Symposium on Jewish Fundamentalism – September 2006

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Summary for the September 10-14, 2006
Symposium on Jewish Fundamentalism
Hosted by Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research (CTR)

Organized and Facilitated by Joseph V. Montville

Written by Jacob Sherman


The Duke literary theorist Stanley Fish recounts a phone call he received on the occasion of his friend Jacques Derrida’s death. Fish was called by a reporter who wanted know “what would succeed high theory and the triumvirate of race, gender, and class as the center of intellectual energy in the academy. [Fish] answered like a shot: religion.”[1] The importance the study of religion is assuming in the academy is part of a much larger trend. Religion is quickly resuming its place as a central determinate in human history. As it does so, the need for an integral understanding and appreciation of lived faiths in all of their breadth, power, intricacy, and contradiction becomes an issue of critical importance not just for believers, but also for the world at large.

In order to engage this increasingly crucial factor in our global life, the Esalen Center for Theory and Research (CTR), in partnership with TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy, is sponsoring the “Beyond Fundamentalism” series of conferences. Having held invitational conferences on modern Hindu fundamentalism in December, 2004, Islamic fundamentalism in September, 2005, and Christian fundamentalism in April, 2006, CTR also co-sponsored the historic visit of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to the National Cathedral in September 7, 2006. In the immediate wake of this exciting event, from September 10-14, 2006, CTR turned its attention to the question of fundamentalism and Judaism. This invitational and international conference brought together a group of diplomats, activists, and scholars with two primary intentions. First, participants sought empathetically, critically, and intricately to explore the historical, mythological, and ideological roots of Jewish religious violence, the lingering wounds of history, and the way that these can be transformed into healing practices and a substantive peace. A second goal of the conference was to focus particularly on the continuing issue of Jewish-Christian alienation and to explore ways for re-inaugurating a healthy, fruitful relationship between these estranged siblings.

The participants in the September conference were religiously diverse, representing various parts of the spectrum of Jewish faith, and including Christian and Islamic participants, as well. The presenters assembled for the week included:

  • David M. Bossman, S.T.B., M.A., M.S., Ph.D., is Professor in the Graduate Department of Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University and Executive Director of the Sister Rose Thering Endowment. Bossman is the author of numerous articles, essays, and book chapters, and has been Editor of Biblical Theology Bulletin since 1981.

  • Robert Eisen is Professor of Religion and Director of the Judaic Studies Program at George Washington University in Washington D.C. His areas of interest include medieval and modern Jewish philosophy, biblical interpretation, Jewish ethics, and comparative religion. He is author of two books, most recently The Book of Job in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2004). He is currently composing a study on Jewish perspectives on violence and peace. Professor Eisen is also active as a consultant on issues of religion and international conflict with a particular interest in fostering better relations between the West and the Islamic world. He has participated in a number of high-level consultations in Washington and abroad concerning this issue and has worked in conjunction with the United States Institute of Peace and Initiatives of Change. He sits on the advisory board of the Center for Religion, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University.

  • Shlomo Fischer is Director and founder of Yesodot: The Center for the Study of Torah and Democracy, Jerusalem, Israel. Yesodot works to advance education for democracy in the Religious-Zionist sector of the Israeli school system. As a fellow of the Van Leer Institute (1989 to 1993; 1999) and currently of the Shalom Hartman Institute he has given university talks and published numerous articles in Israeli and European journals on the topics of Jewish history, Israeli society, secularization, Zionism, and religion and tolerance and inter-religious dialogue from within the monotheistic traditions. He also has 3 books (published in Hebrew with others) on Jewish history and identity: History of the Jews in Islamic Lands in the Modern Period, Part I: The Age of Colonialism to the end of the Second World War (1990), Collective Exile and Individual Redemption: Chapters in Modern Jewish History (1988), and Jewish Society in the Second Temple Period (1985). His current research projects deal with the culture of radical religious Zionism in Israel and that of the West Bank Settlers.

  • Gershon Greenberg has taught philosophy and religion at American University since 1973 (full professor since 1995). He previously taught at the University of Rochester (1971-73), Dartmouth College (1968-70), and Kenyon College (1967-68). He was a religion consultant to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1995-97, and has done research at the Oxford University Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies, the Institute for Holocaust Research at Bar Ilan University, Hebrew University, and the Free University of Berlin. He has been a visiting lecturer at Oxford, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Free universities. He holds a B.A. from Bard College and a Ph.D. in religious philosophy (1969) from Columbia University/Union Theological Seminary. In 1999, the Institute for Holocaust Research (Bar Ilan) published his Religious Thought in Wartime America About Jewish Faith and the Holocaust, 1938-1948. In 1997 and 1994 it published his two prior monographs of annotations of Jewish responses to the Holocaust. His The Holy Land in American Religious Thought, 1620-1948 was published in 1994 by University Press of America and the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry in Jerusalem. He has also published many chapters in books and conference proceedings and several journal articles and book reviews, as well as presenting papers at a wide variety of professional meetings in the U.S., Israel, and Europe, especially in the area of Holocaust studies.

  • Yehezkel Landau is Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations at Hartford Seminary, a position underwritten by the Henry Luce Foundation. After earning an A.B. from Harvard University(1971) and an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School (1976), Landau made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel in 1978. A dual Israeli-American citizen, his work has been in the fields of interfaith education and Jewish-Arab peacemaking. He directed the Oz veShalom-Netivot Shalom religious Zionist peace movement in Israel during the 1980’s. From 1991 to 2003, he was co-founder and co-director of the Open House Center for Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Ramle, Israel. (See the Web site www.friendsofopenhouse.org) He lectures internationally on Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations and Middle East peace issues, has authored numerous journal articles, co-edited the book Voices From Jerusalem: Jews and Christians Reflect on the Holy Land (Paulist Press, 1992), and authored a research report entitled “Healing the Holy Land: Interreligious Peacebuilding in Israel/Palestine” (United States Institute of Peace, Sept. 2003, accessible at www.usip.org/reports). At Hartford Seminary, Prof. Landau coordinates an interfaith training program for Jews, Christians, and Muslims called “Building Abrahamic Partnerships” (see www.hartsem.edu or e-mail ylandau@hartsem.edu).

  • Anisa Mehdi is an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist specializing in religion and the arts. She has produced and directed critically acclaimed documentary films on Islam and Muslims, writes commentary for NPR’s “All Things Considered, ” and is an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University. Anisa Mehdi is founder and president of Whetstone Productions, a New Jersey-based production and consulting company. In the course of more than 20 years in news and documentaries, Anisa Mehdi has had unprecedented access to people and places around the world. In 2003 she produced and directed the highly acclaimed National Geographic documentary special “Inside Mecca.” Previous reporting on the hajj made her the first American woman to have covered the pilgrimage for broadcast in America.Anisa Mehdi is an on-air correspondent, program anchor, producer/director and writer. She has worked for CBS News, ABC News “Nightline,” the PBS documentary series “Frontline,” the BBC, and National Geographic Television and Film. For a several years she was a correspondent on the nationally broadcast PBS “Religion and Ethics News Weekly;” for a dozen years she was arts and culture correspondent for the New Jersey Network News, a PBS affiliate. Both on-camera and behind-the-scenes, she uses dynamic visual and reportorial techniques, to bring inspiring personal stories of faith, culture and courage to a wide range of audiences. Currently she teaches in the communications department at Seton Hall University and is a commentator for National Public Radio’s award-winning newscast “All Things Considered.” Ms. Mehdi lectures frequently on the portrayal of Muslims in the media and interfaith issues. She is developing two new films: 1) on Catholic-Muslim relations in Algeria, and 2) on Muslim women. Anisa Mehdi is also preparing the biography of her father, the late Dr. Mohammad T. Mehdi, a pioneer in American-Arab and American-Muslim self-awareness. Anisa Mehdi is an avid flutist and community volunteer. She is a Trustee of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (www.shakespearenj.org), sits on the Board of Directors of Music for All Seasons (www.musicforallseasons.org), and is an advisor to the Spirit of Fez Festival International. She plays in the Livingston Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Mehdi has an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in Spanish from Wellesley College. She spent her junior year of college at the University of Seville, Spain, and attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters.

  • Dulce W. Murphy is a founder and was a director of the Esalen Institute Soviet American Exchange Program that began in 1980. Murphy then became the president and executive director of The Russian-American Center (TRAC) in San Francisco, a continuation of the same program. For the past twenty-five years she has been on the cutting edge of non-governmental Russian-American relations. In the spring of 2004, The Russian-American Center changed its name to TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy, that expands our mandate as a non-profit organization to include other countries, teaming up with our Russian colleagues to that end. Track-two diplomacy involves non-governmental individuals and groups that aim to fill the moral and intellectual voids of official peacemaking leadership. Track Two’s major goal is to re-humanize relations that are dysfunctional. It works to make relationships better.

  • Joseph Montville is Diplomat in Residence at American University, Senior Fellow at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University, and Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies Expertise: Conflict resolution: East Central Europe, the Baltics, the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Russia, Canada, and Latin America. Joseph Montville founded the preventive diplomacy program at CSIS in 1994 and directed it until 2003. Before that he spent 23 years as a diplomat with posts in the Middle East and North Africa. He also worked in the State Department’s Bureaus of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs and Intelligence and Research, where he was chief of the Near East Division and director of the Office of Global Issues. Montville has held faculty appointments at Harvard and the University of Virginia Medical Schools for his work in political psychology. He defined the concept of Track II, nonofficial diplomacy. Educated at Lehigh, Columbia, and Harvard Universities, Montville is the editor of Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies (Lexington Books, 1990) and editor (with Vamik Volkan and Demetrios Julius) of The Psychodynamics of International Relationships (Lexington Books, 1990 [vol. I], 1991 [vol. II]).

  • Michael Murphy is the co-founder and Chairman of Esalen Institute and the author of both fiction and non-fiction books that explore evidence for metanormal capacities in human beings, including Golf in the Kingdom and The Future of the Body. During his forty-year involvement in the human potential movement, he and his work have been profiled in the New Yorker and featured in many magazines and journals worldwide. A graduate of Stanford University, he was one of the first Americans to live at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India in the early 1950s. In the1980s, he began a successful Soviet-American Exchange Program, which was the premiere diplomacy vehicle for citizen-to-citizen Russian-American relations. In 1990, Boris Yeltsin’s first visit to America was initiated by Esalen. His other books include God and the Evolving Universe (co-authored with James Redfield),The L