Narratives beyond the Knife: Food Contexts as Converging and Diverging Zones in Christian-Muslim Encounters in Ethiopia

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Dokumentart: Dissertation
Date: 2015-07
Language: English
Faculty: 6 Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Department: Empirische Kulturwissenschaft
Advisor: Johler, Reinhard (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2015-07-08
DDC Classifikation: 300 - Social sciences, sociology and anthropology
Keywords: Äthiopien
Other Keywords:
food taboo
License: Publishing license including print on demand
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Abstract This study attempts to answer questions related to the role of culinary and dietary discursive practices in the process of religious identity formations and thereby of interreligious encounters. Particularly it explores the Muslim-Christian encounters in Ethiopia in food contexts such as at wedding feasts. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and Ethiopian Muslims have a unique encounter in some socio-cultural settings that involve food/eating because of a peculiar religious food taboo of avoiding meat slaughtered by people of the other faith. This custom, which has been practiced for many centuries, has been disapproved by some as “prejudice”, “a sign of mutual aversion”, and “a barrier” in their relations. It thus seems to be in continuous battle equally against sectarian and secular pressures. The overall system built around it, however, merits investigation to understand the dynamics of the micro-level Christian-Muslim encounters in Ethiopia. The study has thus adopted several theoretical approaches in order to explore the virtues of this custom and its implication for contemporary pluralist and multi-confessional societies. It has employed semiotic analysis, narrative analysis, speech act theory, affect theory, and critical discourse analysis, to mention but a few. As a cultural studies should do, the research combined texts and “utterances of living speaking subjects”: analysis of religious texts and oral literature, and an empirical data generated through interview in an instrumental case study in Bahir Dar City. Although the taboo has been disregarded by some scholars on the basis of secular reasoning and by some sects on that of often-contentious scriptural verses, the current study argues that the taboo has the following functions and virtues: It has been a cause of reciprocal hospitality and of mutual understanding of culinary/dietary differences which would have made commensality or food fellowship between the religious-food-taboo-observant Orthodox Christians and Muslims very difficult. The taboo has thus resulted in a culture of food exchange that forges a community ethos marked by reciprocity and empathy. The study also maintains that, apart from its possible historical function as a “border maintaining device” between the two religions in Ethiopia, the custom built on this food taboo has until the present day been considered, among other things, as an index and epitome of managing religious-oriented differences. The study thus concludes that whether the taboo has a scriptural foundation or not, Orthodox Christians and Muslims in Ethiopia have transformed over centuries the difficulties in their food fellowship into creative food context that is marked by reciprocal hospitality and mutual understanding of (dietary/culinary) differences.

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