I must give two disclaimers before I begin. First: I have never blogged before. Ever. So, bear with me. Second: I am a bit jet-lagged and have been running loose in Istanbul for a couple hours…so here we go!
First, I think I should give a quick intro to my project. In Interim 2015, I had the privilege of traveling to Turkey with Dr. Philip Dorroll to study the history and current state of religious minorities in the city of Istanbul. One day, we visited a Jewish synagogue. The reality of its scarred history was apparent from the moment we arrived, from the blast doors to the mysterious black mark on the sanctuary wall. Soon we learned that the mark was the residue from one of two terrorist attacks, that killed over forty individuals in total, and remains today as a constant reminder of the violence perpetrated against this minority community.
The leader in the Jewish community who spoke to us stated that, as a whole, Jews are stigmatized in Turkish media. She revealed, however, that Jews and Muslims are at peace in the communities where they live, and actually share deep friendship. Both groups attend weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals of the other community. She explained that when Muslims meet the members of her community, they call them, “Our Jews,” and therefore are able to see past their prejudices and accept them as one their own.
This is what I am after: stories of interfaith interactions that serve to change the perception one has of the members of differing faith communities. Furthermore, I am seeking to find if deep friendships can be/are forged which are bound in love and respect, and yet engaging the differences in meaningful ways. I have conducted five fruitful ethnographic interviews in my home of Minneapolis, MN with Muslim minorities, and will (at least, as of now) be focusing on Christian minorities while in the Middle East. This is something I am deeply interested in, for I am passionate about learning how to engage difference well as a follower of Jesus. I am happy to say that I have made five new friends in Minneapolis so far in my research, and I am looking forward to more!
Saturday I will meet my first contact: a priest who I met while here in January.
All in all, this trip will take me from Minneapolis to Istanbul to Jerusalem to Haifa to the West Bank (and only God knows where else!). It is about time to delve again into two of the things I love most: faith and people. I don’t know what I’ll find as I seek to collect stories or where the road will take me, but I sure am excited for the ride.
Now, on to my initial thoughts upon arrival in Istanbul. One thing that struck me was a feeling that I expected, but was so comforting when it actually came.
I must take a second to brag on Dr. Phil Dorroll’s Istanbul interim last year—we spent only twelve days in this massive city, but did so much in that time that when the final day came and we were loading up the shuttle to the airport, we all felt like we could hold our own in this city of fourteen million (!) people. Just to give an example of how valuable this experience was for me: my flat where I am living is in an area I had never been. However, it is near a familiar neighborhood and I was able to navigate my way to the place I’ll call home for the next month.
Phenomenal. Many thanks, Phil.
As I have reflected on that flight home in January, I remember specifically thinking to myself, “I will probably never come back to this city,” as I felt the wheels lift off the runway. Realistically speaking, I would never have that opportunity again.
Lo and behold, I am currently sitting in Gölge Khave with a cup of filter coffee a few meters off of the vibrant neighborhood Taksim’s main street, Istiklâl Caddesi. I am in a state of pure awe. That awe is welling up into thankfulness to everyone that has made something like this possible for me. I could go on for hours, but my family, friends, Wofford faculty and staff, and the countless other supporters that have shaped who I am come to mind, and I thank you (if you are reading this, you probably fit there). I will do all I can to make the most of this opportunity as my (far too small) repayment.
I have been enjoying wandering in and among this beautiful city again, and am looking forward to a good shower and night’s rest (trying to kick that jet lag!).
Always feel free to reach out via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Facebook with questions, suggestions, and thoughts. I am sending all my best from the streets of Istanbul!