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The 2015 annual BAJS conference will take place at the University of Manchester, 6-7 July 2015. The proposed theme is ‘Atheism, Scepticism and Challenges to Monotheism’.

Jews from across a wide spectrum of perspectives have wrestled with the questions posed by atheism and scepticism down through the centuries. Since, arguably, atheism is not recognised in the Hebrew Bible, the related theme of ‘challenges to Jewish monotheism’ is suggested with regard to the ancient world. Philosophical scepticism and atheism (in both theory and practice) raise questions for Jews about the nature of authority, modes of enquiry and textual analysis, intellectual exchange with non-Jewish culture (including polemics), and shifting conceptions of heresy, nonconformity, and irreligion. What is the relationship in the Jewish imagination between atheism and scepticism? What are the limits of scepticism in rabbinic thought and methodology? What does it mean to be an atheistic Jew? How have Jews engaged with historical-critical and scientific discourse? There have been many different Jewish responses to such questions, ranging from stout defences of monotheistic Judaism, to radical reformulations of Jewish religion, to theological resignation and apostasy, to the establishment of alternative universalist systems of thought by ostensibly non-Jewish Jews. These responses, which include the varieties of Jewish religion but also non-religious ways of being Jewish, appear in many different forms including philosophical, theological, sociological, psychological, legal, mystical, and literary genres.

We welcome contributions from all periods and regions, whether narrowly focused or broadly contextual, synthetic or analytical. The intention of this interdisciplinary conference is to encourage contributions on any issues relating to the engagement of Jews with atheistic and sceptical worldviews for the purpose of understanding Jewish culture and history. The conference will provide a forum for the exploration of these questions both from within Jewish Studies but also from contributors who have not previously been involved in BAJS. The expectation is that the conference will result in an edited collection of essays on this theme.

Contact: daniel.langton@manchester.ac.uk

‘Auschwitz has become a site of memory with a future, and it has thus become another tourist site with all the required amenities, a “must” on any itinerary.’ (Sicher, Breaking Crystal: 21)

Formerly locations of abject horror, the concentration camps have arguably been transformed into tourist hotspots, available as part of package deals complete with tour guides, audio-guide headsets, and pertinent photo opportunities. The concentration camps might have remained stationary in a physical or geographical sense, but their topography has not maintained its horrific essence, and their cultural meaning has shifted substantially. The diachronic shift of the last seventy years has thus – perhaps -facilitated a usurpation of the camps, which have come to be experienced simultaneously as loci of remembrance and profanations against memory.

The concentration camps are experienced temporally and spatially: you can physically go to the camps and you can learn of the camps from the pages of history. Notwithstanding, neither historical nor spatial distancing suffices in order to assuage the horror. Primo Levi suggested that at the moment of the horror, one could not conceive it at its full magnitude; he argued that the victim ‘felt overwhelmed by an enormous edifice of violence and menace but could not form for himself a representation of it because his eyes were fastened to the ground by every single minute’s needs’ (The Drowned and the Saved: 6). Levi’s concern at the time was that the Lagers did not provide a good ‘observation post’ (6) from which to fully comprehend the true scope of the catastrophe therein. The question now, is whether in addition to the perspective gained from spatial distance, we might have gained perspective through temporal lapse; if so, what kind of new and different perspectives has this distance provided? The seventy year milestone allows us to engage with these questions, inviting, perhaps, objective – or, more objective – perspectives on these questions.

In a Lefebvrian sense, space is socially constructed and the concentration camps are a particularly apt example. We would like to invite not only papers that explore the topography of the camps – from historical, sociological, and artistic perspectives – but also papers that examine the camps’ topology. Utilising a topological methodology in relation to the camps may facilitate some fascinating approaches: for instance, notions of continuity and (dis)connectedness; the manner in which boundaries are experienced and delineated in the camps; and the proximity to neighbouring populations that can be read both literally and metaphorically.

Within the discussion of the Holocaust, the concentration camps hold a pivotal position: as the sites of mass destruction, and the culmination of the Nazi enterprise, the camps are the embodiment of Nazi cruelty and efficiency. This multidisciplinary conference will explore representations of the camps in literature and art in an attempt to discern the lessons and legacies of the Holocaust more broadly; historical accounts and sociological perspectives may also yield further insight into the role of the concentration camps in the perception of the Holocaust at large. This conference invites papers that explore the unresolved questions that the concentration camps pose within political, historical, and cultural discourses.

In addition to the main issue of the conference, we are also interested in papers that explore the following:

  • Representations of concentration camps in art and literature
  • Cultural Representations of Nazi persecution
  • The Jewish Shoah
  • Lessons and legacies of the Holocaust
  • Historical accounts
  • Sociological perspectives (e.g., gender roles in the concentration camps)
  • The ethics of representation
  • Perpetrator perspectives
  • Geographical and topological explorations of the concentration camps
  • Morality at and after Auschwitz
  • Trauma and Survivors’ Narratives

 

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Professor Sue Vice (University of Sheffield)

Professor Nikolaus Wachsmann (Birkbeck University)

Dr Maurizio Cinquegrani (University of Kent)

 

The conference will be held at the Jewish Museum in London 6-8 January 2015. Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words to Vered Weiss and Jo Pettitt at tracingtopographies@kent.ac.uk by 29 August 2014.                                    

Johannes Pfefferkorn and the dispersion of his texts

The beginning of the sixteenth century saw the arrival of a new genre of polemical writing about Jews and Judaism, viz. ethnographical books that aimed at providing their readers with revealing knowledge about Jews, their rituals, and their customs. Among the most prominent of these writers was the Moravian Jew, Johannes Pfefferkorn (c. 1469–1523), a converted Jew who joined forces with the Dominicans in Cologne to publish a series of books and pamphlets that attacked the Jews’ way of life. His aim was to draw the Jews “into the light” and expose their anti-Christian behaviour. Furthermore, he called for the destruction of Jewish books, a stance that brought him into direct conflict with the humanist Johann Reuchlin. Pfefferkorn’s works were soon translated into other German and Scandinavian languages as well as Latin, and thus rapidly spread to areas that remained unaffected by the local conflicts and debates in Cologne. Furthermore, Pfefferkorn’s publications about the religion of his birth did not remain the only example of writings by converts that shaped images of Jews in the early modern era.

Aim of the conference

The conference aims to draw together scholars of medieval and early modern ethnographical writing about Jews and of Jewish-Christian relations as well as to offer a forum for discussion and methodological innovation. Areas of interest might include:

  • Pfefferkorn and early modern antisemitism
  • Elements of Pfefferkorn’s enterprise and their broader history
  • The ethnographical aspect of Pfefferkorn’s works and the emergence of critical research on Jewish texts and rituals
  • The various versions and translations of Pfefferkorn’s works
  • Other sixteenth-century converts who write about Jews, such as Victor von Carben, Anthonius Margaritha, Ernst Ferdinand Hess, and Paulus Staffelsteiner

Keynote Speakers

Yaacov Deutsch ([Head of] History Department, David Yellin College, and History Department, Hebrew University), author of Judaism in Christian Eyes: Ethnographic Descriptions of Jews and Judaism in Early Modern Europe (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Participation

The conference organisers welcome submissions from scholars working in all disciplines and all areas of late medieval and early modern culture and Jewish-Christian relations. The conference seeks to offer a meeting ground for established scholars as well as younger researchers. Please send a title and a short abstract (about 200 words) to the organisers Cordelia Heß (cordelia.hess@historia.su.se) and Jonathan Adams (jonathan.adams@nordiska.uu.se) before 1 October 2014.

Conference Theme

The dramatic modern processes of secularization, urbanization and immigration have made Jewish traditions an object of nostalgia, rejection, national pride, and ethnographic research, or various mixtures of these attitudes and practices. From the days of the Haskala movement to today, playwrights, theatre and film directors and other artists have been fascinated by Jewish history, folklore, rituals and tropes. Focusing on Eastern European Jewish culture, but without excluding other Jewish traditions, this conference aims to ask: How are lost or disappearing traditions being staged and re-imagined? What happens when past events and practices return as constructed memories, fantasies or gestures? How do specific art media shape these cultural translations?

In today’s highly departmentalized world, film, theatre, performance and literature are rarely studied together. The conference aims to discuss these various media together, focusing on their common tendency to display, re-imagine and perform what may belong to the past but still haunts the present, and to bring into dialogue scholars of various cultures (Yiddish, Hebrew, German, and Polish) to examine Jewish culture in the broader contexts of European and American culture, in order to facilitate an interdisciplinary discussion not limited to the field of Jewish Studies.

Time and place

Monday-Tuesday, 26-27 January 2015,Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Clarendon Institute Building, Oxford

Travel and accommodation

Travel expenses for speakers will be reimbursed up to certain limits (depending on location). Accommodation in Oxford will be provided to conference participants for the duration of the conference.

Proposals

Researchers from all knowledge areas are invited to submit a proposal for their papers. Please send an abstract of 300-500 words together with a short CV to Zehavit Stern: zehavit.stern@orinst.ox.ac.uk no later than October 1st. Please include your contact information and specify the location from which you would be traveling to the conference. All proposals are subject to a review process.

Funded by the European Research Council (ERC)

Hosted by the Dpt. of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University

With keynotes from Hans Belting, Lindsay Jones, Christian Lange, Birgit Meyer, and Leigh Eric Schmidt

“The aesthetics of crossing: experiencing the beyond in Abrahamic traditions” is a three-day, interdisciplinary, international conference dedicated to studying the manifold ways in which the body experiences and, at times, traverses the perceived divide between the sacred and the profane. Because religious boundaries are not necessarily registered or crossed by the body in its entirety but by one or a number of its senses, the conference is structured around the body’s senses, including the inner, more incorporeal ones such as the faculty of the imagination. The conference seeks: (a) to produce insights, drawn from the study of primary body-related data (texts, images, objects, practices, etc.), into how the body is the vehicle and agent of religious boundary-crossing; (b) to examine how such conceptualizations and uses of the body are both affirmed and contested within religious and secular traditions; and (c) to locate the study of the body and its boundary-crossing potential in the recent disciplinary and political transformations in the study of religion across the Humanities.

“The aesthetics of crossing: experiencing the beyond in Abrahamic traditions” marks the end of a series of scholarly consultations organized within the framework of HHIT (“The here and the hereafter in Islamic traditions”), a four-year research project funded by the European Research Council and hosted at Utrecht University (http://hhit.wp.hum.uu.nl/). HHIT has been primarily invested in studying Muslim cosmologies and imaginaries, seeking to trace and locate the various boundaries, often unstable and permeable, that divide this world from the otherworld in a variety of Islamic religious discourses and practices. This conference seeks to broaden the work of HHIT in several directions, and to stimulate discussion across disciplines such as Islamic Studies, Religious Studies, Anthropology, Literature, History of Art, and others.

Paper proposals (< 500 words) are solicited in the following areas, as outlined in the full CfP at this link:

http://tinyurl.com/kj6qc2t

For further information, please contact the conference organizers, Christian Lange (Utrecht University) and Simon O’Meara (SOAS, London), at aestheticsofcrossing[at]gmail.com

Neighbours: Relations between Jews and non-Jews throughout History

In 2001, Polish-American historian Jan T. Gross published a controversial monograph entitled Neighbours in which he described the destruction of the Jewish community in the Polish city of Jedwabne at the hands of the local Polish population. The term neighbour became synonymous with the suffering of the Jews at the hands of the non-Jewish locals. Relations between Jews and non-Jews throughout history are often depicted as full of prejudice, mistrust, violence, pogroms and murder. Authors often debate the impossibility of a beneficial multicultural and multiethnic coexistence between the Jewish and non-Jewish locals. They also conjecture that it was this impossibility of coexistence that ultimately led to the collapse of the European Jewish world in the twentieth century, but also to the subsequent complicated establishment of the Jews in other parts of the world. However, looking at the history of the Jewish people all over the world, we also need to consider the benefits of the coexistence between the Jews and other people. The moments of crisis were often followed by centuries of peaceful coexistence, where interactions between communities led to political, cultural and spiritual developments and improvements. The Jews and their neighbours maintained close relations, influenced each other and created bonds that beneficially shaped the lives of both communities throughout the centuries.

Since antiquity the Jews have lived side by side with other peoples. With the geographic dispersion of the Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple and their gradual settlement in Europe, Asia, Africa and later in the ‘New World’, the interactions between the Jews and other communities invariably increased. The purpose of the conference is to convene scholars who are involved in academic research of Jewish/non-Jewish (however defined) relations throughout the centuries. We intend to offer a multifaceted perspective on the lives of the Jews and their rich interactions with their neighbours all over the world.

We welcome papers that address the issue of Jewish coexistence with other peoples from diverse perspectives, including:

  • Interactions between the Jews and non-Jews throughout centuries
  • Ancient Israel and its neighbours
  • Cultural and spiritual interactions between the Jews and other communities
  • Influence of other communities on Jewish languages
  • Impact of Jews and Judaism on other communities
  • Impact of other communities on Jews and Judaism
  • Judaism and other religious communities
  • Jewish communities and their neighbours in the modern era
  • Modern Israel and its neighbours
  • Violence in Jewish history
  • Representation of Jews and their neighbours in film and literature
  • Proposals for special sessions (roundtables, film screenings or discussions of new book releases) will also be considered.

 Papers on other topics will be considered but preference will be given to those bearing directly on the conference theme.

Please submit your paper proposal by 1 September 2014 to Dr Jan Láníček via email J.Lanicek@unsw.edu.au. The Subject of the message should be ‘AAJS UNSW 2015 Proposal’ (All applicants will be informed about the decision by 31 October 2014).

Submissions must include the following:

  • Applicant’s full name and institutional affiliation
  • Postal and email address
  • Abstract of the paper to be presented (no more than 250 words)
  • Short biographical note (no more than 50 words).

AAJS encourages students engaged in academic research to submit proposals based on their work to the conference committee. Authors should clearly indicate their student status on their submission.

Presenters are also invited to submit written articles for consideration for publication in the Australian Journal for Jewish Studies.

Communication about the conference should be sent electronically to Dr Jan Láníček, email: J.Lanicek@unsw.edu.au

Conference Committee

  • Dr Jan Láníček, Conference Convener
  • Dr Michael Abrahams-Sprod, AAJS President
  • Professor Suzanne Rutland OAM
  • Michael Misrachi
  • Dr Avril Alba
  • Dr Myer Samra
  • Dr Miriam Munz
  • Neta Steigrad
  • Anna Rosenbaum
  • Professor Ghil‘ad Zuckermann

As this Conference addresses a small community of scholars, it is imperative that we all support the Association. Thus, it is a requirement that all presenters at this conference must have paid the conference registration fee, which includes the AAJS membership for 2014, by 10 January 2015. Visit www.aajs.org.au for details.

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