NC Jewish Studies Seminar


The NC Jewish Studies Seminar offers a stimulating and exciting forum for academic engagement on Jewish history, culture, and religion.  Since its inception in 2001 under the name Duke-UNC Jewish Studies Seminar, the seminar has brought together faculty, graduate students, and internationally renowned scholars to discuss cutting edge work in Jewish Studies.  Meetings are held monthly, and papers are distributed in advance for all to read. The Seminar is a collaborative partnership of Duke, NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest, with participants coming from universities and colleges across North Carolina.  Closely coordinated with the NCSU and UNC-Chapel Hill public lecture series in Jewish Studies, the seminar enriches the scholarly climate in the area and strengthens the Jewish Studies programs in the local universities. To read an example of a past seminar, see this blog post from scholar and novelist David Halperin, which also includes video of panelists.

Fall 2017- Spring 2017 Seminar Dates and Speakers:
(Unless otherwise noted, all seminars will meet on Fridays over lunch from 12:15-2:15PM on Duke’s East Campus. Contact for parking for those coming from outside of Duke. Duke faculty and students are encouraged to use the East-West campus bus.)

Friday, September 15, 2017: Carr 229

Joshua Friedman (Duke University): 'Traditional Ambiguities: Yiddish, Religiosity and the Secular in the American Jewish Identity Industry'

Joshua Friedman is a Perilman Postdoctoral Fellow at the Duke University Center for Jewish Studies. He is a cultural anthropologist with an ethnographic focus on the American Jewish non-profit sector. His general research interests deal with postindustrial transformations to American economic life, and their effects on the politics, practices and boundaries of ethnoreligious communities in the United States. In his dissertation “Yiddish Returns: language, intergenerational gifts, and Jewish devotion” he explores an analytically provocative but heretofore overlooked relationship between culture, religion and economy: the impact of wealth concentration among American financial elites on the practices of Yiddish language activists and culture producers in the United States.

Abstract: Yiddish Farm is a space of competing traditions. Located in Goshen, New York, the organization brings together secular and frum (pious) Jews within an immersive, halokhe (Jewish law)- observant environment. This religious breadth stems from two factors: Yiddish Farm’s background as a nonprofit, Jewish identity program targeting mostly 20-30 something American Jews, and its goal of building connections between secular Yiddish activists and native Yiddish-speaking Hasidim. These dynamics have yielded a space that affords participants opportunities to link Yiddish discursive practices and religious discursive practices in ambiguous, ambivalent and emergent ways. Indeed, at Yiddish Farm, ambiguity has itself become a Jewish practice, one that often underwrites people’s practices of Jewish self-making and Yiddish Farm’s activist agenda of Yiddish community- building.

Friday, October 20, 2017: Friedl 225

Zvi Ben Dor Benite (NYU): 'Where is the East: Asia and the Orient in Early Mizrahi Thought'

Zvi Ben Dor Benite is Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Network Faculty Planning and Professor in the Department of History and the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Faculty of Arts & Science, teaching courses on Asian history during and after the Mongol period and on Islam in the World. Specializing in Chinese and Islamic History, his research centers on the interaction between religions in world history and cultural exchanges across space and time. He is the author of The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late Imperial China (Harvard, 2005); The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History (Oxford, 2009); and more recently, an edited volume on Middle Eastern Jewish Thought (Brandeis, 2013); an edited volume on Sovereignty (forthcoming with Columbia University Press); and a monograph entitled Crescent China: Islam and Nation after Empire (forthcoming with Oxford).

Abstract: This paper offers a critique of the quest for “Orientaless” (mizrahiyut) in contemporary Israeli political discourse. It offers a a different approach to the question and instead of chasing the answer for “what is the orient,” it asks “where is the orient.” The paper demonstrates the changing nature of the “where” question through looking at a number of early Mizrahi thinkers, from 1893 to 1963.

Sunday, November 5, 2017. 4:00-6:00PM, John Hope Franklin Center Rm 240
The John Hope Franklin Center is located at 2204 Erwin Rd, Durham NC 27708. Free parking is available on Sunday in the Pickens Building Lot (next to Duke Family Medicine) across Trent Drive from the John Hope Franklin Center. No reservation needed; visit the JHFC contact page to view maps.

Paula Fredriksen (Boston University): 'How Jewish is God? Divine Ethnicity in Paul’s Theology'

Paula Fredriksen is the Aurelio Professor of Scripture emerita at Boston University and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. A graduate of Wellesley College (1973), Oxford University (1974) and Princeton University (1979), she has published widely on the social and intellectual history of ancient Christianity, and on pagan-Jewish-Christian relations in the Graeco-Roman world. The author of Augustine on Romans (Scholars Press 1982) and the award-winning From Jesus to Christ (Yale Governors’ Award for Best Book, 1988; 2000), she has also published Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (Knopf 1999), which won a 1999 National Jewish Book Award. Together with Adele Reinhartz, she contributed to and edited Jesus, Judaism, and Christian Anti-Judaism: Reading the New Testament after the Holocaust (Westminster/John Knox 2002), and has also edited and contributed to a collection of essays about Mel Gibson’s controversial film, On ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (University of California Press 2005). In Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism (Doubleday 2008; Yale 2010), Fredriksen traced the development of Christian anti-Judaism and explored Augustine’s singular response to it. Her most recent work investigates the ways that ideas about God, humanity, and the world shift and grow during the charged period between Jesus and Augustine in Sin: The Early History of an Idea (Princeton 2012).

Abstract: Land, language, family connection, gods: these were the prime markers of ancient ethnicity, both for pagans and for Jews. Ethnicity, like divinity, was a category that spanned heaven and earth: gods and their humans formed family groups, and gods often shared in the ethnicity of the peoples who worshiped them. In this regard, the Jewish god was no exception. What was exceptional was the Jewish god’s claims to cross-ethnic supremacy: at the end of days, the gods of the nations as well as their peoples would acknowledge Israel’s god alone. Paul gospel to ta ethnē (“the nations”) coheres completely with this Jewish eschatological paradigm; and the Jewish identity of Paul’s god illumines essential aspects of Paul’s language of gentile hagiasmos (“separateness, sanctification”) and huiothesia (“adoption as sons”).

Friday, December 1: Friedl 225

Guy Ben Porat (Brown): 'Secular, Secularized and Illiberal? Paradoxes of Israeli Democracy'

Guy Ben-Porat is an associate professor at the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University and an Israel Institute Visiting Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. He is the author of Between State and Synagogue, the Secularization of Contemporary Israel (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and Global Liberalism, Local Populism; Peace and Conflict in Israel/Palestine and Northern Ireland (Syracuse University Press). His new book (co-written) is on police and minorities (Cambridge University Press).

Abstract: The scholarly debate of religiosity and secularism in Israel has either engaged with ideological/theological questions or with formal political processes of elections and legislation. This work offers a different perception and interpretation of secularization that looks beyond openly-declared ideological secularism and its related struggles against the Orthodox monopoly in the political arena. The disaggregation of the concept of secularization opens up the new possibilities for research of both the declining role of religion in society vis-à-vis other systems (political and economic) and the role of religion in individual lives (beliefs, practices and values). The four issues studied in the book – civil marriage, civil burial, sale of pork and commerce on the Sabbath – demonstrate dramatic changes that occurred in the last three decades. These changes, as the study demonstrates, are at most partially attributed to a secular ideology and to an organized secular struggle. Consequently, secularization, measured in declining religious authority remains largely separate from secularism and a liberal ethos of equality and freedom.

Friday, February 16, 2018:

Beth Holmgren (Duke): 'The Country of Warsaw for Acculturated Jews, 1918-1939'

Beth Holmgren is Professor of Russian and Polish Cultures in Duke University’s Slavic and Eurasian Studies Department. Recent books include Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America (Indiana, 2012), which won four national awards, and Americans Experience Russia: Encountering the Enigma, 1917 to the Present, edited with Choi Chatterjee (Routledge, 2013). She is currently working on two books, one a co-edited volume with Yana Hashamova and Mark Lipovetsky, Transgressive Women in Modern Russian and East European Cultures: From the Bad to the Blasphemous, the other a monograph, How the Cabaret Went to War, about the experience and influence of acculturated Jewish cabaret artists attached to the Polish II Corps during World War II.

Friday, March 23, 2018: Friedl 225

Nathan Kurz (Birkbeck, University of London): 'Retreat from Humanity: Jewish Internationalism and Human Rights after the Holocaust'

Dr. Nathan Kurz currently holds a post-doctoral fellowship from the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe at the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism, Birkbeck College, University of London. His most recent publications are “In the Shadow of Versailles: Jewish Minority Rights at the 1946 Paris Peace Conference,” Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook 15 (2017) and “Jewish Memory and the Human Right to Petition, 1933-1953,” in The Institution of International Order: From the League of Nations to the United Nations, Simon Jackson and Alanna O’Malley, eds. (Routledge, 2017).

Abstract: Why, in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, did an array of Jewish organizations and lawyers take up the cause of international human rights? How robust were these commitments, and what would cause them to retreat gradually from the premise that the best protection for Jewish rights in the diaspora was the defense of universal human rights?

In this paper, which draws from the introduction to the author’s book manuscript, Dr. Nathan Kurz unpacks these questions in two ways, first by putting this activism in the larger context of Jewish internationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, and second by illuminating the complex forces driving the retreat that, contrary to popular belief, were often unrelated to Zionism and Israel. The joining of Jewish internationalism to human rights was borne of a deep historic conjuncture in which the rights of Jews in non-Westernized, autocratic, socialist or quasi-democratic regimes had been linked to the defense of other minorities and the enshrinement of liberal principles like the rule of law and freedom of religion. Its decoupling pre-dated Israel’s transformation into an occupying power in the wake of the 1967 war and stemmed from multiple sources, including human rights’ overemphasis on individuals at the expense of groups, a growing frustration with the sluggishness of the United Nations human rights efforts, the potential for backlash unleashed by the Arab refugee problem, and lingering Holocaust trauma that discouraged attempts to liberalize the legal, political or economic context of Jewish life in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Sunday, April 8, 2018. 3:00-5:00PM

Giacomo Todeschini: 'Jews, economic metaphors and the healthy body politic (15th-16th c.)'

Sunday, April 15, 2018. 3:00-5:00PM

Elisheva Carlebach (Columbia): Record Keeping: An Early Modern Jewish Community and its Practices

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