Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation examines the Quakers' Ramallah Mission by focusing on the Friends Girls School, a case study of the interaction between Americans and Palestinians. It shows how both sides arrived at a "meeting ground" reflecting their shared values, such as a high regard for education and womanhood training skills. This encounter catalyzed a cross-cultural process in which both groups through a process of trial and error recognized their mutual interests and benefited from them. Neither of the two groups overwhelmed nor dominated the other during this interchange.
Two stages of interaction developed between 1889 and 1948, reflecting a process of change in missionary perceptions towards Palestinians and their culture. Before World War I, American Quakers viewed Palestinian women mostly through their own American womanhood ideals. These chauvinistic ideals constructed Arab women as inferior mothers and wives living in an oppressive backward culture. During the second stage (1920-1948) American missionaries changed their previous conceptions of Palestinian culture. Contributing to this altered vision was the cooperation policy among the different Protestant missions after World War 1 that established language programs to enhance missionary communication with the local population. This linguistic and cultural training, as well as the long period of interaction with Palestinians made Quaker women such as Mildred White, who served in the Mission for over three decades, advocate the "devolution" policy. This sea change called for a gradual transfer of the Mission's control to Palestinians. Another reason for this change in attitude was their sympathetic imagination of the "Holy Land," that attributed greater value to local customs as biblical cultural vestiges from Biblical times. Thus, the missionaries increasingly appreciated local food, clothing, and wedding customs. Indeed, they celebrated Arab women's hospitality as exemplifying the Virgin Mary's genteel habits.
In general, American teachers and their students respected, if not cherished one another. The Quaker teachers used the school as a key site of cross-pollination to introduce their religious beliefs as well as different aspects of the American culture. The Palestinian students emerged from this cultural convergence with an identity that was neither identical to nor totally removed from their missionary teachers or traditional Arab culture. They constructed a hybridity that served their emerging national society well.