Narratives of Being Jewish in Iran

FWF, Hertha-Firnberg program T 1004


Project description

Iran is currently home to the largest Jewish diaspora in the Middle East. However, the twentieth century saw the Jewish community in Iran massively diminished after a long history of co-existence. The variety of interactions between Jews and Muslims in Iran has been reduced to a history of conflict. Based on biographic interviews with Jewish Iranians in Germany, Iran and the United States this study will provide a nuanced picture of their lives among Muslims. It will point out the ambiguous and fluid nature of Jewish-Muslim interactions, as well as the contextual factors that allowed for constructive relations.

The second goal is to analyse how religious and ethnic belonging change in the course of migration. The comparative approach will give insights into diverging forms of identification among Iranian Jews around the world and make the role of different national contexts visible. It will examine which identity formations are successful in the respective society and which are not; which forms of articulation bring about social acceptance as well as how international relations influence private subjectivities and memories. Comparing these different histories and affiliations will carve out the characteristics of a distinct, yet highly diverse group.

 

Methodically, the study applies biographic research analysis on data collected through fieldwork (semi-structured biographic interviews and participant observation) and from existing oral history archives. The purpose of the interviews is not to analyse how “it really was” but how the past is narrated and what these narratives tell us about the way individuals locate themselves regarding the various communities of belonging. Subjective accounts often differ from official rules and regulations and they contain both amicable and hostile experiences. The biographic approach will highlight how individuals make sense of these ambivalences.

The focus of this study is on encounters of everyday life between Jews and Muslims. It will not reduce the Jewish community to religious or ethnic aspects, but aims to understand their scopes of action as the result of a multitude of competing identities as well as the social, cultural and religious tensions, existing between an individual and different social groups.