>The Tenure of Nadia Abu el-Haj

>Emmet Trueman, the writer of a blog called Solomonia, called my attention to the controversy surrounding the tenure appointment of Nadia Abu el-Haj at Columbia University.

Abu el-Haj is the author of Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, a very controversial book that deals with archaeology in Israel. In her book, Abu el-Haj considers Israel to be an illegitimate, “colonial settler” enterprise.

Abu el-Haj wrote in her book that “what was considered to have been ancient Jewish national existence and sovereignty in their homeland” is “a tale best understood as the modern nation’s origin myth transported into the realm of history.”

In his evaluation of Abu el-Haj’s book, Trueman wrote:

Although it may seen incredible that a book could commit a more flagrant violation of scholarly standards than to dismiss the vast body of archaeological and documentary evidence for the existence of the ancient Jewish and Israelite kingdoms, Abu El Haj manages to do so when she excuses the deliberate destruction of archaeological sites when it is done by Palestinians for political purposes. In Abu El Haj’s view, deliberately destroying ancient buildings is not to be condemned, it is to be “analyzed as a form of resistance to the Israeli state.”

The deliberate destruction of archaeological artifacts, “Needs to be understood in relation to a colonial-national history in which modern political rights have been substantiated in and expanded through the material signs of historic presence. In destroying the tomb, Palestinian demonstrators eradicated one’’fact on the ground.’”

An extensive and critical review of Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society was written by Alexander H. Joffe and published in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies 64 (2005) 297-304. Those interested in reading a scholarly review of Abu el-Haj’s book can read it here in a PDF format.

The issue of tenure in universities and seminaries is directly related to the issue of academic freedom. Academic freedom is concerned with free inquiry in the classroom. However, academic freedom does not obviate the requirements for responsible scholarship.

Professors should be free to discuss controversial issues in the classroom. However, when a professor writes on controversial issues, it becomes imperative that the professor does not violate standards set by an institution to guide the work of its professors.

Theological schools and universities have different criteria for granting tenure to their professors. In theological schools professors must teach within the parameters of a doctrinal statement. Faculty members are free to teach, carry on research, and publish in their area of competence. Faculty members in a theological school also represent their institution. For this reason, faculty members agree to subscribe to a doctrinal standard that will guide their work in and out of the classroom.

Faculty members in a state university are free from these limitations. In secular universities professors have the freedom to teach and write in their area of competence and they do so without harassment or limitations. Joffe’s review of Abu el-Haj’s book indicates that the book is biased, ill-informed, and without scholarly merit because she is writing outside of her area of competence. However, because of the university’s system of academic freedom, it is doubtful that Nadia Abu el-Haj will be denied tenure.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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2 Responses to >The Tenure of Nadia Abu el-Haj

  1. >Nadia Abu el-Haj and Yael Zerubavel ( http://eaazi.blogspot.com/2007/08/nadia-abu-el-haj-and-yael-zerubavel.html )Muzzling Scholars of Arabic Ancestry by Joachim Martillo (ThorsProvoni@aol.com) “Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition” by Yael Zerubavel discusses the construction of memory and the invention of traditions in Mandatory Palestine and in the State of Israel. The book describes some unusual Israeli or Zionist practices associated with Masada and Bar Kochba archeological excavations. Rather like Nadia Abu el Haj in “Facts on the Ground: Archeological Practice and Territorial Self-fashioning in Israel,” Zerubavel describes the use of archeology and other scholarship to construct Zionist national identity. Other scholars have investigated the political use of archeology in various contexts. Not only Max Weinreich and Eric Hobsbawm provide similar analysis in their published works, but “Constructing ‘Korean’ Origins: A Critical Review of Archaeology, Historiography, and Racial Myth in Korean State-Formation Theories” by Hyung Il Pai addresses precisely that same issues with regard to the development of Korean national consciousness. Even though Abu el Haj focuses more narrowly on professional archeologists whereas Zerubavel looks at Israeli society as a whole, both authors make similar points in their books, and Zerubavel provides support for some of the claims for which Nadia Abu el Haj has been most criticized. Zerubavel received the 1996 Salo Baron Prize of the American Academy for Jewish Research for her work while Nadia Abu el Haj is the target of an international campaign to drive her out of Columbia/Barnard. The difference in the responses evoked by the two authors merits a scholarly study in itself.


  2. Alec says:

    >She ought to work for al-Jazeera. She is more about propaganda and politics than research and scholarly writing. Sadly, Barnard standards have slipped and most prof’s DO get tenure simply because they can’t get anyone better.Best bet: Find yourself a better college to begin with.


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