Sunday, May 23, 2010

Three new Judaic Studies courses on "The Other Within"

The Other Within is the title of a sequence of three new courses and co-curricular events we are introducing to the CAS Judaic Studies curriculum. These courses, which are open to students from all colleges and concentrations, look at the modern Jewish experience through the prism of the sociological category of "otherness."

The first of these courses, RN339 The Modern Jew, will be offered in the fall semester of 2010 and will be co-taught by Professors Abigail Gillman (MLCL) and Michael Zank (RN). The second course, offered by Prof. Zank in the spring of 2011, will focus on Judaism and politics, and the third course, offered by Professors Gillman and Seligman (CURA/RN) in the fall of 2011, will focus on heretical Jews and Judaism as heresy.

The courses, supported by external funding from the Center for Cultural Judaism, will be accompanied by co-curricular events such as concerts, discussion panels, and film screenings. The goal of this faculty-driven initiative is to broaden the current range of approaches to the study of Judaism and to stimulate student and faculty conversation on Jews and Judaism in various modern and contemporary contexts that go beyond media headlines and all-too-familiar, conventional assumptions.

For more information, see http://secularjudaismbu.blogspot.com or contact Katie Light (Program Assistant) at klight@bu.edu.

RN339 The Modern Jew
Explores modern Jewish experience of space, body, language, and the self as sites of the struggles over a secular identity. Part of a sequence on "The Other Within." Counts toward concentrations in Judaic Studies and Religion.

Overview. The course on the "modern Jew" introduces students to the conditions of modern Jewish life from the 17th-21st centuries in Europe, Israel and America, and to the range of responses (cultural, religious, organizational, educational, social, political etc.) and initiatives (individual, communal, institutional, intellectual, cultural, artistic, etc.) that have characterized modern Jewish life and set it apart, in many ways, from its predecessors. It sets the stage for two upcoming courses-"The Political Jew" and "The Heretical Jew"-and is designed to augment extant courses such as Modern Jewish Thought (RN 329), Jews in the Modern World (HI 223), and Modern Jewish Writing (RN 524).

Rather than follow a strictly chronological (historical) approach to modern Jewish life, or begin with broad philosophical and sociological categories (i.e. Enlightenment, acculturation), this course offers an experiential, intimate approach to the modern Jewish condition by way of five categories: space, body, language, subjectivity, and ethics. 

Outline of course content. Our inquiry begins by situating modern Jews in their diverse physical environments.Modern Jews traveled "out of the ghetto" and into the city; to the "East" (in the land of Israel) and the West (in the United States); how did they build social communities in these diverse milieux?This initial unit provides an overview of the themes and questions of the course as whole.

The focus of the second unit, "Jews and their Bodies," is the new self-consciousness about body and physical markers of Jewishness mandated by emancipation and integration; an important sub-topic is the symbolic feminization of the Jewish male in modernity. Jews who immigrated to the land of Israel likewise had to shirk their old-world bodies and become "new Hebrews" or sabras, but plastic surgery is still widely popular among Israelis, as among Jews throughout the world.

The third unit, "Jewish languages / Jewish voices," deals not only with the new roles of Hebrew and Yiddish in modern Jewish life, but also with the complex role of translation in mediating the Jewish experience for Christian society. Our fourth unit examines the articulation of selfhood through writing. We will read seminal works (and excerpts thereof) from the tradition of Jewish autobiography-a line that extends from Salomon Maimon's account of his abandonment of the shtetl (1793), to immigrant autobiographies of the mid 20th century and Holocaust memoirs, to the recent bestseller by Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness. 

The final unit moves outward from the domains of body, voice and subjectivity to pose the question of ethics: where do modern Jews find guidelines for ethical behavior in secular society?

Goals of the course sequence, "The Other Within." As noted, "The Modern Jew" will serve as the core course as well as the introductory course to a sequence of three interrelated upper-level undergraduate courses also open to graduate students. The overarching focus is Jewish secularization: the painful yet productive struggle for identity and integration into a secular (or ostensibly secular) world that has characterized modern Jewish existence. The Jew in modern society has often been dubbed "the Other" vis à vis modern society-the outsider, the victim, or the victim who has achieved retribution. Rather than look at the Jew as the other, we wish to explore the Jewish other - the other of the other, as it were. We are interested in uncovering representations of otherness internal to Jewish history. 

Our pedagogical goal is therefore to add a new idiom to our understanding of one of the prime markers of secularism (i.e. as pluralism) within Jewish civilization, one that will deepen our appreciation of its depths and subtleties.It is our hope that these interdisciplinary courses, offered in conjunction with a series of lectures, seminars, field trips, will encourage students, colleagues, and eventually the community at large to adopt a different perspective on Jewish culture.

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