Dialogue through Religious Arts

I was invited by the Visual Cultures Department and Dr. Woodman Taylor at the American University in Dubai to present a conference entitled ‘Dialogue through Religious Arts: the case of Syrian Aleppo Icons’ – April 6, 2016.

For a summary of my conference: AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN DUBAI

http://www.aud.edu/news_events/en/view/1216/current_upcoming/visual-cultures-forum-dialogue-through-religious-arts

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An Interreligious Tour in Abu Dhabi

AUD students enrolled in the MEST 350 Religions of the Middle East visited three churches and a mosque in Abu Dhabi with Assistant Professor in Middle Eastern Studies Dr. Pamela Chrabieh on Saturday, March 26, 2016.

The first stop was at the Saint Andrew’s Center, an Anglican compound with more than 40 Christian worshipping groups, built in 1975. Students visited the Saint Nicholas Greek-Orthodox church that has worshippers from many Arab countries – mostly Palestinians, Syrian and Lebanese – with masses combining Arabic and Greek. There are more than 700 Abu Dhabi families registered with this church, and Greek Orthodox Christians are building a Cathedral in Mussaffah to accommodate the growing community. Saint Nicholas church includes a magnificent iconostasis and icons from Greece. Students had the opportunity to learn about Saint Nicholas, to discover liturgical and theological elements of one of the Patriarchate of Antioch’s Churches, and compare them to Catholic features.

They then visited the Seventh-Day Adventist church in located in the same compound. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church is a Protestant Christian denomination distinguished by its observance of Saturday, the 7th day of the week as the Sabbath, and its emphasis on the imminent Second Coming or Advent of Jesus-Christ. Students observed one part of the Saturday service that included a sermon, singing, scripture reading and prayer.

Lastly, students visited the Saint Andrew’s Anglican church that clearly presents a different layout in terms of architecture and religious symbolism, with its high ceilings to accommodate large windows, allowing light to flood the church as a reminded that “God’s Church is the Light of Christ in the world”. Saint Andrew’s congregation is a member of the Worldwide Anglican Communion and part of the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.

The second stop was at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This mosque was initiated by the late president H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to build a place of worship which unites the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, as well as the historical and modern values of architecture and art. It is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. Its design and construction uses artisans and materials such as marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics from many countries, including Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and United Arab Emirates. Open to both Muslims and non-Muslims, the mosque plays a pioneering role in intercultural and interreligious dialogue, in addition to abiding to the teachings of Islam in order to spread peace.

According to Dr. Chrabieh, “Although Islam is the official religion of the country, the United Arab Emirates have always advocated freedom of religion. The constitution guarantees the ‘freedom to exercise religious worship in accordance with established customs, provided that it does not conflict with public policy or violate public morals’ (Article 32). Religious minorities include Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Baha’i and Druze. Places of worship range from churches to Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh temples. The story of these communities in the United Arab Emirates challenges the stereotypes people elsewhere have of Southwestern Asia and Islam. It is a story that needs to be told more – that of tolerance, mutual respect and conviviality”.

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Innovation Week: The Diplomacy of the Dish – Culinary Festival

Source: American University in Dubai News

AUD Faculty, students and staff who are interested in learning about the cultural diversity of the Southwestern Asian and North African regions through food, as well as in having a visceral experience of the unknown/ inexperienced while participating in an intercultural dialogic platform, are invited to attend one of the many Culinary Festival sessions that will take place at the American University in Dubai from Monday, November 23 till Tuesday, December 8, 2015, as part of the MEST-318 Cultures of the Middle East courses.

MEST students will be presenting their final projects, consisting of a short oral and visual presentation of the food they will individually prepare – unfamiliar cultures and foods to them -, and their dish for a collective degustation.

Culinary Festival Sessions (Fall 2015)

Monday, Nov. 23 E-202, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 24 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 25 E-202, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 26 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 29 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 30 E-202, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 1 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 6 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 7 E-202, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 8 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Contact Person: Dr. Pamela ChrabiehWhy the Food and the Discovery of the Unfamiliar?

Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture” (Mark Kurlansky, ‘Choice Cuts’, 2002).

Most people are introduced to a culture’s cuisine before they decide they want to learn more about it. When we cook, eat and drink unfamiliar types of food, we have a visceral experience of foreignness brought into our bodies and minds, which contributes to the process of familiarization, thus helps students face Xenophobia (the fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange) and Food Neophobia (the fear of eating new or unfamiliar foods) by repeated exposure to unfamiliar/novel foods. The process of familiarization opens the door for dialogue, the recognition of differences, mutual respect and the search for a common ground – for what unites in the diversity of legacies and stories.

Food is a life force and a good meal fosters a strong connection between individuals, a convivial relation beyond mere coexistence. When we gather to share the physicality of the food and the cultural knowledge (historical, political, religious and social knowledge related to the prepared food, Global foodways, Culinary colonialism and neo-colonialism, Culinary nationalism, Culinary interpenetrations and fusion, Culinary/Cultural wars) that accompanies the praxis of cooking and eating together (commensality), when we think about the food, prepare it and serve it together, we share bits and pieces of our belongings and our glocal (global/local) identities, bits and pieces of our lives with our commonalities and our differences. In my classrooms, I focus on creating awareness that behind the foods we eat, there are stories of wars and hardship, conflicts and fear, but also reconciliation, positive relationships, resilience, empowerment and solidarity that merit study.

When food and cuisine are used as instruments of peace, as tools of soft power and communication, when language alone is not enough, we create cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions in cooperation. This form of cultural diplomacy is called the Culinary Diplomacy or Gastrodiplomacy, and it is being recognized in Southeastern Asia for instance in South Korea, Thailand, Japan and Malaysia as a form of edible nation branding – a growing trend in public diplomacy. Scholarship on Gastrodiplomacy is burgeoning and will certainly expand in the upcoming years.

About my Pedagogical Approach:
Learning through food has become an essential component of all my courses since 2004 in:

  • Canada, at the Université de Montréal (with +1000 students – majority of French Québécois and minorities of immigrants, 2004-2006);
  • Lebanon (with +3000 students from different religious and political backgrounds in three universities, in a context of continuous physical/psychological war, 2007-2014);
  • The UAE, at the American University in Dubai (with a 100+ national identities, ethnic identities and religions to manage in classrooms, since 2014).
Learning through food is a major application of my Peace Education approach that aims to cultivate the knowledge and practice of a culture of peace. Wars start in the human mind, and Peace Education plays an important role in individual and collective mindset changes from classrooms to communities. Students learn to develop cultural awareness and communication strategies in an intercultural setting. They learn to deconstruct stereotypes and construct alternative narratives. They learn to reflect on the subjectivity of their own cultural patterns, to step outside boundaries and discover the fluidity of cultural frontiers. They learn to share responsibility for the act of learning while using all their senses. They learn to understand and experience unity in human diversity through dialogue. They learn about peace by gaining peace knowledge, and more, by doing peace.Other examples of activities I have been implementing in my classrooms since 2004 include field trips; intercultural/interreligious gatherings in galleries, museums and sacred spaces; visual art workshops including art therapy sessions; outdoor agoras; meditation sessions; virtual dialogue platforms; storytelling/story sharing sessions; as well as singing and dancing, to name just a few.

I have been presenting numerous conferences about my Peace perspective and educational approach since 2000/2001 – Canada, Lebanon, Italy, France, UK (Oxford University), Japan, Turkey, Cyprus, USA (University of California), Hungary, Czech Republic, UAE…– and publishing articles, academic papers and book chapters, in French, English and Arabic. All of my 7 books include information about my Peace perspective and activities as an educator, scholar-researcher, activist and artist.

– See more at: http://www.aud.edu/news_events/en/view/1007/current_upcoming/innovation-week-the-diplomacy-of-the-dish-culinary-festival#sthash.MmBLz9XV.dpuf

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