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Masada. The Gardens of Gethsemane.  The Bahai Gardens. The Al Aqsa Mosque. The Western Wall.

In May 2018, Carleton students will again be traveling to the ‘Holy Land’ and walking through these ancient sites, experiencing them not only as travelers but as young scholars.

The travel course poster touts 5000 years of religion and culture in 20 days.   If that sounds like a marathon, it is!

Travel to Israel Course

Open to undergraduate and graduate students, the course explores religion and culture in the ‘Holy Land’ from the ancient period to the present day. Practically, that means that our traveling classroom will include exploring 14 archeological sites (including a Dig for a Day), walking each of the stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa, experiencing the beauty of Al Aqsa, moving through the cool stone interiors of a medieval fort in Akko, meeting contemporary activists such the Women of the Wall.

Learning about the Bar Kokhba revolt in class was always interesting – it’s an exciting story about the near-successful overthrow for Roman imperial power by a small underdog community of Jews. … Learning about Bar Kokhba in the setting of modern-day Israel became interesting for other reasons on this trip. By being in the tunnels and crawling into one of the caves, we were able to participate in this history. Watching the desert landscape pass us by as we drove to the cave on the bus brought the Revolt into my own life in a way that enabled me to understand it as I never had before. – Sophie Crump, currently MA student in Religion and Public Life.

This year’s course also brings together Carleton students with international scholars and students through a partnership with Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University. Fortified by much falafel and ice cream, students experience the rhythms of life in the ‘Holy Land’ as a culturally and religiously diverse modern country: from each of the traditional four quarters of Jerusalem (Armenian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish), to lunch with the Druze, to an Orthodox home Shabbat in Jerusalem, floating in the Dead Sea, crossing into the West Bank and camel riding in the Judean desert, hearing the call to prayer from Mosques against the chiming of church bells and the loud beats of dance music in the streets.

We arrived at the site after four a.m. and climbed the fortress in order to be able to see the sunrise over the Dead Sea. I had already climbed the fortress before, however this time it seemed to take much longer and be much more difficult (definitely the most physically exhausting thing I had done in a very long time). I was later told that we had actually climbed up the “snake path” and not the ramp that the Romans had built to lay siege on the fortress. Trying to pace myself zig-zagging in the almost total darkness, I kept telling myself not to look up too frequently only to see how much further I had to climb, and tried to remind myself how the invading Romans must have done something very similar in heavy armour. Once I had finally made it up to the top, completely exhausted, I was excited to see the rest of the group there, waiting for the sun to rise. It was a really beautiful experience, and it was hilarious to take part in cheering on Helios/Apollo with the rest of the group as the sun steadily crept up over the horizon. – Natalie Pochtaruk, current Hums student.

FASS is home to several travel courses with good reason; former FASS Dean John Osborn fostered these courses that will stand out as bright memories of their time at Carleton. For students in FASS, who have studied the texts, architecture, art, history, religion, literature, politics, and culture of what we call the “West”, the travel course experience brings their studies to life. It is one thing to study, for example, the diversity of Christianity from a textbook. It is another to see the infamous ladder that cannot be moved in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher because of strict rules about each denomination’s rights in this venerated sacred space.

Participants are characteristically diverse in their backgrounds and academic interests. The course has no prerequisites and attracts students from all programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels as well as auditors who are interested in traveling with an academic focus and experts in the area.

Travel to Israel Course

The one difficult part, which the readings brought up, is the fact that for Arabs, this holiday is in fact a day of mourning, for the country, land, and independence that was lost. Despite the almost Biblical return of the Jews to the land of Israel, the Palestinian displacement is just one example (albeit a very significant one) of the various religious claims within Israel. – Simon Zeldin (4th year student in 2014).

I was happy to dance and have fun with Israeli students, but I was completely overcome by the sight of the running orthodox men. Some had their arms around each others’ shoulders and they skipped and sang even as they ran. I was overjoyed simply at their display of joy and the fact that they had an environment in which they could engage in such a euphoric celebration of the state. I saw all members of Israeli society celebrate that night. Arabic music and dancing in the streets, a secular party environment, and a riotous and orthodox run around the wall. I’d be lying if I said that I knew what to make of it, but I saw a lot of joy from various different factions in Israeli society and the joy gives me great hope. Though what I read presented the idea of rifts between members of Israeli society, I saw only happiness. The groups may not have been celebrating immediately together but they celebrated the same thing at the same time in the same place. And if you can agree on at least one thing, I would say you have at least a starting point for unity. The shared air of celebration was a sight that gave me great hope for positive relations between Israelis and Arabs and understanding between Jews in Israel who adhere to different types of Judaism. – Sarah Cook, 4th Year student in 2014, student MA in Religion and Public Life currently.

Travel to Israel Course

Religious difference is part of the history of this land, and part of the appeal of the course for many students – they want to understand what they see in the news. While the focus of the course is not the conflict, participants inevitably come away with a richer, more personal and more nuanced understanding of the history this place and how that history drives contemporary debates.

Travel to Israel Course

This year’s course is again being offered by Professor Deidre Butler, Religion program, College of Humanities.  In the hopes of building a long-term sustainable travel course bi-annual program through university partnerships, Professor Mary Hale (Religious Studies, St-Mary’s University, Halifax) will be joining the course with several of her undergraduate and MA students.

Questions? Contact Deidre Butler.


Israel Travel Course

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