I argue that through emotionally vulnerable storytelling, Jews and Muslims challenge master narratives about their communities and co-construct a third narrative that all participants can agree upon as true. Through this process, One Hamsa community members build a collective identity as interfaith activists. Practices like community agreements help to create safe spaces where ideally, all participants feel safe sharing vulnerably. Even when such practices are used, sometimes activists are unsuccessful at avoiding replicating harmful societal power structures within their community. Like engaged scholars, activists should and often do recognize the contradictions inherent in their project. Both engaged scholars and activists must continue to prioritize interrogating power structures and ensuring that the benefits of their projects outweigh the harms.

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