Religious and Social Meanings of the Holy Land

BY CLAIRE HUITT, Class of 2017

SMU-in-Israel is a 10 day Ways of Knowing study abroad course that covers meanings of the Holy Land through the fields of archaeological and religious studies.

Claire Huitt was a student on the J-Term study abroad trip in 2017. Here are her thoughts on her experience in Jerusalem:


Greater Jerusalem
As we entered the city, winding up and down hills, through narrow streets – some dimly some brightly lit – I felt as if I were truly absorbing the feeling of Jerusalem, a city alive with its own pluralistic identity. At night the streets of the mall lit up. We stopped for coffees and crepes and wound our way through this beautiful market. Music echoed off the shop walls and wound its way around the strung lights. Some of the shops we recognized, others new and unfamiliar. It was truly beautiful.

The Old City

I sat with my friend Patricia in white plastic chairs, watching and trying to understand. Of course, I wanted to touch the wall–I wanted to take pictures and be able to tell everyone at home about my experience at the Western Wall. She kept saying, “go touch it,” but as women backed away, bowing shallowly, clutching their books, keeping their eyes forward, I felt as if I were looking through glass – I was worlds away from what those women were experiencing. 


Standing on top of Haram Al-Sharif, my experience was extremely sensory. The colors, the textures, and the quiet, all spoke such volumes on the deep spirituality of the site itself, as if all in the Islamic faith were somehow tied to this place – but this is not a site of singular faith. Pluralistic as it is, it is by no means a shared space – rather it is a site of deep seeded contention. As we exited the Muslim quarter and I pulled the scarf from around my head I did not remove that feeling of duplicity – the feeling, the experience is one that has given me a deeper, greater understanding of the conflict in Israel.

Jerusalem’s religious importance encompasses three faiths, and it has become an international place of pilgrimage on behalf of each of these religions. Simply put, Jerusalem was built as a city of identity. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are tethered to the land itself. 


This is the feeling of Jerusalem.

Find out more about SMU-in-Israel


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