Globalization and the Conflict of the Humanities: A Middle Eastern Perspective

A research project directed by:

Dr. Raef Zreik, Minerva Humanities Center

Prof. Yossef Schwartz, Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science

This is a joint project of the Minerva Humanities Center and the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University. A major aim of this project is to rethink the ways in which certain identities (religious, national, regional) are formed, transformed, and juxtaposed, mobilized, used and abused, and through that to question rigid binaries and conceptual dichotomies. The project will take advantage of its location in the Middle East and study old and new forms of consciousness and their role in the shaping of collective memory and communal (and inter-communal) identities.

We believe our research project to be unique and original in several respects. On the one hand, we plan to question some hegemonic concepts by adopting marginal points of view on core issues, placing the marginal and marginalized at the center. Thus, we shall approach the study of Israeli society, culture, and politics from the point view of the Palestinians in Israel; at the same time, we shall study the history and cultures of the Middle East from the perspective of the Jewish communities in the region. This double move will question monolithic conceptions and subject them to interrogation. This would force us to rethink categories such as nativity, exile, diaspora and homelessness, unity, sovereignty, as well as religious and intellectual exchange and translation, and to introduce new categories like hospitality, fraternity, and solidarity. On the other hand, the project aims to combine contemporary perspectives with historical ones, and by doing that to show the ways in which the present is shaped by the past, but also the past is shaped by the present. By foregrounding this double movement of time we hope to bring to consciousness and to question patterns of identity-formation in different groups. By moving in between geographical spaces, and travelling back and forth in time, and by narrowing the gap between theory and practice, we hope to overcome the rigidity of old concepts, entrenched stereotypes and prejudices so as to make way for new ideas, to develop new research agendas, and to suggest new teaching curriculums.

One major theme will be to study and question the division of certain disciplines within the academia. Israeli academia was built in its very basic infrastructure on strong European conceptual frameworks. “Judaic studies” was recreated as strong discipline constituting complex relation with the variety of “oriental studies” on the one hand and with “general”, i.e. European studies on the other. This created a general situation in which the rich intellectual and human resources existing in Israeli academia are segregated into closed disciplinary structures, strongly isolated of each other. The segregated school system in Israel creates the same separation all the way from preschool to high school institutions, institutionally divided according to ethnic, religious and cultural divisions. One goal of this project would be to develop variety of strategies in order to create the basis for a different academic curriculum for the humanities in Israel that may be effective in bringing about social change, especially through creating new school programs. The more contemporary aspect of the project will focus on the ways the existence of Palestinians in Israel “disturbs” the self image of Israel, and the ways the Jews in the middle east might “disturb” its Arab and Islamic image. We think that this mutual “disturbance” can be a very fertile ground for research and challenge.


Project Fellows

Raef Zreik is a graduate of The Hebrew University (LL.M., 1988; LL.B. magna cum laude, 1997), Columbia Law School (LL.M., 2001), and Harvard Law School (S.J.D., 2007). His Ph.D. dissertation deals with Kant’s concept of right. Zreik taught as a visiting professor at Georgetown Law School. Before taking this position, he taught at the University of Haifa and Tel Aviv University law schools and was a researcher at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. His research and teaching address questions related to legal and political theory, as well as citizenship and identity issues. He has published broadly in these areas, with work appearing in edited collections and in legal and interdisciplinary journals. His publications include:  “Living Together: Jacques Derrida’s Communities of Violence and Peace”, in E. Weber ed. Living Together (Fordham University Press: 2013); “The One State Solution: Anatomy of a Discourse” in HaMerhav HaTziburi  (2012).  Law, Identity, and Arab Jewish Relations in Israel (Co-editor with Ilan saban, forthcoming  2014) .  “Has The Wheel Come Full Circle? Civic Service Debates in Israel” in: T. Maissen and F. Oz-Zalsberger (eds.) The Liberal Republican Quandary in Israel Europe and the United States: Early Modern Thought Meets Current Affairs (Academic Press: 2012); “When Winners Lose: On Legal Language” in International Review of Victimology(2009); ”Notes on the value of theory” in the Journal of Law and Ethics of Human Rights(2007); “The Persistence of the Exception: Remarks on the Story of Israel Constitutionalism” in Thinking Palestine (edited by Ronit Lentin, 2007); “Palestine, Apartheid and Rights Discourse” inJournal of Palestine Studies (2004); and “Palestine as Exile” in Global Jurists (2003).

Yossef Schwartz is Professor for medieval intellectual history at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University (since 2002) and the head of the institute (since 2009).  His research focuses on late medieval and early modern science and philosophy, with emphasis on theory and praxis of translation, on Christian Hebraism and Christian Cabbala and on Jewish European receptions of Latin Christian thought. Among his publications: “To Thee is silence praise”: Meister Eckhart’s reading in Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed, Tel Aviv: Am Oved 2002 (Hebr.); Y. Schwartz and V. Krech eds., Religious Apologetics – Philosophical Argumentation, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck Verlag, 2004; Yossef Schwartz, Alexander Fidora, Harvey J. Hames (eds.), Latin-Into-Hebrew: Studies and Texts, volume 2: Texts in Contexts, Leiden: Brill 2013.

Amer Dahamshe is a post-doctoral fellow at The Minerva Humanities Center at Tel-Aviv University. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (BA, MA, and PhD). His research fields are the discourse of Palestinian-Arab geographical names, representation of the Hebrew and the Arabic in the public road signs, and the discourse of the identity of the place as reflected in oral art, historical memoirs, literature and the linguistic landscape. Dahamshe has published several articles in his topic, and his first book will be published under the supervision of the Heksherim Institute for Jewish and Hebrew Literature and Culture, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Amer’s research project in his post Doctorate is titled The Untold Story: Comparison of Hebrew and Arabic Names of Natural Features. In his research he will address the Hebrew names of natural features in the Galilee and the Arabic names that were used for the same places by comparing between sources, topics and characteristics of the names in the two languages. By using structural analysis and the approach of critical toponymy, he aims to introduce the history of the spatial environment and its organization, the transformations that occurred in producing space, and its identity that resulted from historical-political changes.

Muhammad Abu Samra is a Post-Doctoral fellow at the Minerva Humanities Center as part of the joint project on Globalization and the Crisis of the Humanities. He completed his PhD in the Department of Middle Eastern History at the University of Haifa, with a dissertation titled “Attitudes to the Qur’an in Contemporary Arab Islamic Thought: Modernists and Liberals”. He is currently teaching at the David Yellin College, and served as visiting lecturer at Queen’s University, Kingston, Onatrio, and at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. Among his publications are “Islamic Modernism and the Invention of the Written Qur’an Tradition”, in Zmanim: A Historical Quarterly (2013); “Liberal Critics: ‘Ulama’ and the Debate on Islam in the Contemporary Arab World”, in Facing Modernity: Rethinking ‘Ulama’ in the Arab Middle East (edited by Meir Hatina, E.J. Brill, 2009). At the Minerva Humanities Center he studies the attitudes of modern Arab Muslim thinkers to the Islamic tradition and its authority and role in studying and interpreting the Qur’an.

Abed Kanaaneh is a PhD candidate at the school of Historical Studies at Tel Aviv University. He holds both a BA and an MA in Political Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His dissertation title is “Hezbollah in Lebanon: Al-Muqawama (Resistance) as a Contra-Hegemonic Project”. Kanaaneh’s MA thesis title was “Al-Muqawama (Resistance): Metamorphosis of an Idea into Culture”.

Zahiye Kundos is a PhD student at the school of cultural studies at Tel Aviv University. She is interested in understanding the complicated issues that have been practiced by modern Muslim identities around the world. Her current research investigates the relations between religion and secularism in autobiographical writing in Egypt between the two world wars.

Noah Gerber studies intellectual and cultural contacts between European Jews and their ‘brethren’ from Islamic Lands in the modern period. She published a monograph on this subject, using Yemenite Jewry as a case study, in order to consider Jewish Orientalism side by side with a specific native response to this phenomena. While part of this research group, she expanded her scope to include the Baghdadi Jewish Diaspora, the Mughrabi Jewish diaspora, the discovery of the Cairo Genizah, the study of the Judeo-Persian orbit, as well the fate of the Aleppo Codex in the hands of the Jewish state. She gave a talk on the Damascus Blood Libel (1840) as a sort of ‘Zero Hour’ in the history of Jewish Orientalism and have recently completed an essay on this topic which includes a re-orienting, if you will, of the narrative of this event.

Ahmad Ighbariah, The Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas\The Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies. His main areas of interest are logic, philosophy and Islamic theology (Kalam). His doctoral thesis, “The Development of the Theory of Categories in Islamic Philosophy” was written in the Department of Philosophy at Haifa University. He also has a master’s degree from The Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Tel Aviv University (2002), where he wrote about “Ibn Taymiyah’s Criticism of the Theory of logical definition”. Apart from classical Islamic philosophy Dr. Ighbarieh also interested in modern Arab thought, especially in the second half of the twentieth century, and in Arabic literature, especially in the Palestinian context after the 1948.

Uri Shachar is a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters in Ben-Gurion University. In 2012-2013 he was a fellow at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies in the University of Pennsylvania. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago with a dissertation on cultural encounters between Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Crusading Near-East. Dr. Shachar studies ways in which religious communities in Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean negotiated their competing yet complementing notions of pious belligerence and sacred space. Starting Fall 2014 he will assume the position of assistant professor of history at Ben Gurion University.

Ori Goldberg received his PhD from Tel Aviv University’s Graduate School of Historical Studies. His dissertation was published by Routledge (2012) under the title, Shi’i Theology in Iran: The Challenge of Religious Experience. Ori is the author Thinking Shi’a, a Hebrew collection of lectures published by Modan Press as part of its prestigious “Broadcast University” series. During his studies, Ori won various awards and scholarships, among them the Fox International Fellowship at Yale University.

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