The project title “Hearts of Flesh – Not Stone” is a reference to an image in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (36:26). The image, which is significant for Jewish, Christian and Muslim cultures, gives insight into the central questions of this project which seeks to understand the movement of individuals and groups from lesser to greater willingness for reconciliation.
Working in a transdisciplinary manner, we expect major results to impact understanding of reconciliation. The second major result impacts society; we want to deepen the understanding on how encounter groups can lead to greater willingness to reconcile. The project analyses individuals and groups experiencing the “suffering of the other” as a means for understanding how and why groups may become more or less open to reconciliation. This single question forms the focus of the project, which is addressed via three theoretical/methodological approaches:
1. Encountering the suffering of the other (ESO) “experientially”
2. Analyzing the ESO through social psychological experimentation
3. Conceptual analysis of the ESO through theological/sociological/political disciplines
The first approach (A) explores the ESO before, during and immediately after the experience as well as one year later, during which the participants will live in their own home community. The study will carefully examine the possible changes among the Palestinian and the Jewish-Israeli participants, especially regarding two central indicators reflecting willingness to reconcile:
1. Acceptance of the “other” identity needs
2. Perceptions of collective narratives of the in-group and “other” group.
In addition to assisting in the ESO itself, the second approach (B) addresses the question with the models and experiments of social psychology. The final approach (C) addresses the question on a more theoretical level. It examines the groups’ beliefs, attitudes, goals, narratives and their relative power positions – all elements which comprise and influence their social imaginations and group identities. In proposing such a study, we emphasize quite strongly that we are not comparing or equating the suffering of the two groups in any way.
The project is designed so that the basic models and principles can be established and evaluated in time for the 18 month mark in the second year. The subsequent three years are intended for further testing and refinement, of course, but also development of that learning into impact tools in the areas of pedagogy, encounter workshops, and negotiation principles. The project group is composed of scholars from many disciplines committed to helping and learning from each other. The leaders represent a great breadth of experience and expertise:
Martin Leiner (Jena) is a systematic theologian with expertise in media ethics and philosophy in addition to reconciliation.
Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi (Jerusalem) is a political scientist committed to the principle of moderation in a challenging political climate. Dajani’s organization Wasatia functions as the scholarly home for the Palestinian partners until we can association ourselves directly with Al Quds University – where both Mohammed and Munther Dajani Daoudi are heads of a department (American Studies) and a college (Faculty of Arts).
Arie Nadler (Tel Aviv) is a social psychologist who has developed differentiated models for the science of reconciliation. The ESO focus was his insight, and every aspect of the program benefits from his mentorship. He brought Shifra Sagy (Beer Sheba) to the project as a co-leader of the Israeli group because of her long experience and scholarship on encounter groups. She also brings the institutional support of Ben Gurion University and its Conflict Management and Resolution Program, which she leads.
In addition to the rigorous academic and ethical principles of our disciplines, two principles characterize our work.
First, the project is committed to transdisciplinarity (Mittelstraß, 2007) whereby the different disciplines work very closely in the development and testing of goals, concepts, experiments (including common discussion of measurement), as well as the evaluation and publication of the results.
Secondly, the project benefits from an insight of the theologian and philosopher Hölderlin (1797) that elements of peace and reconciliation are already found “in the middle of conflicts” (Leiner, 2012) and not only after violent actions have stopped (Kelman, 2008). In intractable conflicts such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this seems to be a promising route to reconciliation because attempts of reconciliation may be a precondition for violence to cease.