"Holding the Whole Sky": Women's Narratives of Faith, Justice, and Liberation in Palestine
Graduate Research Grant
This year-long research project focuses on how women in Palestine understand faith, justice, and liberation. To engage these themes, this project focuses on the Palestinian Liberation Theology (PLT) movement, which advocates for peace in the region based on the principles of justice, nonviolence, and inclusivity. Using theological ethnography—a method that attends to the lived faith experience of a community—this project will collect the oral history of women in the movement as well as analyze current activism. Attending to women’s narratives shows that justice in the Palestinian context must be considered at multiple levels. While women are asking for justice in response to the illegal occupation of their land, many are also concerned about sexism within their own community. Therefore, attending to women’s voices complexifies how justice is understood in the Palestinian context.
I reach Rukab street a few minutes early. I call and find out that the woman I am interviewing today is already there. Her assistant comes to greet me and escorts me inside the Quaker Meeting house. I sit down and can’t quite believe I am about to interview Jean Zaru– an advocate for nonviolence and women rights in Palestine and author of Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks. I am here as part of a series of interviews I am conducting on women in liberation theology movements. Part way through the interview, Jean Zaru pauses and then says, “So, as I have been seeking liberation for women and for the bible (laughter).” This phrase- liberating the bible– was a common thread in my interviews this summer. Many Palestinian Christians feel their holy book has been used against them to justify the ongoing, illegal occupation of their land. Yet, Jean Zaru also has a second, and equally weighty concern: she is also critical of both religious and social norms within Palestinian communities that marginalize women’s voices.
This summer, thanks to Kellogg’s generosity, I was able to interview eleven women who were significant in shaping Palestinian Liberation Theology–a movement that reads scripture through a non-Zionist lens, seeks nonviolent liberation for Palestinians, and hopes for a just society for both Palestinians and Israelis. My aim was to collect the histories of women involved in this movement. While some—like Jean Zaru—had published books, others had not, and as a result, their personal narratives are not widely known. Through these interviews I was able to come to a deeper understanding of how women have shaped this movement and the personal faith challenges and struggles they had to navigate in the process. Their narratives help illuminate how Palestinian Liberation Theology emerged, as well as how women navigate and challenge patriarchal religious and social structures.
This research has been foundational for writing my dissertation proposal. I plan to build on my interviews from this past summer through conducting further field research in Israel-Palestine next year.