Rise of Secular Jewish Culture
Jewishness has always involved more than religion. Jewish identity, even in the pre-modern world, was expressed through language, work, music, food, and other cultural behaviors. Modernity brought with it even more possibilities, and a sense of radically different political, cultural, and artistic Jewish identities beyond religion began to emerge. This interdisciplinary course draws upon history, literature, political philosophy, and sociology in tracing the rise of a pluralistic, multifaceted modern Jewish culture in Europe and the U.S. between the seventeenth century and the Second World War. We begin with Spinoza, the most significant "heretical." Jewish thinker in the 17th century, and continue through the European Enlightenment, the rise of modern Jewish nationalist movements, and the emergence of secular Yiddish and Hebrew literature. Finally, we will address the crisis of Jewish modernity provoked by the Holocaust, and briefly survey secular Jewish identities today.