The Jerusalem Connection

by Laken

History has taught us that cultures and individuals put a large amount of significance into inanimate objects. Whether the object is a sacred city or an old car, as humans we can’t help but feel a certain connection to these non-human objects.

For Christians, Jews and Muslims, the city of Jerusalem has been an example of an inhuman object. Jerusalem, although non-human is valued and loved by billions of people. The City has deep meaning for Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Symbolic and interpretive anthropology states that symbols are learned and shared from generation to generation; Clifford Geertz argues, “Culture is not a model inside people’s heads but rather is embodied in public symbols and actions”[1]. The city of Jerusalem symbolizes deep historical roots for many people, the importance of Jerusalem has been passed down from generation to generation, the city itself is a symbol of unity, as a place where religious people can go to pray or interact with their brethren or god.

Because of this symbolism the city of Jerusalem has been fought over for generations, the importance of this city has been passed down and the need to control Jerusalem has led to many conflicts. Still to this day, whoever controls the city of Jerusalem is the subject of many heated interactions and bloodshed between religious groups. Not only does the city of Jerusalem relate to symbolic and interpretive anthropology, Jerusalem also relates to functionalism. As Dr. McGranahan states, “Functionalism seeks to discover connections in and between societies”.[2] Jerusalem as a whole is a collision of many different societies and cultures; the city has an important function and plays an important role for all of these different cultures.

Jerusalem meets many universal human needs: the need for meaning, safety and a meeting place for religious peoples. Jerusalem gives Christianity, Judaism, and Islam a tangible source of faith. This tangible source gives practitioners of these religions a sense of safety, knowing that there is something that they can physically see that embodies their religious beliefs. Jerusalem gives people of faith and religion a place to meet and congregate and a place where they can be with likeminded people. The city of Jerusalem provides cross cultural social and spiritual needs of all three major monotheistic religions. Jerusalem serves as an important place for billions of people who are emotionally connected to the city in some way or another, this connection between human beings and a non-human entity (e.g. a city) is very powerful and is extremely important to anthropology as a whole.

[1] accessed 17 September 2015

[2] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Intro to Cultural Anthropology September 14 2015.

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16 Responses to The Jerusalem Connection

  1. Heidi Shortreed says:

    I thought that this essay was very well thought out. I particularly enjoyed your paragraph that addressed how Jerusalem functions as a tangible source of faith. I had never thought of Jerusalem from the functionalist perspective as you did, I had always thought of it as symbolic of the unified, yet often hostile relation between religious organizations. However, I do have some critiques. In your third paragraph, you seem to jump from the symbolic/interpretive theory to the functionalist theory with little transition. I would suggest merging the first half of that paragraph with the pervious one about the symbolic/interpretive theory. I would also suggest merging the second half of the third paragraph to your fourth paragraph. I was confused at first, because you did not seem to mention functionalism at all in your fourth paragraph. I think that you could clarify what theory you are using by addressing it in the paragraph. Additionally, I would have liked to see more sources that would have strengthened your statements about how Jerusalem functions as a tangible source of faith.

  2. Connor McKenzie says:

    The first thing that I thought worth mentioning about your essay was that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. You gave a well thought out, specific, and unique idea for analysis of non-human aspects of culture by using Jerusalem as an inhuman object with which you can study using multiple lenses of anthropological theory. While the use of symbolic-interpretive anthropology was a safe (and well done) choice for studying Jerusalem, I admire the fact that you chose to use one of the less-known theories for your analysis of the significance of Jerusalem as a inhuman aspect of culture. While I have no specific problems with your paper from either a grammatical or material standpoint, there are additional questions that I feel would help to further your examination of Jerusalem. For example, if we take the subject away from human culture and look through a lens of Structural-Functionalism, how would that add or change to the argument shown within your paper? How prominent are the social structures or social groups within the society of Jerusalem and how do they shape society there?

  3. Orion Felice says:

    Jerusalem is the “hot spot” of many religions and cultures around the world that converge on this non-human settlement as a religious center – this grand aspect helps make a strong case. The topic is currently relevant, most people are aware of the current issues pertaining Jerusalem, and there is always a view from any three sides to provide an adequate perspective of the situation in the Gaza strip. It is a topic that connects everyone via information from political and media sources to religious sources. Unless somebody lives under a rock, the rhetoric behind conflicts over Jerusalem diffuses across the world via informational sources. You mentioned the idea of functionalism, by quoting Dr. McGranahan, in respect to it implying the human group “seeks to discover connections” with other groups – connections being the function of human societies. If connections are formed in this way when it comes to Jerusalem, how do you think the media and politics function to expand the connections of Jerusalem’s religious groups to others? Is it possible for the functional connections of between people to be increased or decreased due to technology, or even different means of personal communication? Jerusalem is a topic that almost everyone knows, either religious ties or the media, and you addressed this topic with success.

    • Cayleb Langhals says:

      In response to your question involving how the media functions to expand connections, I believe that it connects Jerusalem through a way which may not be intended from an anthropological standpoint. Because the city is a massive gathering place of religion, the original purpose and connections that it tries to establish are those based on religion. Whether it be a pilgrimage to make your religious experience hit closer to home or just a trip through the iconic city, most would agree that Jerusalem is first and foremost a city of religion. However, because it is important to many different beliefs and way of life, conflict often arises between the inhabitants and the surrounding area at the fault of one group or another. The media, in this case, tends to focus more on the conflict and the infighting between the people who hold Jerusalem so near and dear to their hearts, and in this way the media expands the views of the city in a way that may not be desired by the locals or the people. The media focuses not on the messages of the religious groups, which may be the intended purpose of the people of Jerusalem, but instead focuses on the actions and the conflicts between said groups.

  4. Samantha Pollak says:

    I agree with Connor McKenzie that Structural Functionalism would have been an interesting way to analyze your topic at hand. I would have liked to explore the hierarchies within Jerusalem such as the four quarter division of religions. I would have also liked you to apply Boasian historical particularism in order to look at the reasons leading up to why Jerusalem is so holy and contested over. My only critique of your paper is when you called Jerusalem an object. It is a an ever-changing and buzzing locale full of life. You could have also looked at unilinear evolutionism to analyze how things have evolved over time but that may have brought your argument more into the realm of people. This would be an interesting topic to frame the two other categories around so maybe you could follow a similar vein for your next paper as it is relevant and necessary to be aware of.

    • I like Samantha’s point about Jerusalem being an “ever changing and buzzing locale of life” rather than just an object because the city is such a constantly changing, evolving religious mecca. That being said I liked how you make an argument that symbolism, and the effect it has on culture, may be a leading reason as to why people within each religion will go to the lengths they have in order to control it. I also like how you tie this in to what is happening in that areas to date.

  5. This essay caught my eye because I am a Roman Catholic. Well, at least, thats the religion that I identify with, so this essay was particularly interesting to me. I would consider Jerusalem as a “tangible source” of my faith because of its rich religious history. I think that your application of symbolic and interpretive anthropology could not have been more pertinent. I think another good theory that could be applied to Jerusalem would be practice theory. The religious traditions that accompany visiting Jerusalem would be really interesting to write about as well.

  6. Thomas Bartlomiejczuk says:

    I would like to start off by congratulating you for writing an essay so good that the TA picked it to upload!

    Most anyone can tell you that the city of Jerusalem is a place of great symbolic importance to people of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish faiths, but I think that it would have still helped your analysis on the symbolic nature of Jerusalem if you just used a sentence or two to explain the ties of those religions to Jerusalem.

    I wouldn’t have expected to see an argument on how the significance of this city could be explained through a Functionalist lens, but you did a good and convincing job. But I do, however, have some qualms with it. In your opening sentence in the third paragraph you state three universal needs: “the need for meaning, safety and a meeting place for religious peoples.” While I myself would agree that those are all needs, Bronislaw Malinowski’s Functionalism seeks to explain customs through his seven basic needs: nutrition, reproduction, bodily comforts, safety, movement, health, and growth. Therefore only one of the three you stated in your topic sentence is applicable to a Functionalist analyzation of Jerusalem.

    You took the approach of explaining that Jerusalem fulfills the basic need of safety, which you did well in explaining. Perhaps an argument could also be made that in addition to safety the city of Jerusalem also helps serve the need of growth. Being a religious city of such importance many people visit it and this helps their spiritual growth; helps them to grow as a person. Not entirely sure if this would be considered a valid argument or not.

    That’s all I have to say at the moment. Thank you for allowing your paper be posted here for us to read, I know it’s not always easy to have others judge your work.

  7. Colman Garthwaite says:

    Very interesting thoughts. I like how you pointed out the fact that functionalism seeks to discover similarities between societies. Its strange how all three major religions consider Jerusalem their holy land, yet each religion has different beliefs and has fought and still fights over which beliefs are right. I liked how you talked about Jerusalem as being a tangible aspect of each of these religions, and not just a symbolic one. I also enjoyed how you talked about how culture is shared from generation to generation. I find it incredible how many generations some cultural symbols and sacred objects such as Jerusalem have been passed down.

  8. Alex Burden says:

    Great analysis! I like how your essay covered two anthropological theories with quite different focuses- one on the symbolic and philosophical (religious unity, spiritualism, etc.), the other on the material and functional (safety, a tangible location to meet, etc.). Your analysis effectively shows how the significance of Jerusalem is multi-faceted and is, as you stated in the conclusion, of great anthropological importance. I think structural-functionalism would also make a very interesting theory to approach the city from, due to 1: its emphasis on change, which Jerusalem has certainly seen a lot of in its long history and Samantha Pollak made some good points on regarding the ever-changing nature of Jerusalem in the present day, and 2: the complex, dynamic social structures in the city shaped by groups of people who have examples of both stark differences and common beliefs.

  9. Hayley Bibbiani says:

    This essay was very interesting to read! I loved that you picked a city as the inanimate object, as a city was not something that immediately came to my mind for the non-human. I felt like your connection of Jerusalem to symbolic anthropology was perfectly in line with the definition of symbolic anthropology. Both of your connections to the theories truly get to the root of what both symbolism and functionalism are about. I also agree with the other commenters that it would be interesting to see how structural-functionalism could connect to the city of Jerusalem. Perhaps by talking about the history and changes to the city or the social structures that exist within, and how these social structures affect the city.

  10. Laurel Bloszies says:

    I love the analysis done here of Jerusalem as a symbol. What I find incredibly, and slightly horrifically, fascinating is the intent of Jerusalem to be a symbol of peace. Historically, it has been the opposite. The Holy Land has been a site for conquering and slaughter for thousands of years, and no religion has remained free of bloodshed. If left to their own devices, the three main religions would be for the most part calm and at peace. But in general humans don’t take well to different takes on our own accepted views of history. Since three largely popular religion claims they belong on those lands, violence is simply inevitable. It starts with small attacks, sometimes accidents, but it always escalates until there are groups like Hamas terrorizing the Jewish population, and the Israeli government is unfairly pushing Palestinians off of their land. It seems that it is in our nature to find violent conflict with those who are unlike us.

  11. Martha Wheeler says:

    I liked how you displayed Jerusalem as an embodiment of faith, safety, and peace through a non-human anthropological perspective – oftentimes when we hear of Jerusalem it’s in a religious or political context. It’s an incredible phenomenon to see people across time, space, and religion to hold homage to one particular piece of land but it’s also really upsetting to see hate across these religious groups. We believe ourselves to be in a civilized space in time, but the terrible ways we view different religious groups and act hatefully against them in inhumane and cruel. These acts of hate are not only to fight over Jerusalem but prevalent in bombings, acts of terrorism, and racial profiling across these groups.

  12. Priya Byati says:

    Your essay was very well written and thought out. I liked how you described how Jerusalem as a place that served many universal human needs, for every single religion that was tied to Jerusalem. If politicians today perhaps looked at the issue of Jerusalem like a functional anthropologist, as a place that functioned to serve many human needs, not just for their religion but for all of the other religions, a more empathetic view might be fostered, leading to hopefully a more peaceful solution?

  13. Cole Von Feldt says:

    This essay was very well written and had a great flow of ideas from beginning to end, that it was very easy to see exactly what your point was. My favorite part of your essay was how you described how important it is for followers of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam to have a physical tangible place where those followers have a location that holds their beliefs so strongly. I feel like that having a tangible location of faith unfortunately has to come as a double edged sword where it is great that you have a place that holds your beliefs so strongly, but at some point another group will contest that that land belongs more to them and holds their beliefs higher, which leads to powerful conflict. This is the exact problem that is going in Jerusalem, it’s basically a childish game of “mine” that one of these religions keeps claiming that Jerusalem is more theirs than anyone else. Maybe that is the problem though, that these religions have such a strong faith that it is similar to a child’s belief in something like the tooth fairy etc. so it makes it much harder to not argue over it because of how strong these religions hold their beliefs and ideals held in Jerusalem.

  14. Sam Freund says:

    What do you think Geertz would say the constant fighting over Jerusalem symbolizes?

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