Research Group

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Bernard McGinn

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University of Chicago
Bernard is a professor in the Divinity School in the University of Chicago.
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Jeremy Cohen

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Tel Aviv University
Jeremy is a professor in the Department of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University.

Millennial Pursuits - Apocalyptic Traditions and Expectations of the End among Medieval Jews and their Neighbors

[RG #83] Millennial Pursuits - Apocalyptic Traditions and Expectations of the End among Medieval Jews and their Neighbors

November 2000 - February 2001

Organizers:

Jeremy Cohen (Tel Aviv University)
Ora Limor (The Open University of Israel)

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Our group originated in the conviction that a community's expectations of the end constitute a vital sign -- perhaps one of its most potent agents of social change -- and that the continuing role of religious tradition in nourishing those beliefs warrants scholarly attention. We took our point of departure from the premise that the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam from late antiquity until the end of the Middle Ages affords a singularly instructive context for the study of eschatology and its socio-cultural significance. This period is proverbially known as the "age of faith" in the annals of Western and Mediterranean civilization, when membership in society was defined first and foremost by one's religious affiliation, and when the prophetic ideals pervading the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran undergirded virtually all expressions of cultural creativity. Talmudic and medieval Jews, perennially obsessed with their displacement in galut, diaspora, cultivated numerous permutations of the messianic idea as a basis for persevering in Christian and Muslim societies; as Gershom Scholem aptly noted, they lived their lives largely "in deferment", finding fulfillment in hope for the future rather than in the realities of the present.

Eschatological creativity, however, was not limited to an alienated Jewish minority. Apocalyptic literature and spirituality flowered in patristic and medieval Christianity, among the empowered and the orthodox who identified with the prevailing establishments, as well as among the disenchanted who could not find a satisfying niche in prevailing social structures and institutions. Though often overlooked in recent scholarship, Muslim apocalyptic proved consequential, as well, and eschatological differences highlighted the rift between Sunni and Shi'ite communities. In the worldview shared by the Jews with the Christian and Muslim majorities around them, eschatology provided the basis for a comprehensive reading of history; in its longing for future, it imbued both past and present with significance. So deeply embedded was messianic expectation in the fabric of medieval experience that cultural historian Georges Duby, in his provocative book, An 1000, An 2000, 1995, has sought to unravel our modern premillennial predicament in the terms of its medieval precedents.

Our research will study the messianic expectations of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Europe and the Middle East from the conversion of Constantine to the Sabbatean messianic movement (4th-17th centuries). While the modern study of eschatology and millennialism has progressed fruitfully within numerous academic disciplines, our group will provide a forum for historical research and conversation, incorporating historians of religion, ideas, and art.

 

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Lynn Davidman

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Brown University
Lynn is a professor in the Program in Judaic Studies at Brown University.
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Yael Zerubavel

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Rutgers University
Yael is a professor in the Center for Jewish Life at Rutgers University.
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Yaacov Yadgar

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Bar-Ilan University
Yaacov is a professor in the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University.
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Ezra Kopelowitz

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The Jewish Agency
Ezra is affiliated with the Department of Jewish-Zionist Education at the Jewish Agency, Jerusalem.
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Shaul Kelner

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Brandeis University
Shaul is a professor in the Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University.
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Harvey Goldberg

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The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Harvey is a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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Steven Cohen

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The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Steven is a professor in the School of Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

On the Nature of Jewish Belonging in Contemporary Times: New Trends in the Study of American and Israeli Jewry

[RG #96] On the Nature of Jewish Belonging in Contemporary Times: New Trends in the Study of American and Israeli Jewry

March 1 - June 30, 2004

Organizers:

Steven Cohen (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Harvey Goldberg (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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The aim of our research group is to analyze new trends in the study of American and Israeli Jewry. This task will involve the documentation and intepretation of recent emerging trends in how people choose to express Jewish life and affiliate with other Jews, as well as thinking about familiar forms of Jewish diversity in new ways. We will explore the processes of historical development, as well as dynamic negotiation and choices made by Jews as individuals and as groups in forming the striking range of forms that characterize contemporary Jewish "belonging".

 

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Jeff Spinner-Halev

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University of Nebraska
Jeff is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nebraska.