SOC 396R • Sociology of Jews and Judaism
6:00 PM-9:00 PM
Jewish communities are identifiable over a long sweep of history in a large array of places, East and West. Bound by fealty to core texts, linked together in loose transnational associations, aspiring to eventual return to Zion from the unstable periphery of their host societies, Jews represent a unique population for sociological study, at once historical, diachronic, and cross-cultural.
The primary goal of this course is to map key features of Jews' diverse historical experience - and their reading of it - onto social theory. Following Weber's foundational Ancient Judaism, one of whose premises is that Judaism anchors all monotheistic religions, the course will primarily focus on what is now known as Orthodox Judaism. What are its key features? What does an orthodox Jewish life look like? How have Jewish orthodoxies changed over time? How, in other words, can Orthodox Judaism be understood and explained sociologically?
Implicit in these types of questions is an absence of specific geographic focus. That is, the course will not explicitly focus on American, Israeli, or any other spatially-specific branch of Judaism or Jews. Rather, it will wander between communities that we, and the historical record in general, are more familiar with, while also visiting those on the periphery, whether long dead (Kaifeng), dying (Cochin), recently rediscovered (Ethiopia), or entirely new (Bayudia). It is in these differences between communities - from the most to the least fertile, from the most centrally located to the most peripheral - that we will seek analytic leverage for understanding Jewish experience.
A second goal of this course is to provide an introduction to a certain type of comparative historical thought that lies at the heart of sociology. A group's socio-historical experience can be understood on numerous analytic levels and through varied analytic frames. Examples in this course will include: the micro-sociology of Jewish knowledge and of the Jewish mind; the structural roots of Jewish cultural expression (political, cultural, scientific) including revolutionary and other non-normative behavior (whence Jewish pirates, gangsters, and why); the politics of identity and the recent resurgence of Jewish physical expression (body and land); Jewish religious economies and survival; Perception of Jews, Jews' self-perception, and the Panopticon; Jewish social structures (Rabbis to malshinim/moysarim and beyond); reform, false messiahs and the creation and fragmentation of rabbinical authority. Understanding of each of these cases is enriched by applying different sociological frame.
Final grade will be based primarily on a final paper 80%
Contributions in class 20%
This is a heavy reading course (50-200 pages per week). Students will be expected to complete readings before each class meeting and to bring them to class. Classes will be run seminar-style, with class time devoted to discussion of the assigned texts and broader issues arising from them.