New Christian and New Jewish Discourses of Identity between Polemics and Apologetics: Rhetoric and Representation from the Late Middle Ages to the End of the Early Modern Period

research group

New Christian and New Jewish Discourses of Identity between Polemics and Apologetics

September 1, 2022 - June 30, 2023


Claude Stuczynski (Bar-Ilan University)
David Graizbord (University of Arizona)

The Research Group will be devoted to the multi-disciplinary study of how and why New Christians (Iberian Jewish converts to Christianity and their descendants who were living as Christians) as well as New Jews (New Christians who adopted normative Judaism, mostly in the Western Sephardi Diaspora) understood (1) their own identities, (2) Jewish and Christian identities in particular, and (3) identity in general. The group will approach these authors as simultaneous targets and creators of polemical and apologetic writings within a time span covering the end of the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

The research will pay special attention to the historical generation, content, and contexts of narratives belonging to various (sometimes intersecting) genres, as well as their influence as unique genres. The researchers will especially analyze these narratives as their creators addressed questions of self- and communal identification—its nature, formation, boundaries, and manifold functions. All discussions will pay attention to the construction of the narratives as reactions to anti-Jewish and anti-converso argumentation, or, depending on the case, as spontaneous initiatives to argue for Judaism against Christianity and/or to support the “Men of the Nation,” also known as the “nação” (Nation), a group comprising New Christians and New Jews. This will be a unique occasion to bring together scholars from the fields of Iberian studies (Spain, Portugal and the Iberian colonies) and Jewish studies, medievalists and early-modernists, historians and literary scholars, to map, contextualize and understand polemical and apologetic discourses and explore their impact in framing New Christian and New Jewish identities.

By comparing the New Christian or converso phenomenon to the New Jewish or Western Sephardi experience through this particular prism, we invite comparisons: both to understand the specific contexts and idiosyncratic discursive configurations and also to identify overlapping continuities and analogies between the New Christian and the New Jewish “condition.” In other words, we believe that this will be an innovative way to better understand what it meant to be a member of the Iberian/Sephardi “Hebrew nation (nação)”.