Current Projects

I have recently completed a book about how young, secular Jewish Israelis see the role of ethno-religious nationalism in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I am finalizing a project on religious pluralism and faith-based aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. I am in the early stages of two new projects:

  • a new book project about how living through war shapes people’s answers to existential questions, both within and outside of religious tradition;
  • a new collaborative project on youth interfaith peace-building civil society programmes in the Middle East and Northern Ireland

Religion, War and Israel’s Secular Millennials: Being Reasonable? (Manchester University Press, 2020)

Each of the three “generations” of secular Jews (hilonim) who have lived in Israel-Palestine since 1947 has had an experience with Palestinians which is generationally distinctive. Those who have come of age since the collapse of the Oslo process are no exception.

In a 2014 article in The Atlantic about the “third generation” of young Palestinians and Jewish Israelis to come of age since the nakba and the establishment of the State of Israel respectively, Moscowitz remarked,

“Consider a median-aged, 30-year-old Israeli. He was 10 when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat met at the White House to sign the Oslo Accords; 16 when the Second Intifada erupted; 18 when Israel began constructing a security barrier with the West Bank (the age when Israelis enter mandatory military service); 21 when Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip; 24 when Israel and Hamas went to war in Gaza. His childhood was marked by the promise of peace; his teenage years by intense violence; his early adult life by security policies, separation, and sporadic conflict”.

I would add something more. Also, significant has been the extent to which this generation of hilonim has been shaped by living through and – for some – fighting during a period in which ethno-religious justifications for violence and separation have resonated among vocal constituencies of both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. Even in light of larger trends since the 1967 war, this generation’s experience is unique.

Yet much about how this generation of hilonim sees these phenomena is taken for granted, because what it is widely accepted that we already know all there is to know about being a “secular” person in Israel. Over the past decade and a half, Jewish Israeli society has seen a significant shift of secular Leftists out of the “Peace Camp” into the political centre or indeed even to the right, with what constitutes the “political centre” among Jewish Israelis moving further to the right than during the Oslo period. In recent years the Israeli media, public debate and, with some exceptions, academic commentary on Jewish Israeli attitudes to the conflict has focused on the Right/Left divide in Jewish Israeli society. But what might hilonim have in common across the political spectrum?

This book asks: How, if at all, have ethno-religious resonances during this period of the conflict affected the self-understandings and social and political attitudes of this third generation of young hilonim? How have these dovetailed with other social, economic and political changes which have shaped this generation’s hiloni habitus, their ways of being a secular Jew in Israel? And how, in turn, has this process led some young Jewish Israelis towards a sharp critique of state security policy and others towards a conservative stance, backing the status quo of Occupation/Siege?

This book draws upon advances in the social sciences to more richly analyse Jewish-Israeli secular habitus as a complex arena of social practice and self-identity. The book argues that there are important, mutually informing echoes between how young hilonim understand themselves as “reasonable people” and their understanding of what counts as “reasonable” and “moderate” political behaviour. It critically analyses the complex intertwining of narratives about the Self and about the State for this social group, looking at the two years following the end of the 2014 Gaza War.

Theoretically, this book engages critically with academic debates over what – if anything –  constitutes “political moderation”. It asks: How is a modern, Western grammar of secularism (Asad 2003) invoked or problematized by those seeking to define what is reasonable and politically moderate? Deploying Bourdieu, this book also proposes a new theoretical framework for taking into account the complex, nuanced and often contradictory ways in which people who describe themselves as “not very religious” understand conflict where ethno-religious nationalism plays a role.

1 Who is hiloni?
2 Generational memory
3 My Other, Myself
4 Imagining Jihad
5 No Atheists in Foxholes?
6 Imagining Home(land)
Conclusion: Being Reasonable
Post-script: Religion, violence and the secular
Appendix: Research method

Guests not refugees? Hospitality, moderation and urban cosmopolitanism: the Syrian refugee experience in Lebanon and Jordan (with Dr Craig Larkin, King’s College London)

Christian and Muslim faith-based activity to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan sits at the crossroads of two related but potentially problematic myths. The first is a Levantine myth of the mosaic (Gutkowski 2016). This myth holds that Lebanon and Jordan are paradigmatic examples of religious conviviality, making them ideally suited to host Syrians across sectarian divides and promote religious tolerance (Larkin 2013). The second is a Western myth of religious moderation, long-standing but more prominent since 9/11, that de-politicized, “authentic” religion can be mobilized for peacebuilding and humanitarianism (Hurd 2012). As such, local faith-based actors are well-suited to deliver reconciliation programmes and humanitarian aid across sectarian divides, supported by Western faith-based actors.

This project looks beyond these two myths to analyse faith-based hospitality and humanitarianism in a more nuanced and grounded way, as it is experienced by Syrians themselves. How do local and transnational faith-based actors working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan interpret, utilize, subvert, and problematize these two related myths of religious moderation and mosaic pluralism? How does religious cosmopolitanism actually emerge in practice on the ground within communities and between refugees, their local hosts and their international advocates, through the convivial banality of everyday life?

Theoretically, the project engages with questions of hospitality, transnational solidarity, cosmopolitanism, and ideas of space and place. Space is conceived as an imagined space in which dialogue may emerge through reciprocal encounters with the Other, across local, regional and transnational boundaries. Ramadan terms this the ‘space of hospitable engagement…in which long-held identities, ideas, opinions and prejudices could be challenged and renegotiated” (2008: 670). In such settings when do we see the blurring of the Other or rather when is exclusivity exacerbated? At the city level, ‘cosmopolitan urbanism’ (Paganoni 2012; Young 2006) or Derrida’s (2001) call for ‘cities of refuge’ explicitly locates a renewed language and ethic of hospitality at the urban level, seeking a critical distance through which to interrogate state practice. Cosmopolitan attitudes are formed through host/refugee engagement across religious/national and class divides perhaps encouraging moderation and a deep pluralism which is respectful of difference (Smith 2013).

This however raises a series of questions: How does this dynamic unfold in mixed urban spaces versus homogenous refugee camps? How do Muslim and Christian theological discourses about hospitality and refugees affect everyday responses on the street? How is the emergence of a seemingly cosmopolitan moderation cross-cut by power dynamics across various levels (class, gender and sectarian difference within refugee communities and between refugees, local hosts and international advocates)? What is the impact of international funding on local dynamics? How are these processes impacted by the ongoing war in Syria as well as political uncertainties in Jordan and Lebanon?

Peace-building and Youth Interfaith Programmes in the Middle East (with Dr Craig Larkin, King’s College London)

Sectarianism in the contemporary Middle East is often evoked as the predominant explanatory frame, dismissed as an Orientalist phantom, or sought to be reversed for a brighter secular future. This research seeks to explore how interfaith youth encounters chart a path between calls for ‘re-confessionalization’ and ‘de-confessionalization’ of the public sphere in divided societies – as they attempt to foster new spaces for pluralistic encounter and religious tolerance.  While there is a small policy literature and an even smaller academic literature on youth interfaith peacebuilding programmes (Gutkowski, Larkin and Daou 2019 on Lebanon; Duckworth, Albano, Munroe et al 2019 on the US; Liljestrand 2018 on Sweden; Mayblin, Valentine and Andersson 2016 on the UK; Michaelides 2009), the outcomes and impact of these youth programmes have not been assessed in any critical depth. We hold a grant for this research from the Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, King’s College London.

The aim of the project is two-fold:

(1) to enable empirical research on specific youth interfaith programmes and outcomes in Lebanon, Jordan, and Northern Ireland

(2) to build towards a large, multi-year research project on youth interfaith peacebuilding programmes in divided societies in the Middle East and Europe and to establish a global network on youth interfaith peacebuilding, under the auspices of the Centre for the Study of Divided Societies, to bring together scholars and practitioners to systematically assess ‘what works’; build a body of dynamic, theoretically-rich scholarship around the topic; and feed into civil society programming.

This project builds on our shared track record of expertise on youth, interfaith dialogue, everyday religious experience, and post-conflict peacebuilding (Gutkowski, Larkin and Daou 2019; Gutkowski 2019a; Gutkowski 2019b; Gutkowski 2016; Gutkowski 2013; Larkin and Parry-Davies 2019; Kerr and Larkin 2015; Larkin 2012; Larkin 2010a; Larkin 2010b). It builds on our extensive experience of ethnographic and sociological research in Lebanon, Jordan, Israel-Palestine and the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland (2005-2019). It makes use of our existing networks with partner organisations engaged in youth interfaith peacebuilding in Lebanon, Jordan and Northern Ireland.