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Interaction, Integration, or Inharmony?: Negotiating Muslim and Jewish Identities in Amsterdam via Religious Spaces. Ruben Shimonov Emily Cernak. Topic of Focus. In Amsterdam, we plan on investigating the interplay of religion and urban life .

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Interaction, Integration, or Inharmony?: Negotiating Muslim and Jewish Identitiesin Amsterdam via Religious Spaces

Ruben Shimonov

Emily Cernak

Topic of focus
Topic of Focus

  • In Amsterdam, we plan on investigating the interplay of religion and urban life.

  • Specifically, by investigating a particular mosque and synagogue, we want to look at some of the ways in which religious identities are constructed and perpetuated in an urban, metropolitan setting.

Significance of topic pt 1
Significance of Topic, pt. 1

  • The presence of these two religions in Amsterdam, both of which form demographic minorities in the city, has had a peculiar and unique history.

  • Key moments in the Jewish-Amsterdam experience:

    • Migration from Iberian peninsula in the 1600s

    • Bourgeoning and unprecedented Jewish community by conversos

    • The Holocaust and its legacy

  • Key moments in the Muslim-Amsterdam experience:

    • Immigration waves of the 20th century

    • Current predicaments: cultural tensions, segregation,and violence

    • Integration: Western Mosque and Ahmed Marcouch

Significance of topic cont d
Significance of Topic, cont’d

  • Job Cohen, mayor of Amsterdam:

    • “Islam is here to stay, in this country, in this city…So the real question is how to get on with each other”

    • Addressing Muslim citizens: “These have not been easy times for you. You may even have wondered: am I wanted here?...Yes, we all belong here. You are much needed in this society, you are the hope of this country.”

Driving questions
Driving Questions

  • What is the role of religious, charismatic leadership (as delineated by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu) in encouraging particular behaviors within a congregation and ways of engagement with the larger social and political community?

  • How do spiritual leaders mobilize their constituencies both within and outside the bounds of the synagogue or mosque?

  • What are the roles of religious, urban institutions in initiating and developing broader social processes?

Research question
Research Question

  • How do particular minority communities in Amsterdam—namely, Jewish and Muslim—use religious space, both physically and discursively, to address the issues of their respective communities and to negotiate between religious identity and urban diversity?

Conceptual framework pt 1
Conceptual Framework: Pt. 1

  • MiekeBal's discussion of tradition in Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: A Rough Guide (2002)

    • Cultural norms, traditions, and symbols are consciously constructed and perpetuated.

    • The idea fits into a broader discussion, largely situated in the field of anthropology, of social construction--that there is nothing inherently "natural" or "organic" about culture, but that all cultures are produced and reproduced by both its own members and outside forces.

Conceptual framework pt 2
Conceptual Framework: Pt. 2

  • David Biale’s discussion of the self/other dialectic in The Cultures of the Jews (2002)

    • Throughout their history, the Jews asserted their identity in relation with the “other” in a dualistic, seemingly paradoxical process:

      • “Jewish self-definition was…bound up in a tangled web with the non-Jewish environment,” in which Jewish identity was constantly being “developed in a rich dialectic with the identities of the non-Jewish majority” (xx).

  • Jewish construction of identity has thus been a combination of simultaneous separation from, and interaction with, the other—often dominant—cultures of their places of residence.


  • Case-study approach

  • Close reading both physical spaces (the religious buildings) and physical traces (documents produced or provided by the institutions, like newspapers, flyers, or books).

  • Engaging in participatory observation by attending services—particularly paying attention to the sermons.

  • Conducting interviewswith the leaders, both spiritual and administrative, of the congregations.

  • Using virtual methods, primarily in two ways:

    • visiting the websites of the places of worship for information on history and current events.

    • researching the histories of religious communities in modern Amsterdam, via both scholarly and journalistic writings.

Potential interview questions
Potential Interview Questions

  • Please tell us about your congregation in terms of its denomination, history, and the services it provides for its members.

  • In what ways has your location in an urban area, and more specifically Amsterdam, affected your congregation?

  • What do you feel are the biggest challenges posed to your community?

    • How do you advise your congregation to approach these challenges?

The next step
The Next Step…

  • Choosing the particular mosque(s) and synagogue(s) we want to investigate

  • Recognizing the limits of our study

  • Addressing integral questions, like:

    • Will these institutions be representative of Islamic and Jewish communities more broadly in Amsterdam?

    • Will we be able to extrapolate from the case studies in order to make broader arguments?