Among the broad religious spectrum of the Levant, the figure of Saint George/Al-Khader stands out. As the patron saint of Palestine, Saint George is one of the most popular saints among Palestinian Christians. Traditionally, the popular Saint George veneration has been associated with phenomena such as Canaanite rituals, shared shrines, blood sacrifices, and rural culture. This centuries-old practice survived and is still widely alive among local Palestinian Christians. Based on a critical study of textual sources and twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in the West Bank, this article provides an ethnographic-theological account on the Palestinian Saint George veneration, focusing on the controversial political uses and the spiritual meaning of this figure in the Palestinian context. I argue that this popular faith expression has transformed from a cult focused on human flourishing to a platform for grassroots theological ideas, mainly concerning themes like martyrdom, liberation, and belonging to the land.
Publisher’s Description: An anthropological study of Syriac Orthodox Christian identity in a time of displacement, upheaval, and conflict. For some Syriac Orthodox Christians in Bethlehem, their self-articulation – the means by which they connect themselves to others, things, places and symbols – is decisively influenced by their eucharistic ritual. This ritual connects being siryāni to a redeemed community or ‘body’, and derives its identity in large part from the Incarnation of God as an Aramaic-speaking Bethlehemite.
Farinacci, Elisa. 2017. The Israeli-Palestinian Separation Wall and the Assemblage Theory: The Case of the Weekly Rosary at the Icon of Our Lady of the Wall. Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics 11(1): 83-110.
Abstract: In this work I analyse the ethnographic case study of the icon of Our Lady of the Wall as establishing a unique ritual landscape among the cement slabs of the Israeli-Palestinian Wall separating Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Although the Wall has been widely described as a technology of occupation on one side and as a device to ensure security on the other, through Latour’s concept of assemblages I unearth its agency in developing a Christian shrine. Through a decade of weekly recitations of the Rosary along the Wall near Checkpoint 300, the Elizabethan nuns of the Caritas Baby Hospital have been invoking Mary’s help to dismantle the Wall. This weekly ritual represents both political dissent against the bordering action enacted by the Wall, as well as giving visibility to the plea of the Palestinian Christian right to live in this territory in the face of their status as an ethnoreligious minority.
Abstract: Many scholars have debated the potential results of pilgrimage, but few have tracked how pre-trip goals actually relate to post-trip outcomes. Based on research with US evangelicals, this article argues that, despite being confronted with the possibility of disrupted meaning, nearly every pilgrim comes to see the trip as a success. To understand why, I draw on studies that frame Christian rituals as processes that are partial and in flux. Firstly, I explore how gendered notions of relationality affect perceptions of efficacy and lead to multiple goal-setting. Secondly, I show how the journey is couched within broader epistemologies that define a Christian life as incremental improvements, where one ‘grows’ with God. Thus the meaning making associated with pilgrimage is never fully complete, but is compelled into a future where further interpretations and presumed successes are inchoate. Ultimately, the belief in future meaning is as important—perhaps more so—than immediate ritual success.
Publisher’s description: For many Evangelical Christians, a trip to the Holy Land is an integral part of practicing their faith. Arriving in groups, most of these pilgrims are guided by Jewish Israeli tour guides. For more than three decades, Jackie Feldman—born into an Orthodox Jewish family in New York, now an Israeli citizen, scholar, and licensed guide—has been leading tours, interpreting Biblical landscapes, and fielding questions about religion and current politics. In this book, he draws on pilgrimage and tourism studies, his own experiences, and interviews with other guides, Palestinian drivers and travel agents, and Christian pastors to examine the complex interactions through which guides and tourists “co-produce” the Bible Land. He uncovers the implicit politics of travel brochures and religious souvenirs. Feldman asks what it means when Jewish-Israeli guides get caught up in their own performances or participate in Christian rituals, and reflects on how his interactions with Christian tourists have changed his understanding of himself and his views of religion.
Sturm, Tristan and Seth Frantzman. 2014. Religious Geopolitics of Palestinian Christianity: Palestinian Christian Zionists, Palestinian Liberation Theologists, and American Missions to Palestine. Middle Eastern Studies. Early online publication.
Abstract: The introduction of Protestantism into the Middle East by American missionaries in the nineteenth century met with limited success while the responses and internalizations of local converts proved incredibly diverse. The two resultant theological descendants are Palestinian Christian Zionists and Palestinian Liberation Theologists. The article provides a short history of these two movements and highlights influential voices through interviews and media analysis. This article argues that hybrid religious identifications with nation and place has transcended, in some cases, political struggle for territory.
Religion and Society: Advances in Research, volume 5, 2014, features an edited collection on “Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands” edited by Jackie Feldman and Donna Young.
Introduction: Contested Narratives of Storied Places – the Holy Lands
Guiding Settler Jerusalem: Voice and the Transpositions of History in Religious Zionist Pilgrimage
Alejandro I. Paz
Changing Colors of Money: Tips, Commissions and Ritual in Christian Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
Age of Innocence: The Symbolic Child and Political Conflict on American Holy Land Pilgrimage
‘The Empty Tomb’ as Metaphor: Finding Comfort in Nothingness
The Accidental Pilgrim: Olive Pickers in Palestine
Publisher’s Description: The issue of Christian Zionism is one that is fiercely debated within theology, the church, politics, and society. Comprehending Christian Zionism brings together an international consortium of scholars and researchers to reflect on the network of issues and topics surrounding this critical subject. The volume provides a lens on the history of Zionism within Christian theology and offers a constructive, multidimensional path for assessment and introspection around the meaning of Zionism to Christian faith and practice.
1. Christian Zionism in Contemporary Perspective—Göran Gunner
2. Saying ‘Peace’ When There is No Peace—Elizabeth Phillips
3. “A fool for Christ”—Aron Engberg
4. Broadcasting Jesus’ Return—Matt Westbrook
5. Walking in the Mantle of Esther: “Political” Action as “Religious” Practice—Sean Durbin
6. Christian Zionism at Jerusalem Church in Copán Ruinas, Honduras, an “Out-of-the-Way” Place—William Girard
7. Christian Zionist Pilgrimage in the Twenty-First Century—Curtis Hutt
8. Living in the Hour of Restoration—Faydra L. Shapiro
9. Christian Zionism and Main Line Western Christian Churches—Rosemary Radford Ruether
10. Palestinian Christian Reflections on Christian Zionism—Mitri Raheb
11. From the Institutum Judaicum to the International Christian Embassy—Yaakov Ariel
12. Mischief Making in Palestine—Mae Elise Cannon
13. Israelis, Israelites, and God’s Hand in History—Timo R. Stewart
14. The Rise of Hitler, Zion, and the Tribulation—Gershon Greenberg
15. Inverting the Eagle to Embrace the Star of David—George Faithful
16. Conclusion—Robert O. Smith
Publisher’s Description: Since the 1950s, millions of American Christians have traveled to the Holy Land to visit places in Israel and the Palestinian territories associated with Jesus’s life and death. Why do these pilgrims choose to journey halfway around the world? How do they react to what they encounter, and how do they understand the trip upon return? This book places the answers to these questions into the context of broad historical trends, analyzing how the growth of mass-market evangelical and Catholic pilgrimage relates to changes in American Christian theology and culture over the last sixty years, including shifts in Jewish-Christian relations, the growth of small group spirituality, and the development of a Christian leisure industry.
Drawing on five years of research with pilgrims before, during and after their trips, Walking Where Jesus Walked offers a lived religion approach that explores the trip’s hybrid nature for pilgrims themselves: both ordinary—tied to their everyday role as the family’s ritual specialists, and extraordinary—since they leave home in a dramatic way, often for the first time. Their experiences illuminate key tensions in contemporary US Christianity between material evidence and transcendent divinity, commoditization and religious authority, domestic relationships and global experience.
Hillary Kaell crafts the first in-depth study of the cultural and religious significance of American Holy Land pilgrimage after 1948. The result sheds light on how Christian pilgrims, especially women, make sense of their experience in Israel-Palestine, offering an important complement to top-down approaches in studies of Christian Zionism and foreign policy.
Opening Paragraph: “Each year nearly 300,000 US Christians walk where Jesus walked,’ traveling halfway around the world to visit biblical sites in Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). As they tread hallowed ground, gaze from bus windows, and snap photos at panoramic lookouts, these pilgrims notice trash: litter, abandoned cars, unkempt houses. Garbage is always present at idealized sites, of course, but most tourists overlook it (Urry, 2002). In the Holy Land, however, it is too symbolically resonant to ignore. In fact, ‘trash talk’ serves a crucial role in the trip’s discourse. It offers US pilgrims a way to speak in a moral register about Israelis and Palestinians without engaging regional politics directly, which most try hard to avoid.”