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2015-2016 Secularization/Sacralization

Secularization, a freighted and a contested notion, particularly in Jewish contexts, has opened up immensely rich discussions in a wide range of fields. Recent attention to the nature of “secular Judaism”—Jewishness without religiosity—has in some ways deflected Jewish Studies from these discussions by narrowing the notion of the secular to questions of identity, ethnicity, and culture. Other debates about secularization focus on either the growing irrelevance or persistence of faith in increasingly rationalized societies, producing a linear conception of richly complex and dynamic processes. The theme of the Frankel Institute will explore this complexity and dynamism of making objects, acts, and relationships holy and marking off others as worldly and apart from spiritual life.
Secularization and sacralization are key to inquiries into changes within Judaism and the ways in which Jews interacted with others. These shifts and relations are not limited to the modern period. Asking questions about the sacred and the secular in Judaism involves the places where and ways in which personal faith, communal relations, and daily life practices coincided, and the means by which spiritual and worldly have been interwoven. The Frankel Institute deliberately focuses on the processes of secularization and sacralization rather than the static dichotomy of sacred and secular, or presumed states of holiness and secularity, and rejects assumptions that these processes are identical in different times and places, or lead to a common and determined endpoint.

“Secularization/Sacralization” may best be conceived as an implicitly comparative project that invites participants to explore contacts among Jewish, Christian, and Islamic secular and sacral processes within an array of disciplinary discussions.

Where and when has the separation of the spiritual from the material become salient, and how has this raised consciousness of separation manifested itself? When and how have the perceived segregation of sanctified, spiritual, interior, or transcendental experiences from the temporal everyday been resisted? When has the rise of canons, codes, and revaluations of values constituted unwitting sacralizations in spite of the secular impulse of their proponents and participants? The exploration of these processes at the Frankel Institute will incorporate popular experience as well as products of high culture, dynamic practices as well as theories, and multiplicities of experiences subsumed under the names of such processes.

The 2015-16 Institute Annual is available online, and features essays by all of the fellows highlighting their research on "Secularization/Sacralization".


Jeffrey Abt
Wayne State University
"Religious Ceremonials | Museum Artifacts: Rethinking Jewish Ritual Objects"

Efrat Bloom
University of Michigan
"Walter Benjamin's Secular Prayer"

Marc Caplan
New York University
"The Weight of an Epoch: Yiddish Modernism and German Modernity in the Weimar Era"

Jessica Dubow
University of Sheffield
"Thinking Outside the City Walls: Philosophy, Geography and the Radicalism of Judaic Thought"

Kirsten Fermaglich
Michigan State University
"A Rosenberg by Any Other Name"

Shaul Kelner
Vanderbilt University
"Strategic Sacralization in American Jewish Politics: The Contradictions of Cultural Mobilization in the American Soviet Jewry Movement"

Miriamne Krummel
University of Dayton
"The Medieval Postcolonial Jew: In and Out of Time"

Michael Lowy
National Center forScientific Research
"Secularization/Sacralization in Jewish-German culture : Kafka, Benjamin, Bloch, Fromm"

Ariel Mayse
Harvard University
"Expanding the Boundaries of Holiness': Conceptions of the Sacred in Modern Hasidic Spirituality"

Eva Mroczek
Indiana University
"The Other David: Between the Tanach and the Palmach"

Scott Spector
University of Michigan
"The "Secularization Question": Germans, Jews, and the Historical Understanding of Modernity"

Guy Stroumsa
Hebrew University & University of Oxford
"The Secularized Study of the Abrahamic Religions in the Nineteenth Century"

Genevieve Zubrzycki
University of Michigan
"Resurrecting the Jew: Philosemitism, Pluralism and Secularism in Contemporary Poland"