Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women searching for common ground: exploring religious identities in the American interfaith book groups, the Daughters of Abraham
Gramstrup, Louise Koelner
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This thesis examines how women negotiate their identification within and as a group when engaging in interreligious dialogue. It is an in-depth case study of the women’s interfaith book groups, the Daughters of Abraham, located in the Greater Boston Area. This focus facilitates an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of relationships within one group, between different groups, and as situated in the American sociocultural context. I explore the tensions arising from religious diversity, and the consequences of participating in an interreligious dialogue group for understandings of religious self and others. Categories such as boundary, power, sameness, difference, self and other serve to explore the complexities and fluidity of identity constructions. I answer the following questions: How do members of the Daughters of Abraham engage with the group’s religious diversity? How does their participation in the Daughters of Abraham affect their self-understanding and understanding of the “other?” What can we learn about power dynamics and boundary drawing from the women’s accounts of their participation in the Daughters of Abraham and from their group interactions? Two interrelated arguments guide this thesis. One, I show that Daughters members arrive at complex and fluid understandings of what it means to identify as an American Jewish, Christian, and Muslim woman by negotiating various power dynamics arising from ideas of sameness and difference of religion, gender, and sociopolitical values. Two, I contend that the collective emphasis on commonalities in the Daughters of Abraham is a double-edged sword. Explicitly, this stress intends to encourage engagement with the group’s religious diversity by excluding those deemed too different. However, whilst this emphasis can generate nuanced understandings of religious identity categories, at times it highlights differences detrimental to facilitating such understanding. Moreover, this stress on commonalities illuminates the power dynamics and tensions characterizing this women’s interfaith book group. Scholarship has by and large overlooked women’s interreligious engagements with explicit ethnographic studies of such being virtually non-existent. This thesis addresses this gap by using ethnographic methods to advance knowledge about women’s interreligious dialogue. Furthermore, it pushes disciplinary discourses by speaking to the following interlinked areas: Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, formalized interreligious dialogue, interreligious encounters on the grassroots level, women’s interreligious dialogue, a book group approach to engaging with religious diversity, and interreligious encounters in the American context post-September 11th 2001.