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Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme

Faculty of Divinity
CIP Seminar in Inter-religious Relations continues online in the Easter Term of 2020/21, with talks by Professor Ayala Fader, Professor Niloofar Haeri and Professor Jackie Feldman. 


29 April 2021, 15:00 BST 

On Hidden Heretics: A Conversation with Professor Ayala Fader

To register, click here. 


This seminar will feature a conversation with Professor Ayala Fader about her recent book Hidden Heretics: Jewish Doubt in the Digital Age (2020), which tells the fascinating, often heart-wrenching stories of married ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and women in twenty-first-century New York who lead “double lives” in order to protect those they love. Hidden Heretics was Jewish Book Council’s Finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in American Jewish Studies. 

Ayala Fader is Professor of Anthropology at Fordham University and the cofounder of the New York Working Group on Jewish Orthodoxies at Fordham’s Jewish Studies Program. She is the author of the award-winning book Mitzvah Girls: Bringing Up the Next Generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn (2009). 

About the book

What would you do if you questioned your religious faith, but revealing that would cause you to lose your family and the only way of life you had ever known? Hidden Heretics tells the fascinating, often heart-wrenching stories of married ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and women in twenty-first-century New York who lead “double lives” in order to protect those they love. While they no longer believe that God gave the Torah to Jews at Mount Sinai, these hidden heretics continue to live in their families and religious communities, even as they surreptitiously break Jewish commandments and explore forbidden secular worlds in person and online. Drawing on five years of fieldwork with those living double lives and the rabbis, life coaches, and religious therapists who minister to, advise, and sometimes excommunicate them, Ayala Fader investigates religious doubt and social change in the digital age.

The internet, which some ultra-Orthodox rabbis call more threatening than the Holocaust, offers new possibilities for the age-old problem of religious uncertainty. Fader shows how digital media has become a lightning rod for contemporary struggles over authority and truth. She reveals the stresses and strains that hidden heretics experience, including the difficulties their choices pose for their wives, husbands, children, and, sometimes, lovers. In following those living double lives, who range from the religiously observant but open-minded on one end to atheists on the other, Fader delves into universal quandaries of faith and skepticism, the ways digital media can change us, and family frictions that arise when a person radically transforms who they are and what they believe.

In stories of conflicts between faith and self-fulfillment, Hidden Heretics explores the moral compromises and divided loyalties of individuals facing life-altering crossroads.


3 May 2021, 13:30 BST

On Say What Your Longing Heart Desires: A Conversation with Professor Niloofar Haeri

To register, click here


This seminar will feature a conversation with Professor Niloofar Haeri about her recent book Say What Your Longing Heart Desires: Women, Prayer, and Poetry in Iran (2020), an ethnography situated among a group of educated, middle-class women in contemporary Iran as they negotiate ‘what it means to be a true Muslim’. 

Niloofar Haeri is Professor of Anthropology and the Program Chair for Islamic Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and the author of Sacred Language, Ordinary People (2003), among other works.

About the book

Following the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government set out to Islamize society. Muslim piety had to be visible, in personal appearance and in action. Iranians were told to pray, fast, and attend mosques to be true Muslims. The revolution turned questions of what it means to be a true Muslim into a matter of public debate, taken up widely outside the exclusive realm of male clerics and intellectuals. 

Say What Your Longing Heart Desires offers an elegant ethnography of these debates among a group of educated, middle-class women whose voices are often muted in studies of Islam. Niloofar Haeri follows them in their daily lives as they engage with the classical poetry of Rumi, Hafez, and Saadi, illuminating a long-standing mutual inspiration between prayer and poetry. She recounts how different forms of prayer may transform into dialogues with God, and, in turn, Haeri illuminates the ways in which believers draw on prayer and ritual acts as the emotional and intellectual material through which they think, deliberate, and debate.


28 May 2021, 13:30 BST

‘How Can You Know the Bible and Not Believe in Our Lord? Guiding Pilgrims across the Jewish–Christian Divide’, by Professor Jackie Feldman 

To register, clcik here.  

Drawing on auto-ethnographic descriptions from four decades of his work as a Jewish guide for Christian Holy Land pilgrims, Professor Feldman examines how overlapping faiths are expressed in guide–group exchanges at Biblical sites on Evangelical pilgrimages. He outlines several faith interactions: between reading the Bible as an affirmation of Christian faith or as a legitimation of Israeli heritage, between commitments to missionary Evangelical Christianity and to Judaism, between Evangelical practice and those of other Christian groups at holy sites, and between faith-based certainties and scientific skepticism. These encounters are both limited and enabled by the frames of the pilgrimage: The environmental bubble of the guided tour, the Christian orientations and activities in the itinerary, and the power relations of hosts and guests. Yet, unplanned encounters with religious others in the charged Biblical landscape offer new opportunities for reflection on previously held truths and commitments. Professor Feldman concludes by suggesting that Holy Land guided pilgrimages may broaden religious horizons by offering an interreligious model of faith experience based on encounters with the other.

Jackie Feldman is an associate professor of anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and head of the Rabb Center for Holocaust Studies. His research interests are pilgrimage and tourism, anthropology of religion, Holocaust memory, ethnographic writing, heritagization and comparative study of museums. In addition to numerous articles in scholarly journals, he has published two books: Above the Death-pits, beneath the Flag: Youth Voyages to Holocaust Poland and the Performance of Israeli National Identity (Berghahn, 2008), and A Jewish Guide in the Holy Land: How Christian Pilgrims Made Me Israeli (University of Indiana, 2016). His current research project, funded by the Israel Science Foundation is ‘Memorial, museum, smartphone: Transmitting Holocaust memory in a digital generation’. This research examines how structures of authority, place memory, and social solidarities change as a result of widespread digital technologies and social media.

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CIP Seminar in Inter-religious Relations continues online in the Easter Term of 2020/21, with talks by Professor Ayala Fader, Professor Niloofar Haeri and Professor Jackie Feldman.