July 29, 2020 at 9:50 am

Lybarger Authors New Book ‘Palestinian Chicago: Identity in Exile’

Loren Lybarger , portrait

Dr. Loren Lybarger

Dr. Loren Lybarger authored Palestinian Chicago: Identity in Exile, the first book to appear in the University of California’s new series, New Directions in Palestinian Studies.

Palestinian Chicago is available in paperback and as an open-access e-book. The New Directions series “publishes books that put Palestinians at the center of research projects and that make an innovative contribution to decolonizing and globalizing knowledge production about the Palestinians in and beyond Palestine,” according to the New Directions website, which notes that books are made available as affordable paperbacks or free on UC Press’s open access platform, Luminos.

“The CAS Humanities Research Fund helped support this open-access publishing option for my book. It also supported its indexing,” notes Lybarger, professor of Classics & World Religions at Ohio University.

Palestinian Chicago Identity in Exile book coverAbout the book: Chicago is home to one of the largest, most politically active Palestinian immigrant communities in the United States. For decades, secular nationalism held sway as the dominant political ideology, but since the 1990s its structures have weakened and Islamic institutions have gained strength. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and interview data, Palestinian Chicago charts the origins of these changes and the multiple effects they have had on identity across religious, political, class, gender, and generational lines. The perspectives that emerge through this rich ethnography challenge prevailing understandings of secularity and religion, offering critical insight into current debates about immigration and national belonging.

The online journal Jadaliyya did a Q&A with Lybarger about his new book in a story headlined “Loren D. Lybarger, Palestinian Chicago: Identity in Exile (New Texts Out Now).” The interview starts with Lybarger explaining the origins of his work and this new book:

I arrived in Chicago in 1993, right before the unveiling of the Oslo Memorandum of Understanding….

In the decade that followed, a profound shift in the community occurred. As they moved to the suburbs in large numbers, Palestinians drifted away from the secular-nationalist community centers in the old urban enclaves. At the same time, they began embracing a new Islamic orthopraxy as the framework of individual and collective identity in the community. Central to this process was the emergence of organizations like the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview and, in a very different way, the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) on Chicago’s South Side. At a fundraiser for a new social service organization, the Arab American Action Network, which formed at the same time as IMAN, I remember college-aged activists delaying Edward Said’s keynote by making a very public display of performing the maghrib prayer together. I recount this incident in Palestinian Chicago, describing it as a moment that caused me to wonder why this religious shift had happened, what it meant for Palestinian secularism, which had grounded nationalist activism in the community, and what its long-term impact would be. As I completed work on Identity and Religion in Palestine, I began to reflect back on these experiences in Chicago and, as I did so, started to conceive this second book that would trace similar issues in the diaspora.

Read the interview in Jadaliyya.


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