Courses at Oberlin College
This course will explore the relationship between Judaism and the category of “religion.” Focusing on the U.S. context, we will explore the privileged political and social status of “religion,” its limits in describing non-Protestant groups, and diverse approaches to its description. Topics will include Jews and “religious freedom”; the emergence of Jewish denominations and the role of the synagogue; the multiplicity and creativity of Jewish identity and practice; and the sacralization of “secular” Jewish culture and politics.
This course explores the relationship between select outsider religions – Native Americans, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, and new religious movements – and the American state from the beginnings of the nation until the present day. In a country that is premised on the separation of church and state but that also includes diverse religious communities, the place of religion in public life and of the government’s role in regulating and defining religion have long been contested. What do church-state relations look like if we focus on groups outside of the Protestant mainstream? What are the scope and limits of “religious freedom”? In this course, students explore these questions in relationship to immigration, education, national security, first amendment jurisprudence, and more.
The desire to seek spiritual fulfillment in a far-away place is a hallmark of many religious traditions, including Judaism. In this course we will trace the ancient and medieval roots of pilgrimage and various Jewish pilgrimage practices that have emerged in the modern period, in Israel as well as in Europe, North Africa, and the United States. Together, we will ask, what has motivated Jewish travelers? Have they found what they were looking for? How have their travels shaped – and been shaped by – the histories of their places of origin and of destination? How do we distinguish between pilgrimage and travel?
This course is an introduction to Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture, focusing on the question of where? By centering the spaces and places that Jews have constructed and inhabited – from synagogues to coffeehouses, from Jerusalem to Ohio – we will foreground questions of power, adaptation, and difference, within Jewish communities and in Jews’ interactions with their varied neighbors across history. What makes a space or place “Jewish”? How has Judaism changed depending on its setting? Through the examination of diverse primary and secondary sources, we will see how “sacredness,” “promisedness,” and “Jewishness” are all complicated and contested.
The relationship between “religion” and “America” has long been subject to political, religious, and scholarly debate. This course will enter into this discussion, exploringdiverse activities, attitudes, and communities understood to be religious and their varied relationships to the material and political conditions of what is now the United States. Topics will include the religious roots of – and religious reactions to – colonialism, imperialism, racism, capitalism, the Cold War, and the Internet age.
Jewish Studies Courses
This course will trace the history of the Jews from ancient times through the early modern period (circa 1650). Students will explore Jewish interactions with their various rulers and neighbors, with a focus on how social, economic, and political contexts shaped the development of Jewish religion and culture. Historical thinking, including the analysis of primary sources, will be emphasized.
This course will explore diverse expressions of Jewish life and thought in the modern period, from roughly 1700 to the present. We will encounter a wide range of Jews, from the humble and ordinary to the very powerful and influential in order to understand who the Jews are and how they have contributed to and been transformed by the forces of modernity, including the nation-state, global capitalism, war, and migration. We will explore how Jews came to understand themselves politically and religiously in a range of times and places. You will first and foremost learn some of the key themes and events of modern Jewish history. You will also acquire tools of critical thinking, reading, and writing by engaging with diverse sources and participating in active discussion.
This course will introduce students to the history and diversity of Jewish texts, beliefs, and practices. In Part I of the course, we will move chronologically, using primary sources to explore how God and community were understood in various geographical and historical contexts. Part II will proceed thematically, exploring case studies in some central components of Jewish life. Each session will feature primary sources from multiple periods in order to explore the dynamics of continuity and change. Students will learn tools of the academic study of religion, including historical thinking, critical analysis of a range of primary sources, comparison, and the interrogation of categories.
This course explores the history of Jews in the southern United States from colonial times until the present. Students will learn about Jews’ economic, social, and cultural activities, using them as a case study to explore intersections between race and religion in the region. We will explore some of the key events of southern Jewish history, seeking to understand how Jews have confounded, complicated, and conformed to the region’s “peculiar” norms and categories.
The United States has been praised as a nation of immigrants, and is among the most religiously diverse countries in the world. At the same time, both anti-immigration sentiment and religious bigotry have been persistent themes in American history. This course will explore intersections of immigration and religion from the nineteenth century to the present day. We will discuss how religion has affected American perceptions of and policies toward immigrants, how immigrant religious communities have adapted to the American environment, and how second-generation Americans have represented their religious communities in literature and film.
This course explores the relationship between outsider religions and the American state from the beginnings of the nation until the present day. In a country that is premised on the separation of church and state but that also includes diverse religious groups, the place of religion in public life and of the government’s role in regulating and defining religion have long been contested. What do church-state relations look like if we focus on groups outside of the Protestant mainstream? What are the scope and limits of “religious freedom”? In this course, we will explore how these questions are worked out in the realms of immigration, education, national security, first amendment jurisprudence, and more, focusing on Jews, Muslims, and other case studies. You will come away with the ability to engage with scholarship in the fields of history and religious studies and to connect it to contemporary public policy issues through discussion and in writing.
Courses in Programs Outside of Jewish Studies
Between 1800 and 1899 the new American nation grew, diversified, and transformed economically and politically. This led to a range of new practices and arrangements related to gender, religion, and commerce. This course will explore nineteenth-century histories of sexuality, commodities, and performance – in order to understand the cultural politics of America’s first full century. Doing so will raise questions about what was “normal” and “American” in the nineteenth century and shed light on those questions in the present day.
Becoming American, College of Charleston Honors College, Fall 2016 (co-taught with with Matthew Cressler)
What is America? What does it mean to be “American”? How does one “become” American? These questions rest at the heart of some of the most popular and provocative debates in the history of the United States, questions ultimately about what binds a nation together and what defines the boundaries of citizenship. In Becoming American, faculty and students will engage these questions from the vantage point of three particular communities. African Americans, Catholics, and Jews have each been characterized as outsiders at various points in American history. And yet, at other moments, each have been heralded as the epitome of the American Dream. This course will situate this seeming paradox in historical and cultural context. Faculty and students will explore these questions through close engagement of a variety of primary sources, ranging from memoirs to court cases. Students will become familiar with significant scholarly work in the fields of African American Studies, American Studies, History, Jewish Studies, Political Science, Religious Studies, and Sociology. Moreover, this course asks students to think through the consequences of these questions for our contemporary moment. Becoming American will be taught in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaigns and our opening questions – which revolve around issues of race, religion, immigration, citizenship, and national belonging – will undoubtedly be debated on the national stage. In collaboration with faculty, students will present and facilitate discussion on how a contemporary source relates to the themes of the course.
Everything happens somewhere. This freshman seminar will analyze those “somewheres” within American religious history, from churches to prisons, mosques to museums. We will read theoretical and historical texts, using particular controversies in order to understand how diverse religious spaces have been shaped by political conflict and how space has been significant to discussions of religion in American public life. Using Judaism as a case study, we will explore: Where does religion happen? What is (and is not) a religious space? How have religious practice and identity in the United States been shaped by their settings? How do spaces reflect religious and moral ideas and distinctions? Students will develop skills of critical analysis, learning to apply the theoretical frameworks of the course to a variety of contemporary examples.