My dissertation asks how Moroccan Muslims use performance of affiliation with the former Moroccan Jewish community to create their social identities and develop their idealized moral selfhood. The subjects of my research are the men and women who serve as guides and guards to and at, respectively, Jewish cemeteries and synagogues.
My ethnographic research took place primarily in cemeteries because they offer a material space where performers can mediate issues of loss, nostalgia, friendship, ritual responsibility, authority, authenticity and cosmopolitanism, along with negotiating financial, moral and spiritual capital. Performers and performances of selfhood creation by Muslim Moroccans depend heavily on the residual material presence of Jews in Morocco for the effectiveness of their acts.
My research argues that the guards and guides use performances of ritual and caring acts purposefully to create moral selves that separate them from other members of their now homogenously Muslim community. As a means of claiming an authentic alternative self that is profoundly Moroccan, but simultaneously undermines notions of a mono-ethnically Arab and mono-religiously Muslim Morocco, Imazighen stress their close ties with Jews. Amazigh respondents perform Jewish rituals, like praying for deceased Jews, cleaning tombs and celebrating Passover, to preserve ties that connected ethno-religious communities for hundreds of years, but have ceased since the Jewish mass-emigration from Morocco.
Other people with whom I work use their ties with Jewish sites to harness power and prestige in their communities. For women particularly, running a Jewish site that is frequented by tourists who bring economic capital to rural areas can be a valuable source of social capital as well. Guarding a Jewish site is an avenue for accumulating a position of authority that she may not have another means of accessing in a small village.
Lastly, and most importantly, many of the Muslim Moroccans take care of graves, and seek to preserve Moroccan Jewish traditions, because they had a close Jewish friend or adoptive family.
This dissertation is situated at the intersection of Jewish Studies, the Academic Study of Religion and Middle East and North African Studies.
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About this Dissertation
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