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The shalom/salaam group : Muslim-Jewish dialogue in Vancouver, British Columbia Gallaher, Alison Tiffany

Abstract

While the expanding phenomenon of Muslim-Jewish interfaith dialogue in North America and Western Europe is often credited with the potential to positively influence relations in these regions as well as in the Middle East, analysis of such initiatives is under-represented in the anthropological literature. In an ethnographic examination of a small dialogue group in Vancouver, British Columbia, I interviewed eleven Muslim participants of differing ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds to discover how they viewed the project's purpose, dynamics, and their participation in it. I found that despite mutual goodwill and an effort on both sides to blur religious boundaries and create a unified psychological space or sense of communitas, the interfaith initiative encountered difficulties due to disagreements over whether dialogue should include discussion of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, tension over the expression of religious stereotypes in one small group context, differences between the individualistic, esoteric beliefs of liberal (and sometimes secular) Jews and the more traditional Muslims' respect for religious authority and tradition, and the challenge for many of the Muslims of balancing inter-religious activities with the requirements of religious practice and the demands of work, school, and family responsibilities. Such difficulties are intrinsic to the broader dialogue process between Muslims and Jews in the West, which is framed historically as an interchange that has been gradually developing over the past four decades. Characterized by its resilience and open-ended, emergent nature, this process continues despite setbacks. More research into the impact of factors like age and gender roles, employment patterns, tasks of religious leadership, and trends in spiritual observance on Muslim-Jewish dialogue initiatives may provide additional insight into the dynamics of these projects at the grassroots level.

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