Sisterhood Revisited: Jewish-Muslim Feminist Alliances in the UK

Sisterhood Revisited: Jewish-Muslim Feminist Alliances in the UK

Wednesday, 30 October 2019 - 2:00pm
Board Room, Kirdar Building, Middle East Centre, St Antony's College
Dr Lea Taragin-Zeller (Woolf Institute)
Dr Soraya Tremayne (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology (ISCA)
MEC Women's Rights Research Seminars

Sisterhood, an important feminist strategy of female solidarity, was deeply critiqued during the late 1970’s for the racist and classist assumptions underlying white women’s liberation (Lorde & Clarke, 1984). Following this critique, scholars shifted their inquiries to study the specific ways particular groups experience sexism, discrimination and racism. Based on the emergence of Jewish-Muslim female alliances in the UK, I suggest to re-engage with the term “Sisterhood” to demonstrate how feminist political subjectivities are formed among religious minority groups in a growing Islamaphobic and anti-Semitic Europe.

During the past fifteen years, there has been a rapid increase in interfaith initiatives in the UK. Even though the “interfaith industry” (as some have cynically called it) has rapidly increased, the involvement of women in these groups has been relatively low (Mubarak, 2006). My ethnographic study focuses on the emergence of Jewish and Muslim female interfaith initiatives in the UK, analysing the creative ways religious women negotiate their challenges and struggles as women of faith, together. On the one hand, “religious sisterhood” creates a potent feminist alliance that promotes and embodies social, cultural and civic change. Yet, Jewish and Muslim communities in the UK have tended to keep their distance while questioning each-other’s loyalties and political affiliations, especially regarding the Middle East, which challenges the scope of such alliances. I offer an ethnographic based model to study how intersectional alliances are formed as religious women from minority groups come together vis-à-vis political and social transformations. Based on my findings, I show how feminist political subjectivities are shaped (and contested) through local and transnational feminist alliances.

Lea Taragin-Zeller is a research fellow at the Woolf institute and the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge. She is also a postdoctoral researcher at the Technion: Israel Institute of Technology.

Lea completed her BA, MA and PhD at the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her main research interests lie at the intersection between gender, text, body and religion.

Lea is currently working on her first monograph exploring the nexus of reproduction and religion in contemporary Israel. It offers an ethnographic account of the ways Orthodox Jews struggle, question and debate about the meaning of reproduction in a hyper-idealised context of national and religious reproduction.

Today, she will be sharing initial research findings based on her new research project "Religious Sisterhood: Encounters of Gender, Religion and Belonging in the UK"