Forschungsprojekt: „Narrating Jerusalem: Cultural Explorations of a Contested City“ (Nina Fischer)


As a significant site in the collective memory and identity of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and as the microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jerusalem is symbolically overdetermined: this city has no “one true story.” Indeed, people worldwide have imagined Jerusalem according to the belief systems they grew up in and claimed it as theirs. Much research has explored Jerusalem’s stories: In historiography, scholars such as Eric H. Cline (2004) and Bernard Wasserstein (2008) have traced the city’s development; in literary studies, Hilton Obenzinger (1999) and Suzanne Yeager (2008), among others, studied single periods or national literatures. However, no comparative study has analysed products of expressive culture in light of the intersecting narratives of Jerusalem’s past and how this polyphony is voiced and, more significantly, used in the present.

Taking on this critical oversight, I read texts, literary and visual, across traditions and languages – from Christian travelogues to early Zionist films to Palestinian poetry – from the late 19th century to the present day, to explore how religious, ethnic and national narratives manifest. Because Jerusalem is revered worldwide, I focus on the texts of those coming to – refugees, migrants, pilgrims, and tourists – or those displaced, to uncover preconceived ideas of as well as actual encounters with the city. I argue that portrayals of Jerusalem, while offering individual experiences of the city, are tied to specific subject positions and prolong, proliferate, and transform narratives of collective memory. As carriers of memory, cultural products are both politically influenced and political participants, making them a compelling source to study this contested city. By bringing together a multitude of stories of the same place, this monograph highlights the need to acknowledge that there is not just the one Jerusalem we learned about in synagogue, church, or mosque, but a lived-in place meaningful to many groups. In this sense, Narrating Jerusalem becomes a microcosm of the city itself, while its structure opens windows into different communities and embodies its argument: we need to see the many “Jerusalems” people have imagined and keep on imagining to better understand the political reality of the city today.


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