The Challenge of Shared Life

In cooperation with Shaharit מכון שחרית

How to live together with people who are different from us is perhaps, fundamentally, the most burning political question in Israel at the start of the twenty-first century and a challenge that troubles many contemporary democracies. However, for scholars in the social sciences and humanities, how to live together is not only a concerning political issue but also a weighty research question that requires examination and renewed shaping of the theoretical and research toolbox available to them.

“The Challenge of Shared Life” cluster at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, a collaboration with the Shaharit Institute, undertakes to confront this task by means of a new examination of some of the common normative and analytical assumptions in contemporary critical research. These assumptions originated in the Euro-American global academic center and have become the obvious premise for scholars in Israel and other small countries on the global academic periphery.

This premise, which we call “the liberal grammar of critical discourse,” extols values of individualism, autonomy, and universal reason and morality, and views them as the sole authentic human choice. The liberal grammar has become the sole key to understanding the world and repairing it. In other words, Israel—like other countries on the academic periphery—has become the playground of Western, especially North American, theories, that is, a local site where theories that come from the academic center are applied.

In this state of affairs, the liberal grammar of critical study encounters a social reality replete with longstanding traditions, loyalties, group identities, and entrenched attitudes. This reality does not always fit into the classifications of liberal grammar, and consequently, in recent years we have witnessed the growing and deepening rift between academe and broad parts of the public.

“The Challenge of Living Together” cluster promotes a conscious process of liberating the research gaze from liberal grammar and from the Euro-American roadmap. The meaning of this process is not a negation of liberal values on the normative level or a rejection of the world of Western knowledge. Rather, the scholars in this theme view the process as a necessary step toward opening up an interpretive space that enables a broader reading of the social reality in Israel and in other places in the world where the liberal-progressive vision of a moral and political order is but one vision alongside other valid and meaningful ones.

The post-liberal view promotes inductive methodology, from the bottom up, which encourages curious and inquisitive listening to the voices of both liberal and nonliberal subjects. On the research level, the process proposed here makes it possible to produce new insights into the conditions that enable living together in a reality of profound variety, in which diverse players have totally different views regarding the desired social order. On the political level, this process opens new channels for thinking about the politics of relations, activism based on social learning, and thinking that is free of totalitarian utopias. Against a background of extreme processes of polarization, governmental instability, and the crumbling of social support institutions, the political space that may be revealed by means of the analytical process is more necessary today than ever before for stabilizing and strengthening democracy in Israel and worldwide.

The cluster aims to serve as an incubator for the development of innovative ideas from a pragmatic post-liberal approach, and to develop an innovative language, tools, and strategies for political and theoretical thought. The aim is to lay the foundations for social solutions that include varied approaches to morality and meaning rooted in the space in which we function. Out of an awareness of the growing rift in recent years between the academic realm and the public, and by means of the collaboration between the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and Shaharit Institutethe cluster acts both on the academic level and on the social level, developing, networking, and disseminating knowledge among broad and varied audiences. 

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