A Globetrotting Summer

Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 10:33AM

A Globetrotting Summer Assistant Professor Santiago Slabodsky traveled the world this summer in pursuit of interreligious conversation.

For Santiago Slabodsky, PhD, Assistant Professor of Religion, Ethics and Society at Claremont School of Theology, the summer of 2014 had little to do with resting in hammocks and sipping iced tea. Instead, he filled the weeks with international flights and interreligious discussions.

Slabodsky began his journeys in Macedonia, as a Jewish Studies scholar teaching at the Foundation Center of Islamic Civilization (FOCIC). The summer session is called “Alternative Interpretations of Balkan Modernity,” a program that gathers students and academics from inside and outside the Balkans, for four days of intensives. Lecture topics include the nation-state and identity, decolonization, cosmopolitanism, and the role of religion.

“The course took place in Skopje, known to the West for being the city where Mother Teresa was born,” explained Slabodsky. “While this area was not under attack during the 1990s war in the Balkans, it received thousands and thousands of refugees from Kosovo, Bosnia, and Serbia, among other locations. What is particularly impressive is that the city is divided in two – the more affluent Macedonian Orthodox Christian side and the more dispossessed Albanian Muslim quarter with a wonderful Ottoman-style bazaar. In between one and the other, sits a Museum of the Holocaust.”

As a Jew who teaches at a Christian seminary invited to speak at a Muslim center, Slabodsky found this a particularly interesting situation. His hosts explained that reason for choosing this location was that the region around Albania and what is today Macedonia is virtually the only European location with more Jews resident at the end of the Holocaust than at the beginning. “The reproduction was not natural reproduction in times of war. It was the product of a particular commitment to welcoming people in need. They were following a particular commandment that requires a level of solidarity and commitment to one's promise that is many times unheard in most Western societies. Muslims in Skopje, therefore, hold the Museum of the Holocaust with the highest of the prides.”

The next leg of his journey took Slabodsky to Granada, Spain, for a 10-day summer school on “Critical Muslim Studies: Decolonial Struggles, Theology of Liberation and Islamic Revival.”

Slabodsky takes note of the fact that Granada remains an iconic space where Muslims, Jews, and Christians once lived in fruitful interdependence until 1492 when the Catholic Spanish monarchy colonized the region. “They not only demanded conversion and expelled Jews and Muslims, but also launched a program of global conquest that started with the colonization of the Americas and finished with dominance of most of the world by different European powers,” he said.

The two-week class gathered more than 40 students from North America, Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia to reflect on the possibilities of creating new solidarities among peoples who do not depend on domination of one particular group over another. “My particular classes show the need to re-evaluate interreligious dialogue in order to have a different standpoint for Muslims, Jews, and Christians to engage with each other,” said Slabodsky. “The inter-religious conversations that emerge from spaces of struggle, conflict, and solidarity make me believe that CST is following in the footsteps of people who risked their lives for the construction of alternative communities. They are not relationships created from theoretical spaces for the benefit of the few, but they follow and learn from the practical struggle of thousands and thousands of people who risked their lives in order to save the many.”

From Spain, Slabodsky traveled to Canada, France, and Germany.

Also during this time, his latest book, Decolonial Judaism: Triumphal Failures of Barbaric Thinking (New Approaches to Religion and Power) was published in hardcover. The book explores the relationship among geopolitics, religion and social theory. It argues that during the postcolonial and post-Holocaust era, Jewish thinkers in different parts of the world were influenced by Global South thought and mobilized this rich set of intellectual resources to confront the assimilation of normative Judaism by various incipient neo-colonial powers. By tracing the historical and conceptual lineage of this overlooked conversation, this book explores not only its epistemological opportunities, but also the internal contradictions that led to their ultimate unraveling, especially in the post-9/11 world.

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