Introduction to Jewish Civilization: History and Identity


Understanding Jewish civilization in a broad sense, this course offers a selective survey of Jewish communities and their cultural productions from antiquity to the present. Methodologically, it draws on a variety of academic disciplines including history, religious, and cultural studies. We will start with the ancient Israelites and the Hebrew Bible, and then move on to Second Temple Judaism; the classical rabbis and their literature; and the Jewish communities in the premodern Muslim world and Christendom. More than a third of the semester will be dedicated to the Jewish experience in modern Europe, the US, and Israel. We will get to know some of the major literary works that Jews produced and studied and learn to understand them as both expressions of Jewish identity and responses to specific historical circumstances. At the same time, this course aims to highlight the historical diversity of Jewish identities, in both their Ashkenazi and Sephardi varieties. We will ask when Jews were agents in their own right rather than mere victims of persecution, and how they actively engaged with other ethnic, religious, and social groups. This course is open to students of varying interests, including Jewish, Islamic, or Religious Studies; medieval and early modern history; European or Middle Eastern literatures. Prior study or knowledge of Judaism is not a prerequisite for taking this course.
Course Attributes: EN H; BU Eth; BU IS; AS HUM; FA HUM; AR HUM

Section 01

Introduction to Jewish Civilization: History and Identity
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