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Modern Jewish Mysticism: Devotion in a Secular Age (RELIGST 165)

Requirements: 
WAY-A-II, WAY-ED
125
Subject: 
JEWISHST

The twentieth-century was a time of tremendous upheaval and unspeakable tragedy for the Jewish communities of Europe. But the past hundred years were also a period of great renewal for Jewish spirituality, a renaissance that has continued into the present day. Beginning with the writings of the Safed Renaissance, the Sabbateanism, and the Hasidic masters, our course will focus on key thinkers in the 19th and 20th centuries, including: Hillel Zeitlin, Martin Buber, Abraham Isaac Kook, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Arthur Green. Drawing upon essays, homilies, and poems, we will examine the ways in which their works re-cast and reinterpret the Jewish tradition in answer to the singular questions and challenges modernity. We will mark the development of their thinking against the two World Wars, the Holocaust, and the complex and multi-faceted processes of secularization. We will also consider the theological project of modern Jewish mystics in dialogue with modern Jewish philosophers (such as Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, and Emmanuel Levinas) as well as modern philosophers and scholars informed by Christianity (from William James to Charles Taylor). This course argues that the processes of sacralization, of reclaiming a life of mystical devotion, are best understood as a unique response to Jewish modernity rather than a retreat to past modalities of religion. In seeking to prove this point, we will explore writers whose work emerged in and engaged with different social and cultural domains. We will investigate their writings with an eye to issues such as power and identity, and will draw upon their works in charting the intersection of mysticism, literature, language and experience. Throughout our readings, we will keep our eye on the sustained impact of feminism on Jewish mysticism in the second half of the twentieth century. This course is structured as a seminar, and our class discussions will be rooted in the primary sources. It assumes no prior background of Judaism or any other religious traditions. All readings will be made available in English.

Course ID: 
219 300
Grading: 
Letter (ABCD/NP)