Religion, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: The Challenge of Coexistence

July 3-15, Jerusalem, Israel

In 2005 we met in Jerusalem, Israel to address issues of “Religion, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: The Challenge of Coexistence.”

The ongoing struggle between Israel and the Palestinian people is one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, in part because of the salience of religious claims to place. As such, people are seldom neutral in their opinions about the Holy Land and bring with them the baggage of their own ideologies and agendas. Challenging individual assumptions through experiencing the realities of opposing religious and nationalist frames of the conflict, fellows saw that the challenge of coexistence was not to build upon sameness but rather to acknowledge, and live with, difference. Facing this challenge was achieved through such means as a visit to the abandoned Palestinian village of Liftah in the Jerusalem corridor, which provided a very strong start to the program. From a pedagogic point of view, the visit to the refugee camp of Anata, with its reality of violence, was also very significant, as was the visit to Yad Vashem (Holocaust museum) and an Israeli military cemetery in Kiryat Anavim. Multiple opportunities for misconceptions occurred during the program, and by unpacking those situations with their assumptions regarding the other, participants became aware of how such assumptions had clouded their understanding of reality.

“I will really work differently when I plan conversations, events and projects with people who radically disagree. I know I have to listen to people more effectively and to acknowledge the reality of other people’s views.”
(Fellow, 2005)

This year’s class included 24 fellows from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, the United States and Uzbekistan. Each religious group–Muslim, Christian (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant), and Jewish–constituted roughly one third of the total. Some participants were non-believers in any monotheistic religion. The diversity of this year’s group in Israel proved critical to the developing pedagogy of our projects and became an intentional aspect of all future programming.

2005 Local Hosts: Van Leer Jerusalem Institute Yesodot Center for Torah and Democracy