Lihi Ben Shitrit: Preventing Self-Identity from Interfering with Research

  • Hannah Ebanks
| Spring 2019

Lihi Ben Shitrit was conducting ethnographic research in Hebron, Palestine when she found herself being photographed by tourists—not because she looked out of place, but because she blended in with the Jewish settlers she was interviewing. She wondered if she would be identified as “a militant settler in Hebron.”

Born and raised in Israel, Ben Shitrit describes “identity” experiences like this as “powerful and good” because they compelled her to ensure that her own beliefs not interfere with her research. During two years of fieldwork in Israel and the West Bank, she focused on the Jewish settler movement, the ultra-Orthodox Shas, the Islamic Movement in Israel, and the Palestinian Hamas. Her resulting book was Righteous Transgressions: Women’s Activism on the Israeli and Palestinian Religious Right. 

“Women are doing 60 to 70 percent of the work” in their respective conservative movements, from protesting to occupying leadership positions, Ben Shitrit says. The label she uses to describe this behavior is “frames of exception” where it is considered acceptable for women to step out of their traditional roles because of the “exceptional circumstances” of the time.

A challenge for Ben Shitrit has been preventing her self-identity as a feminist scholar from interfering with her research on women who are activists in movements that promote highly conservative and patriarchal gender ideologies.

In order to be more receptive to what the women are saying, she developed a method called “acting as if.” The challenge, she says, is “to be able to listen, to be able to hear, to be able to maybe even understand women who are, in fact, my political opponents.” The goal of her research is to highlight these under-recognized women by discovering how they contribute to a movement’s success.

As a Middle East Initiative Research Fellow at the Belfer Center, Ben Shitrit is currently researching the relationships among gender, religion, and sacred spaces like Temple Mount/Al-Haram al-Sharif and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Ebanks, Hannah. "Lihi Ben Shitrit: Preventing Self-Identity from Interfering with Research." Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Spring 2019). 

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