In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong

 

This is the second reading in our series – Readings that Matter. This series is adapted from a set of readings that Acumen’s Fellows and staff discuss on a regular basis as part of our leadership training and development.

“A person’s identity … is like a pattern drawn on a tightly stretched parchment. Touch just one part of it, just one allegiance, and the whole person will react, the whole drum will sound.”

It’s easy to understand why Amin Maalouf, the Lebanese-born French author of In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong, calls identity a “false friend.”  Throughout history, most large-scale acts of violence — whether the genocides, the Holocaust, or wars — have been committed in the name of identity: one tribe against another, one religion against another, one nation against another.

As Maria Popova aptly observes, “All violence requires an Other as its target, and the shifting boundaries of our own identity are what contours that otherness.” It is only through exploration of how we understand our own identities that we can unpack where our sense of “other” comes from: how it is constructed, and how it can be pulled apart to create more productive dialogue and deeper mutual understanding. These questions are increasingly relevant at a time when terrorism, extremism, mass shootings and protests proliferate, while our capacity to discuss and understand such events can feel stagnant.

In this course, you’ll have a chance to join a global conversation about Maalouf’s writings and larger questions of identity in light of current events.  You’ll receive a discussion kit complete with a downloadable version of the text, a step-by-step facilitator’s guide and background materials that will equip you to host a small group of friends or colleagues in a 2-hour discussion of the first five chapters of Maalouf’s book. The course will also give you tools to reflect on your own identity and think about it in relation to the larger historical and cultural factors that Maalouf lays out.

One of the most important takeaways from Maalouf’s book is that our identities are multi-faceted, evolving, and resist easy definitions. To that end, we do not propose that this course and group discussion will bring you to any resolution regarding your own identity, or any clear understanding about why so many commit acts of violence and aggression in the name of identity.  Yet, as Maalouf himself says, “that shouldn’t prevent us from observing, from trying to understand, from discussing, and sometimes suggesting a subject for reflection.”

Maalouf’s “In the Name of Identity” does not offer easy answers.  Yet his writings serve as a powerful exploration of the multiple dimensions of identity, the roots of violence and tribalism, and the value of embracing multiple allegiances and affiliations.  Please join us in this important global conversation.

You'll Love This Course If

  • You enjoy close readings of texts and discussions of books
  • You are open to exploring your own identity and respectfully understanding the identities of others through conversation
  • You are eager to find a way to make sense of current events and productively move forward

How The Course Works

There are no in-person teachers or facilitators for this course. This 1-module course is akin to a book club. Its power comes from the group’s experience of the reading and discussion. We strongly encourage you take this course with a group, but you can also take it individually.

  • Get a group of people together.  We recommend starting with 3-5 people you know – your friends, family, classmates, or colleagues.
  • Have each person you invite sign up individually to receive the reading and discussion guide.
  • Your group session will work best if someone takes the lead as a facilitator.  We’ve made this easy by providing a full facilitator’s guide (including email templates to invite your friends) which will be emailed to you upon registration.
  • Set a date to meet in-person (recommended) or online.

To start, we suggest setting aside 1 hour to read the text and then 2 hours for your group’s discussion.  From past experience, if your group is larger it is more likely that you won’t get through the entire reading in that time. Because of this we have made the course materials available on demand so you don’t have to complete them in one sitting.

Frequently Asked Questions

WILL A CERTIFICATE BE AWARDED UPON COMPLETION OF THE COURSE?

We will provide a Statement of Accomplishment for individuals that complete all requirements. The requirements for this course include 1) going through the reading 2) completing a designated assignment.

IF I TAKE THIS COURSE IN A GROUP, DO MY GROUP MEMBERS NEED TO BE IN THE SAME LOCATION?

We recommend signing up with a group that is all physically located in the same place. Much of the value of this course derives from the in-person, peer-to-peer learning that happens between group members. With that said, we have had groups cover many of the group discussions over Skype or Google+ hangouts so it is possible to have a remote group.

Remember, all members of your group need to register for this course individually.

HOW MUCH TIME DO I NEED TO DEDICATE TO TAKE THIS COURSE?

This is an Acumen Short Course. You should be able to complete the whole thing in 4 hours. We have intentionally designed these courses to be shorter and manageable so that you can fit them into your busy schedule. There will still be hands on exercises and informative readings, but if you want a more intensive learning experience, you might want to check out Acumen’s longer courses.

WHAT IS THE IDEAL SIZE FOR MY GROUP?

We generally recommend a group of 3 to 5 individuals. If your group is too big, it can be more difficult to coordinate schedules and conduct discussion together.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TAKE THIS COURSE?

All +Acumen courses are free.

ARE THERE ANY PREREQUISITES FOR TAKING THIS COURSE?

This is an introductory course and there are no prerequisites.

WILL I NEED TO PURCHASE THE BOOK?

No, we will provide you with a downloadable copy of the first five chapters of the book that we have obtained with permission from the publisher to distribute.  Of course, if you would like to purchase the book so that you can read Maalouf’s work in its entirety, you are welcome to do so.

MORE QUESTIONS?

Please contact course@plusacumen.org

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