This June, a delegation of eleven members of the Family of Sion had the joy of representing the Congregation at the annual conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Under the theme: “Negotiating Multiple Identities: Implications for Interreligious Relations”, the event embraced facets of dialogue that are under the spotlight today.
Previous ICCJ conferences have focused on such issues as multiculturalism, secularity, religions and identity, and narratives of self and other. This year, “intersectionality” was central to the conference. This term, which was new to some participants, describes a framework that acknowledges the complex relationship between social identities and systems of power and oppression.
What is intersectionality?
The premise is that each individual has a mix of identities, such as race, gender, age, socio-economic status, religion, and many more, and people experience the world differently, encountering different levels of social advantage and disadvantage, of privilege and subjection, on the basis of where the layers of their identity intersect.
Over the four days of the conference, panels started by looking at the pitfalls of one-dimensional approaches to tackling marginalisation, suppression and exploitation. Then they delved into the debate about intersectionaltity, and explored ways of collaborating to confront oppression in Jewish-Christian and interreligious arenas, and in society at large. Several Sion sisters were honoured to take leading roles in plenary sessions and workshops.
Notre Dame de Sion’s contribution
Sr. Kasia Kowalska was on a plenary panel that shared best practices on how to confront oppression through local partnerships that address situations of marginalisation and injustice. She also spoke of her experience of restoring a Jewish cemetery in Poland in a workshop about the potential of service projects for furthering Jewish-Christian relations.
With two other members of the ICCJ Theology Committee, Sr. Celia Deutsch moderated a discussion about interreligious dialogue, referencing an educational guide to the ICCJ’s 2009 “Twelve Points of Berlin” that can be used in local communities as a helpful resource for Jewish-Christian dialogue.
Sr. Mary Reaburn of the Australian Sion community took up the ICCJ’s call to extend experience in Jewish-Christian relations and integrate it into a wider context. She co-headed a workshop that gave a voice to the Indigenous people of Australia and their quests for justice both for themselves and for others.
A “Sion Day” for post-conference reflection
After the conference, the seven Sion sisters, two Sion Associates and two Friends of Sion stayed in Boston for a fifth day of reflection on what they had learnt and the questions it raised.
Friend of Sion Kevin Farrell was struck by the accounts he heard of religious prejudice and racial inequality. “Reflecting on these two issues,” he wrote, “I realised how ignorance, prejudice and discrimination diminish us all.”
Sr. Ania Bodzinska appreciated the small group workshops and informal conversations, which allowed for personal engagement with the speakers. She particularly valued her exchanges with members of the American Jewish community.
During the day of reflection, the participants considered what cues to take in their own lives, within the Sion Family, and in the world.
At a personal level, Sr. Margaret Shepherd recognised the need to start by building up our inner life for the sake of social justice, and noted how engaging actively in dialogue promotes further dialogue.
Within the Sion Family, an online gathering is already on the agenda later this year, to share the topics of this year’s conference with those unable to attend.
In the meantime, Sr. Kasia intends to carry forward her reflections on intersectionality in her work on anti-Semitism, racism and interfaith relations, mindful of the importance of inclusivity and listening.
Sion Associate Polly Holmes felt emboldened in her fight against anti-Semitism and racism. She plans to become more involved in local communities of Jewish-Christian relations, and is looking forward to sharing what she learnt with colleagues and students at the Notre Dame de Sion school in Kansas City, USA, where she works.
For Sion Associate Murray Watson, the event triggered new uncertainties. He talked about feeling called to a new, different approach to dialogue. “But it isn’t yet clear to us, he said, “exactly what that new approach might look like.”
All the Sion delegates left the conference with heads filled with questions and ideas and a new energy to face the ever-changing challenges of dialogue with courage and creativity.
[Home page photo: The embrace, a bronze sculpture in Boston by Hank Willis Thomas, commemorating Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King.]