Dissertation Abstracts

National Identities Versus Cultural Identities: Beta Israel Community

Author: Yohannes, Abrham G/M, abrhamyohannes30@yahoo.com
Department: Sociology
University: Bielefeld University, Germany
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Andreas Vasilache
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: National Identities , Cultural Identities , Beta Israel Community , Transnationalisem
Areas of Research: Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations , Social Classes and Social Movements , Migration


This study will focus on the structure of national and cultural identities of the ‘Beta-Israel’ community, especially among people over the age of forty who lived in Ethiopia at least until the age of twenty, and then left for Israel. Beta Israel, ‘The Flashes’ or Ethiopian Jews, are a community of people practicing a form of pre-Talmudic Judaism distinct from the religious practices of the larger Jewish world; this community has lived in Ethiopia for millennia. Scholars believe that they have been living in Ethiopia earlier than the Ethiopian Axum dynasty of the fourth century. Most of the beta Israel communities are found in the mountainous highlands of Gondar region, north of Lake Tana in Begemdir, in the Wollo and Tigre provinces. This relatively small community lived in an area surrounded by traditional, dominant, ethio-semitic language speakers and the orthodox Christian society in Ethiopia. Since the 198os, they have also been found in modern, white, dominant, Semitic language speaker and Jewish society in Israel. In other words, they are simultaneously distinct from Ethiopian Christians and united with Ethiopian Christians, just as they practice a religion that is both distinct and similar to Western Judaism. This comparative study of the same community in two different settings will particularly shed light on the social and economic problems of the community faced in Israel.

The thesis aims to describe the following four aspects. First, it describes the beta Israel community’s national identities with respect to social identity theory, self-categorization theory, and segmented assimilation theories in both communities. Second, the cultural identities of the beta Israel community from the concepts of heritage cultural practices, enculturation, ethnic identity, and feminism will be described. Third, this study examines the impact of the dominant society (Ethiopian and Israeli) over the process of identity-construction in the community. And fourth, the research will attempt to describe the salient variables in the construction of beta Israel identities and the divergences, convergence of the national and cultural identities of the community.
The data will be collected in a manner that provides insight into individual as well as collectivistic attitudes of national and cultural identities of the community. In addition to semi-structured interviews with approximately one hundred beta Israeli, this study's data will draw on 14 months of participant observation method in Ethiopia as well as Israel. The study will target people over the age of forty. Even though the research will be conducted in English, the data collection will be carried out in Amharic and Tigrigna languages since the whole subject group and the researcher speaks these languages.

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