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My Woolf Memories

Published July 21, 2020 by Pınar Zararsız

When I decided to do my internship and doctoral research abroad with the thought that it would be helpful for my education and academic career, I could not have imagined coming to a place like the Woolf Institute. I had a great opportunity that allowed for the intersection of my path in an academic centre related to religious and cultural studies while also enjoying the academically and historically rich city of Cambridge. I would like to extend my thanks to all researchers and staff of the Woolf Institute for their kind support and encouragement before I mention my experience in the Institute and Cambridge. The Woolf Institute offered a pleasant, instructive and inspiring environment where I was able to work from October 2019 to March 2020.

Moving to a completely different country away from the land where I was born and raised was not a new experience (I studied in the United States for my Master’s degree), but of course I had the excitement and anxiety that each new journey brings with it. At the Institute, I encountered an unexpectedly warm atmosphere. During the orientation day held in the first week, Dr Emma Harris, who I will always remember for her compassion and motivational approach, gave me useful information about Cambridge and England which made my transition into the role much easier.

In addition to its highly successful and equipped staff, I had the opportunity to work in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation with researchers from different cities and countries in the Research Hub. During Michaelmas and Lent Terms, I had the opportunity to attend Middle Eastern Studies: Muslim-Jewish Relations courses for graduate students at the Institute. Aside from weekly readings and presentations, I had the chance to see the Taylor-Schechter Cairo Genizah Collection, accompanied by Dr Esther Miriam Wagner, an expert in the Genizah, at Cambridge University Library. I was intrigued by the pictures and writings in the Cairo Genizah Collection, the world's largest and most important collection of Medieval Jewish manuscripts. I then began working on these pictures at Dr Wagner's suggestion. I took on the curation of an exhibition which included the selection of pictures in the collection. The exhibition is planned to open at the Institute in September 2020 and aims to shed light on Jewish painting traditions from the 14th century to the 19th century. In addition, by working as an assistant curator for the Churches as Spaces of Encounter and Challenge exhibition curated by Dr Tobias Müller, I gained important experience for my art history career and upcoming exhibition work with the paintings from the Genizah Collection.

I was able to observe academic diversity and creative ideas by participating in activities such as book launches, conferences, and seminars held at the Institute. In addition, I had the chance to meet experts from different disciplines by participating in projects organised in the never-ending event calendar. I also enjoyed listening to the presentations of researchers from different disciplines related to various religions and cultures, from music to architecture, from Jerusalem to Istanbul, on the Annual Research Day in November 2019.

It was also a different experience for me to take part in a two-day panel organised by the Nisa-Nashim Group, which was established by Muslim and Jewish women living in the UK to come together against Islamophobia and Antisemitism. I had the opportunity to listen to the life stories and concerns of Muslim and Jewish women in England while visiting the new Cambridge Central Mosque, the first environmentally friendly mosque in Europe. It was very impressive to listen to the interesting stories from the women of Nisa-Nashim.

The Woolf Institute holds a staff team meeting every Monday at 10:00AM, attended by directors, employees and researchers. At the meeting, weekly plans, project phases and task sharing for the programmes to be carried out throughout the week are made so that the Institute provides a disciplined working environment in unity.

During my internship experience at the Institute, besides engaging in various opportunities for my own academic work and personal development, I accumulated unforgettable memories and friendships. My short impressions from my adventurous journey taught me how important it is to respect and enjoy the company of people from different beliefs, backgrounds and cultures. That's all for now, but I am hoping to return to this vibrant environment again soon!

Pınar Zararsız is a PhD student in the History of Philosophy Department at the Faculty of Theology, Bursa Uludağ University, Turkey. She is also a Research Assistant in the same department and works as an Assistant Editor for İlahiyat Studies: A Journal On Islamic And Religious Studies. Previously, Pınar joined the Woolf Institute as a researcher and trainee.

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