Baptism in the Jordan River

As the boundary of the Holy Land and the site of the baptism of Jesus Christ, the Jordan River is the most important river in Christianity. For centuries, pilgrims have travelled long distances to immerse themselves in this holy water and despite its relatively small size, the image of the “mighty” Jordan came to dominate popular imaginations.

Over the past century, however, the Jordan has fallen victim to the ongoing regional conflict and suffered severe environmental degradation. Once a meandering river full of rapids and cascades, the Jordan has been extensively developed, with dams, diversion canals and large-scale irrigation projects. As a result, flow has been reduced to about a tenth of the historic value and water quality has sharply deteriorated, with raw sewage and agricultural run-off polluting the remaining water.

Yet despite the river’s changed physical state, the Jordan’s mythical status and its association with defining moments of Jewish and Christian history continue to dominate collective imaginations in the religious realm, with nearly a million annual visitors at the three baptism sites in Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.

As part of a research project in 2013, Francesca examined various aspects of the disconnect between the physical river and its spiritual counterpart and looked at efforts to restore the Jordan River and raise awareness of the degradation of this holy river.

Articles and conference papers
- 'Baptized in the Jordan: Restoring a Holy River', Origins, vol. 7, issue 12 - September 2014

- ‘Baptism in the Jordan River: Immersing in a Contested Transboundary Watercourse', WIRES Water, 1: 219-227. DOI: 10.1002/wat2.1013.

- Perceptions of the Jordan River: Source of Holy Water or Sewage Drain? 8th IWHA conference, Montpellier, France, 26-28 June 2013.

Water in Islam and Judaism

In the period 2003-2005, Francesca’s explored the role of water in Islam and Judaism, exploring the similarities and differences in the use and perception of water in both religions. Research focused on the role of water in the scriptures, on the concept of purity in Islam and Judaism, and on the concept of holy water.

Articles and conference papers
- 'Bathing in Divine Waters, Water and Purity in Judaism and Islam'. In: A History of Water, Series 2, Vol. 4. Tvedt, T. & Oestigaard, T. (eds.) I.B. Tauris, London.

- 'The Nature of Holy Water: The Role of Purity in Judaism, Christianity and Islam'.IHOPE Workshop, Human Environmental Pathway in Asia. Akita Prefecture, Japan, 24-28 March 2007.

- 'The Nature of Holy Water: The Role of Purity in Judaism, Christianity and Islam'. 35th World Congress of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations. Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris, France, 5-8 July 2006.

- 'The Hammam and the Mikvah: Physical and Spiritual Purity in Islam and Judaism". 4th IWHA conference, Paris, France, 1-4 December 2005.

- 'Water: a Gift from God'. Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Kibbutz Ketura, Israel, 11 March 2004.