Skip to main content

Secondary navigation:

Past Events

the guestbook project

Facing the Stranger in Divided Cities

1) In 2010-2011 Guestbook organised an Exchanging Narratives project in cooperation with the Nerve Center in Derry/Londonderry. This took the form of an educational experiment in a city of Northern Ireland where 90 percent of schools are still organized along denominational lines, each denomination being aligned with an opposing political tradition. Two schools (Protestant/Unionist and Catholic/Nationalist) were invited to engage in a process of 'Exchanging Narratives’, with the respective students retelling a set of stories from both their own and the other's perspective. Three kinds of narrative were proposed: a) The reworking of a Celtic myth from the ancient Ulster Cycle which preceded all community divisions. The two classrooms were invited to retell this old Irish saga according to their different cultural imaginations and then 'exchange' their versions with the other community. (b) Students were given the option of studying a major historical narrative traditionally interpreted in opposing ways by the polarised communities: the Rising of 1916, the Battle of the Boyne, the Walls of Derry. c) Third, students were asked to imagine a fictional situation in the future where their cultural and religious divisions might be overcome. This comprised a utopian, aspirational story in which ‘strangers could become guests and enemies friends’. The wager was that encouraging Catholic youths to rework inherited narratives - myths, histories, stories - from a Protestant point of view and Protestant youths to do the same from a Catholic point of view might encourage reciprocity, comprehension and healing. Of central importance was the role of 'empathic imagination' as a way of 'hosting' the Other - the adversary across the street. Part of this experiment in narrative exchange across urban divisions was recorded and documented by Nerve Centre, an organization directed by Martin Melarkey and John Peto drawing from both Protestant and Catholic student groups. It was filmed in 2010, screened at the PEN International Festival in New York on May I, 2011 and posted on the BC Guestbook Website. The posting of this video along with similar Guestbook documentaries from different divided communities in other parts of the world (Mitrovica, Bangalore, Jerusalem, Dokdo) had the following aims: 1) to encourage further creative collaboration across boundaries in  polarised communities; 2) to facilitate interactive exchanges on a continuing basis thereby embracing a national and  transnational process of multilateral understanding.

2) In May 2010, Guestbook collaborated with the Beyond Divided Cities Conference in Mitrovica, Kosovo, to produce an ‘Exchanging Narratives’ documentary. The video, entitled ‘Young People of Serbia and Bosnia  Speak out’, was directed by James and Petra Taylor and co-produced by Richard Kearney and Padraig O’Malley, the organizer of Beyond the Divided Cities Conference. The peace summit took place on May 22 and 23 in the contentious territory of Kosovo. The river Ibar splits the town of Mitrovica into northern and southern regions, with the north inhabited by Serbs and the south by ethnic Albanians. Each of the ethnic minorities has held its own municipal elections, which have resulted in Mitrovica having two mayors and city councils, neither of which recognizes the authority of the other. This ethic division and ensuing tension is involved at the state level, as well, with Serbia refusing to recognize the independence of Kosovo. The representatives from the two sides of the city established some important agreements during a 2009’ Beyond Divided Cities’ Conference in Boston, but the violence in Mitrovica continued even as the two municipalities were collaborating to organize this second conference. Guestbook representatives James and Petra Taylor directed the filming of the peace summit proceedings, documenting the actual dialogue process and the political agreements established. Then they conducted interviews with each of the participants individually. These interviews focused primarily on the question of hospitality, of what hospitality means to these politically engaged participants and on how it is possible in places strained by ethnic conflict. The interviews were recorded and edited as part of the Taylor’s documentary screened at PEN International Festival in New York (The Cervantes Cultural Centre, May I,  2011) and subsequently posted on the Guestbook website as a tool to furthering discussion and gaining a better understanding of what it means to be hospitable to the stranger and “enemy.”

   The Mitrovica documentary films the first phase of a larger project to bring divided Balkan cities and communities together to share and celebrate different perspectives and narratives, and to facilitate reconciliation through interreligious and intercultural dialogue. As Guestbook’s European directors, James and Petra Taylor hope to follow up the 2010 Mitrovica conference and documentary with two further projects in the Balkans. 1) an exchange between two students from the opposed Serb and Croatian narratives of war in the context of the ‘Exchanging Stories in Divided Communities Prize’ (2014-2015). 2) A cross- cultural arts festival that will feature musicians and visual artists from Balkan countries suffering from religious and political conflicts. This festival will bring these countries together not by fusing them into one homogenous group, as did the former Yugoslavia, but by providing a creative and hospitable space for the exchange and celebration of the differences that make each culture unique. Guestbook will work with TMS Music Shop—a reputable Croatian music store and cultural hub around which influential local artists and musicians gather from all over the Southern Slavic lands—to bring together those local musicians who are interested in promoting peace and reconciliation through their music. These bands and musicians will include established popular bands like Parni Valjak and up and coming young bands like TBF, as well as artists already working across borders such as Bosnian/Croatian rapper Edo Majka. The visual art exchange will be facilitated by Zlatko Kopljar, a prominent local performance artist with ties to the larger artistic community in the Balkans. This culture and arts festival would be one among a number of similar Guestbook festivals that would take place in conflicted or divided cities or countries throughout the world, i.e. Derry/Londonderry, Jerusalem, and others. While each individual festival will focus on local artists and audiences it will also include artists and participants from the other host locations.

3) ‘Jerusalem: Across the Divide’ was a third Guestbook documentary on the theme of  Narrative Exchange,  screened at the PEN International Festival (New York, 2011) and posted on the Guestbook website. The video was co-produced by Guestbook assistant director, Sarit Larry, and Artsbridge International, and featured both Israeli and Palestinian students.  The students exchanged views on the different religious narratives of each of the three communities of faith which call the city their own. It also looked into the way in which these narratives relate to conflicting histories and aspirations of the two nations that claim it, the aim being to create a space of empathic and imaginative exchange. The conversations filmed were part of an Artsbridge project to teach Israeli and Palestinian youth skills in communication and conflict resolution through art, creative vision, dialogue and leadership training. Following a unique, three-week intensive, Artsbridge students return to their region and take on the responsibility of mentoring younger students in community based programs. These students are infused with a dialogical sense of the “other”, and empowered to play their part in shaping a more peaceful future.

4) ‘Facing the Other in Divided Cities in South Asia’ (Bangalore, India). South Asia is witnessing some of the most traumatic experiences of conflict between people from different communities, whether they are based on religion, language or ethnicity. Hindus versus Muslims and Hindus vs Christians in India, Muslims vs Muslims and Muslims vs Christians in Pakistan, Tamils vs Singhalese in Sri Lanka and so on. Hundreds of people die each year from these conflicts. The cultural and psychological divide between communities increases each time a violent incident occurs. This project, held in Bangalore, will bring together people from different cities in South Asia: Delhi, Mumbai, Karachi, Lahore, Colombo, Jaffna, Dhaka and Kathmandu. The goal will be to set in motion dialogues and discussions that heal and reconcile. This will include presentation of peace initiatives and conflict resolution and transformation strategies; papers by theologians from Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Buddhist backgrounds; building a South Asian peace network that can dialogue with governments and civil society organisations to prevent conflicts, resolve them quickly when they happen, and promote reconciliation strategies that heal. A central goal of the Bangalore project is to include youth communities and students from both sides of the Hindu-Muslim divide to engage in an exchange of narratives in different arts and media. This, as with the other Divided Cities projects, will involve the making of a documentary on these cross- community interactions and the posting of these documentaries on the international Guestbook website for on-going dialogue. The Bangalore Guestbook event will conclude with an all-night South Asian music festival for peace in these divided cities. These events will be co-directed by Siddartha and Sheila Gallagher and will take place at Fireflies inter-religious ashram, Bangalore, India.

   Guestbook has already produced two documentaries as preparation for this Bangalore Festival. The first is entitled, ‘Bangalore: Reconciling Strangers - A Peace Conference’, directed by Guestbook co-director, Sheila Gallagher of Boston College and by Siddartha of the Fireflies International centre for Political, Religious and Cultural Reconciliation in Bangalore. The Documentary, featuring a meeting held in June 1, 2010 with representatives of the five wisdom traditions of India, was Screened at an interreligious conference at Boston College in April 2011 and posted on the Guestbook website in 2011).

 A second conference documentary, ‘Hosting the Stranger: Bangalore’ was co-produced by Alina Feld and Joshy Para 2014).

Other Guestbook Project projects and documentaries include the following events:

1)    May 28, 2010, Skellig Islands/Beara, Ireland. The Guestbook Project (Richard Kearney, Fanny Howe, Noirin Ni Riain, Eoin O'Suillabhain, James Corballis ) co-organized an Interreligious Hospitality ceremony on Skellig Michael Island, off the south Irish coast and one of the oldest monastic sites in Ireland dating back to the sixth century. The performance featured an interreligious hospitality ceremony between Dzhigan Rinpoche of Nepal and Abbot Gregory Collins of Glenstal Abbey and Jerusalem. The event was hosted by the Dzogchen Buddhist community in Beara, West Cork, Ireland, who welcomed representatives of different religious denominations. The event was filmed and posted on the Guestbook website under the title  ‘Skelligs: Crossing Thresholds at the Edge of the World’.

2)    ‘Dokdo or Takeshima: Between Islands’, a Guestbook documentary filmed by Chris Chung and co-produced with Sheila Gallagher, Boston College (2012)

3)    Nov 19, 2013 ‘Exchanging Narratives Across the Divide’ project at the ‘Teaching Divided Histories’ International Conference, Derry-Londonderry. Presentation by Richard Kearney. 
Screening of Guestbook documentary, ‘Dotdo’ by Peter Chung and Sheila Gallagher. Responses by John Peto, Emma McDermott and Martin Melarkey

4)    ‘Us-Mexico Border: Under a Strange Sun’,  Guestbook documentary made by Clay Venetis, Boston College, screened at the ‘Narrative Exchange Seminar’(Boston College/Georgetown) in November, 2011 and posted on the Guestbook website.

5)    Sept 17, 2013. ‘Balkans Peace Project’. Guestbook and the European Centre for Peace Studies Project, with Richard Kearney, Padraig O’Malley and Petra Belkovic, Gorden College, Ma, USA,

6)    June 21, 2013 ‘Guestbook and Celtic Christianity’, Richard Kearney, Sheila Gallagher, Noirin Ni Rian and Patrick Hederman, Glenstal Abbey, Limerick, Ireland

7)    May 2013 ‘The Risk of Hospitality’, Lecture presentation of Guestbook Project at ‘The Hospitality Summit’ Conference, Oakland University, Michigan, USA

8)     October 11, 2011 Boston College-Georgetown-Derry. Interactive conversation between students at Boston College, Georgetown and Derry on the subject of 'Narrative Exchange and Empathy'. 
This international website discussion was preceded by the screening of the three recent Guestbook documentaries on 'Facing the Stranger in Divided Cities: Derry, Jerusalem, Mitrovica.'

9)    July 2009. ‘Glenstal: Rites of Hospitality’. Guestbook documentary directed by Eoin O’Suilabhain and James Corballis, of an Interreligious experiment in Hospitality held in Glenstal Abbey, Limerick, Ireland. The ceremony was co-produced by Abbot Patrck Hederman, Noirin Ni Rian, Fanny Howe and Richard Kearney. The documentary was screened at a number of international interreligious conferences and is posted on the Guesbook project website.