29 Aug Interview with Morgane Thonnart on working with the European Middle East Project
August 29, 2022
Morgane Thonnart is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religious Studies. Focusing on the production of religious humor, her research explores questions of representation, ethics, and religious authority through the comic discourse. As an IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellow, Thonnart worked this summer with the European Middle East Project, an NGO based in Brussels.
Who was your community partner, and what was your fellow-designed project?
My community partner was the nonprofit organization European Middle East Project (EuMEP). Combining the roles of analytical think-tank, advocacy NGO, and coordination hub, EuMEP specializes in promoting just, fact-based, and effective European and international policies on the conflict in Israel-Palestine. Based in Brussels, the nonprofit organization develops policies toward both sides of the conflict based on the respect for international law, equal human dignity, and the freedom and security of all Palestinians and Israelis. The organization puts analysis and advocacy at the center of its activities while working closely with various civil society organizations and experts across Israel, Palestine, Europe, and beyond.
For my fellow-designed project, I completed several research assignments to best support the organization’s future policy work. My main assignment pertained to the involvement of the United Nations in Israel and Palestine. My goal was to unpack the pervasive narrative of UN bias, which has prompted successive US administrations and some European states to advocate against UN resolutions. My research examined both the contemporary politics and historical ramifications of this narrative, relying on various archives.
What was the most exciting aspect of your work?
Being able to renew my commitment to community-engaged work and contribute to change in the political and public arenas. Today, the possibility of a lasting and viable resolution to the conflict is rapidly disintegrating. In fact, European and international inertia are partly leading to the rapid deterioration of the situation on the ground. Because no actor can afford inaction at this historical juncture, I felt the urgency to support the critical work of EuMEP in developing effective and just policy work to achieve viable and lasting peace in the region. Because the policymakers dealing with the conflict are subject to substantial dis- and misinformation, contributing rigorous and fact-checked research on the Israel-Palestine conflict was a core motivation.
How did your training as a Ph.D. student in Religious Studies prepare you for this work?
Academic training in Religious Studies in particular, and in the humanities in general, enables students to cultivate essential skills for community-based/engaged work. Beyond achieving new content expertise, I have developed rigorous research and adaptive communication skills throughout my academic journey. For example, I was prepared to engage with a wide range of data and archives, situate arguments in their historical context, critically trace and unpack the ideological ramifications of different narratives, and provide nuanced analyses in a format that addresses non-academic audiences. I would also like to stress how following a doctoral program equips us to carry out both long-term and ad hoc projects, as we develop the resources to be flexible, resilient, and autonomous in community-engaged work.
Do you have a sense of how this experience might impact your graduate career?
This project will transform my own humanities scholarship as I aspire to engage more in publicly facing work in and outside academia. This experience has inspired me to rethink my aspirations as a researcher in engaging different audiences and re-assessing the impact of my work in (non-academic) communities. As I continue teaching during my graduate career, I want to connect praxis, justice, and knowledge even more centrally in my pedagogical approach, and further stress the importance of critical thinking and analytical skills – which are essential to address important issues that are subject to considerable mis- and disinformation.
How has your participation in the Public Humanities Graduate Fellows Program shaped your interest in publicly engaged work?
My participation in the Public Humanities Graduate Fellows Program has been formative and transformative in the ways I approach (my) research and pedagogical practices in different spaces of engagement. Before pursuing my Ph.D., I worked in the nonprofit sector. Participating in the IHC program allowed me to work through a disconnect I had felt between my scholarship and my community-grounded work. As I complete my dissertation project, I aim to renew my commitment to community-engaged work and re-center my work on praxis, collaboration, and solidarity.
Click here to learn more about the IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellows Program.