“Living Jerusalem”: An Interview with Professor Noura Dabdoub

By Yeshua Tolle on January 27, 2013

Jerusalem, Yerushaláyim, al-Quds. It seems, in retrospect, as if there was hardly a moment in the last two thousand years when the city of Jerusalem was not a topic of interest and contention. Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that Jerusalem’s ubiquity continues into the 21st century. From the fields of religious studies to architecture, this cosmopolis has been and continues to be a site of important research and investigation. Its critical importance for the faith traditions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism makes Jerusalem a city that, as the writers of the psalms once implied, is difficult (and dangerous) to forget.

This spring, OSU’s International Studies department is offering a course that seeks to educate students from various backgrounds on the cultural, political, social, and religious complexities of the city of Jerusalem. Taught by Ohio State alumna, Professor Noura Dabdoub, “Living Jerusalem” uses a multi-disciplinary approach to bring students into new relations with a city many of us have already rigidly labeled and defined. The following piece is a short interview with Professor Dabdoub that will serve to introduce some of the innovative aspects of “Living Jerusalem” and its further goals as part of a scholarly ethnographic engagement known as The Jerusalem Project.

***

Jerusalem is arguably the oldest and most famous international city, the destination of a stunning variety of people. Now, given Jerusalem’s wide-ranging attraction, what kind of students has this class drawn?

Professor Noura Dabdoub: When I first became involved in the class, I expected that most of our students would have some religious or cultural connection to Jerusalem. While many of our students do, we actually have a large number of students who are interested in learning about Jerusalem, and have little background knowledge of the city. Typically, we have many students who are International Studies majors, as well as students who are taking Hebrew or Arabic language classes. But we also have students who are in unrelated fields of study, such as engineering, Gender Studies, and photography. Because Jerusalem is such a well-known, complex, and unique city, the class appeals to a diverse group of students. This year, we have also added a new component to the course—it is being taught concurrently at Indiana University by Professor Amy Horowitz, who had taught the course at OSU in previous years. The IU and OSU classes meet via video conference on a regular basis, and share guest speakers, also through video conference.

In the course catalog for International Studies, “Living Jerusalem” is described as being “focused on Jerusalem’s multiple histories, cultures, religions, and political conflicts.” Would you describe some of the goals for the class and how this “multi-disciplinary” focus helps to foster and develop them?

Professor Dabdoub: One of the goals of this class is to better understand virtual communication. Students, both at IU and OSU, work to construct a non-geographic learning community, as a means of studying the city of Jerusalem. Students create individual weblogs (blogs) and a class blog, in which they post responses to assigned readings, journal reflections and responses to their classmates’ blogs, class discussions and current events pertaining to the class. We also use virtual communication in the form of video conferencing to meet with learn from Israelis and Palestinians living in or studying Jerusalem. The video conferences focus on readings or media written by or involving the video conference guest.

Throughout the course, students are encouraged to engage in thoughtful, critical and respectful dialogue with their classmates. Some students may have deep connections to Jerusalem that are at odds with other classmates. For other students, Jerusalem is an unknown but intriguing place to learn about. We hope to challenge the students to examine their beliefs, understandings and perceptions of Jerusalem through the course material on the city’s multiple histories, religions, complex contemporary political issues, and intersecting cultural practices. Because the class requires such intensive participation by the students, it is important to foster a respectful, supporting environment for the students to engage.

Could you talk about the creation of the “Living Jerusalem” class?

Professor Dabdoub: This class is part of The Jerusalem Project, an ongoing Palestinian, Israeli, and U.S. scholarly engagement. In 1992-93, Palestinian and Israeli teams undertook an ethnographic project on the contemporary cultural traditions in the city that recognized the Israeli-Palestine conflict as a context in which the traditions were being created. In 2006, Jerusalem Project team members met at The Ohio State University and designed the Living Jerusalem course. The course is ongoing at OSU and Indiana University, has also taken place at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Al Quds University. Professor Amy Horowitz taught the class at OSU from 2007 until 2011, and at IU in 2012 through the present. I assisted Dr. Horowitz in teaching the class in 2010 and 2011, and am currently teaching the course at OSU this semester.

A component of “Living Jerusalem” is a possible two-week trip to be spent in Jerusalem following Spring Semester. What kind of things will students be doing during their time there?

Professor Dabdoub: Dr. Amy Horowitz and I are taking eleven students to Jerusalem in May on the Living Jerusalem study abroad program. We hope to create a unique study abroad experience for the students who are traveling with us to Jerusalem. The tour itinerary focuses on exposing the students to Jerusalem’s complexity and diversity. Like the class, we try to present Jerusalem’s multiple, diverse, and sometimes conflicting perspectives. The students will be guided by Israeli, Palestinian, Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars, artists, activists, politicians, artisans, religious practitioners and families. We try to develop an understanding for how those who live in Jerusalem experience their city, as well as examine the challenges that keep Jerusalem a focus of global attention.

[Conducted via e-mail]

By Yeshua Tolle

Uloop Writer
I'm a double-major in English and Religious Studies at The Ohio State University. Go Bucks!

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