Guide The Importance of the Jewish Religion and Race to Modern Life

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  4. BBC - Religions - Judaism: Reconstructionist Judaism

The holy city of Jerusalem is at the heart of the Western religious imagination and of contemporary political conflict in the Middle East. Traditionally it has been a center of religious pilgrimage, home to Israelite kings and Islamic caliphs.

What is a Jew? - Religion? Nation? Race? Culture?

Today it is a cutting-edge urban center marked by stunning demographic diversity, a rapidly expanding economy, and an intractable political crisis. In this course, we will examine the history of the city-from its earliest days to today-with an eye toward its religious significance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Special attention will be given to Jerusalem's changing urban fabric: its architecture, neighborhoods, natural resources, economy, and religious institutions.

Reporter's Notebook

Is archaeology in a place like Israel-Palestine an objective science? In this course, we explore how past and present are linked as nation-states and religious communities utilize the archaeological record to mold identities and to forward certain narratives. Our focus will be on the major archaeological sites of Israel-Palestine, particularly in Jerusalem and its environs.

We will explore the political and religious issues that have emerged from or surround their excavation. Archaeology in the Holy Land has long been driven by a desire to shed light on - or even authenticate - the Bible, while the "exotic Orient" was explored in the 19th and early 20th centuries through western expeditions and excavations that served to further colonial interests. These religious and political motivations persist even if their manifestations have shifted with time.

This course covers the development of classical Judaism from the Second Temple period—beginning with the end of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE—and continues up through the emergence of rabbinic Judaism, culminating with the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud in the 6th century CE. We cover both major historical trends and religious developments.

The course also introduces students to the major Jewish texts of both the Second Temple and the Rabbinic periods, emphasizing close readings of primary texts. This course surveys the Jewish historical experience from the 7th through the 18th centuries. Political, social, economic, cultural, and religious dimensions of a variety of Jewish communities are explored within the contexts of the larger societies in which the Jewish minority lived. Through study of primary texts in translation and secondary sources, we explore the different dimensions of medieval and early modern Judaism: rabbinic literature, Jewish philosophy, mysticism, biblical commentary, folklore and popular religion.

We also discuss periodization: how should the "medieval" period of Jewish history be defined?

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A survey of major topics related to the cultural, intellectual, and religious life of Jews in medieval Muslim and Christian Spain from the early Middle Ages through Topics include the culture of al-Andalus, Hebrew poetry, Jewish philosophy, biblical exegesis, the impact of the Reconquista, Jewish mysticism, "convivencia," Jewish-Christian disputation, the conversos, and Jewish thought in the 15th century.

Study of exodus story and Passover holiday that develops from it including interpretations in Jewish and non-Jewish sources, development of the holiday and the ritual meal Seder , changes in the rituals over time, and adaptations and uses of the story and holiday by different modern Jewish and non-Jewish movements and groups. We begin our study of the Jewish encounter with urban life in the 19th century, as millions of Eastern European Jews migrated from the small villages of their birth to cities across the globe.

This course traces this Eastern European Jewish diaspora to urban destinations around the world, before training its lens on the Jewish encounter with American cities. Delving into the history, built environment, and archival sources pertaining to the Jewish experience in Pittsburgh provides us with a dynamic case study for this crucial relationship between Jews and the city. And why did Ray Frank, a Jewish woman from San Francisco who did not think that women should be rabbis, feel compelled to lead the first high holiday service ever held in Spokane, Washington? These are some of the questions that we ask in Gender in Jewish History, a course that places gender and its effects at the center of Jewish modernity.

We take an international approach to this history, traveling through Europe, the Americas, and the middle east to show how Jews negotiated gender identity and gender roles in numerous contexts and under varying political and social circumstances. In exploring such themes as religious practice, politics, education, anti-semitism, work, and family, we see how gender indelibly marked every aspect of Jewish life over the past two hundred years.

How did German Jews go from being full citizens of their country to victims of genocide? What was the relationship between Middle Eastern Jews and European Jews during the age of colonialism? Why did some Jews think it necessary to build a nation of their own, while others were content to be citizens of non-Jewish states?

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In this course, we talk about these and other questions that are critically important not only to the history of Jews, but also to the history of the modern world. The Holocaust—that is, the genocide of six million Jews in Nazi-Occupied Europe during World War II—was a critical event of the early twentieth century that continues to resonate today. Our historical survey looks at the Holocaust primarily through the experiences of its Jewish victims, though we discuss some of the other groups, such as the Roma, disabled people, and homosexual men, who were also targeted and systematically murdered by the Nazis.

Additionally, we think about the perpetrators of the Holocaust and the ideologies that led to the genocide, such as racism, nationalism, and anti-Semitism. Finally, we move beyond the history of the Holocaust to think about the ways that this event has been remembered and reconstructed by survivors, nations, institutions, museums, the arts, popular culture, and the media.

Looking at how institutions here in Pittsburgh commemorate the Holocaust offers us local, concrete examples of how people continue to grapple with this history. The idea of a Jewish-initiated return to the ancient biblical homeland in the last quarter of the 19th century marked a significant break with traditional Jewish thinking on the theme of Return and Redemption. The subsequent migration to Palestine and the building of institutional Jewish life there culminating in the independent state of Israel has not only been a watershed in modern Jewish history, it has also had a major impact on Judaism and global affairs.

In this course, we trace the history of modern Israel from the idea of the return through the state of Israel today. Reading literature from places of conflict provides an opportunity to go beyond headlines and gain insight into the day-to-day existence, desires, imaginings, and perspectives of the people who live there. Reading literature also reveals how religious values and practices become a part of everyday culture and how those values are embraced or challenged.

This course will introduce students to the literature produced by Israeli and Palestinian authors, with a focus on how contemporary issues in Israeli and Palestinian society are depicted by writers from each culture. Topics will include: how these writers construct place; the role of religious texts in literature; conflicts and community within each society; how literature helped shape an Israeli national consciousness and a Palestinian national consciousness; how Israeli and Palestinian writers imagine the other; and the role of the Shoah in Israeli literature and the Nakba in Palestinian literature.

The course will equally focus on developing students' academic and reflective writing skills. Students will produce a combination of literary analysis and self-reflective writing that uses techniques of creative nonfiction. Together, these writing assignments will help students respond to both the course texts and the cultural experience of studying in Israel-Palestine. This course will introduce students to the varieties of Jewish thought, which developed out the of the 19th and 20th centuries and to the present day.

After exploring the historical context of the philosophical legacy of Jewish thought, we will consider how Jewish intellectuals sought to reimagine their Jewish faith and Jewish identity in response to various concerns in the 19th and 20th centuries. Specifically, we will analyze Jewish responses to modernity and secularism, Jewish engagement with Western culture and Christianity, political theory e. This course takes Christianity as a prism through which to consider the origins and growth of global religions.

Christianity has tried to achieve a global status since its inception in the ancient Mediterranean world in the first century. In this course, we study Christian globalization in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and focus on two Christian traditions, Catholicism and Pentacostalism, as examples of religions that have deliberately and successfully globalized.

We ask if the contemporary values of and pluralism and relativism are good for religions and religious people. And, where religion is no longer a powerful cultural force, what are the prospects for a purely humanitarian approach to common problems in a globalizing world? The course examines the history of the Roman Catholic Church since in the Americas using various moments of internal crisis or external conflict as focal points for study. Topics include: missionary and military contact with New World indigenous populations after ; the minority situation of Catholics in the new United States; the Irish famine and its global consequences; conflicts between Catholic ethnic groups; the impact of Catholic support for fascist regimes in the s and s; counter cultural forms of Catholicism conscientious objectors, civil rights activists, pacifists ; Vatican II and its impact; liberation theology, Marxism and structural reform in Latin America; shifting theological positions on social and moral issues; the current sexual abuse crisis; the Pope Francis effect.

While the emphasis rests upon the social, economic, and political dimensions of Catholic history, the course also addresses the aesthetic and cultural legacy of Catholicism including sacred architecture, music, and the arts, in elite and popular forms. It is apparent that Americans devote enormous media attention to the coverage of celebrities, movies and sports, but deal much less skillfully with news coverage of religion.

Yet, a glance at any daily news source, print or digital, reveals the pervasiveness of news that involves religious beliefs, conflicts, and practices, and that requires basic knowledge of religious traditions. The purpose of this course is to develop student skills at reading and interpreting current news stories about religious topics in print and visual media newspapers, journals, blogs, polls, and television in order to increase understanding of important religious issues in the contemporary United States, including American coverage of international religious events and leaders.

Instruction will include lecture, discussion, film, and small group exercises to report on current events. Though American political ideologies have often tried to situate both sexuality and religion as private matters that have no bearing on public life, the topics we discuss in this course reveal that quite the opposite is true.

We take a chronological approach to our subjects, locating the intersections between religion and sexuality throughout the course of American history. This course offers an in-depth and comparative examination of Mormonism and the Nation of Islam: two vital religious movements that emerged among diverse populations in the United States at representative moments of dynamic transition and migration in American history.

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  5. Both also remain controversial to this day for maligned social attitudes, practices, and the ways in which they have been, at times, unfairly misunderstood. Together we examine the histories, theologies, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and cultural contributions of these two groups aiming to understand how and why they emerged and what they have to say about religion and its relationship to race and nation in American transnational contexts. The history of European religious thought particularly Christianity and the development of the idea of race are interwoven.


    While many devoutly religious people throughout history have, no doubt, been part of movements to oppose the horrific acts that occurred under colonization, end slavery, oppose Nazi anti-Semitism, or promote Civil Rights, for example, the very concept of separate races and the promotion of the ideal of white supremacy were in many ways innovations of European Christian theology.

    Indeed, religious arguments for white supremacy undergird many of the justifications for colonization and genocide, for slavery, and for Jim Crow laws and apartheid. As a result, despite important developments toward equality, racism remains ubiquitous and part of the underlying logic of the religious, political, and cultural milieu of American society, even if its effects often remain unnamed or are less explicit.

    This course is a philosophical exploration of the intersections of race, racism, and religious thought. It begins with an analysis of the philosophical and religious positions that solidified and promoted the idea of race, traces the entanglement of Western philosophy and Christian theology with racist political ideologies, and presents critical responses to race from African-American philosophers and liberation theologies.

    It ends by evaluating the continued effects of racism in American culture and religious thought and considers how we might both understand and respond to the epistemological, phenomenological, and existential effects of white supremacy in Western thought. This course examines the intersections of religion, race, and racism. Recently, scholars of religion have demonstrated that religious identities are often racialized as well.

    In this course, we will discover that religion and race are both modern categories rooted in post-Enlightenment ideas about what it means to be human. We will see how the establishment of these religious and racial categories led to new hierarchies and inequalities. We will discuss how post-Enlightenment thinkers linked religion and race, and how their ideas played a role in European imperialism.

    We will also investigate how the discipline of religious studies has developed its analytical tools with a racialized understanding of religion. The course will examine case studies in which religion has been racialized, and consider the political ramifications of these examples. In particular, we will think about the impact of white supremacy on Black religion in the United States, the complicated relationship between Antisemitism and Islamophobia, and contemporary Islamophobia in the US.

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    Finally, we will explore the possibilities of anti-racism through faith-based scholarship and activism. With our focus on the western hemisphere, we learn about new local practices that have emerged since among African, Caribbean, and native American peoples and analyze how they represented responses to colonization, industrial capitalism, or globalization. Examples of popular traditions that we study include: witchcraft; santeria, voodoo, saint's cults, miracles, pilgrimages, speaking in tongues, faith-healing and snake-handling.

    The course method is interdisciplinary, drawing upon anthropology, documentary film, history, religious studies, psychology, and sociology. This information literacy-driven course will teach you how to place current events in the Muslim world or involving people of Muslim background in their historical context. It will also teach you to discern what constitutes a valid news source and how to find sources you can trust. You will be introduced to the long history of problematic media portrayals of Muslims and the Muslim world and efforts to both critique and change these representations.

    We will work intensively with a librarian to master a set of basic information literacy skills at the start of the semester that we will grow and refine as the class progresses. The remainder of the class syllabus will be determined by the current news cycle, which will generate topics to be considered for further historical analysis.

    BBC - Religions - Judaism: Reconstructionist Judaism

    The emergence of modern Islamic political movements worldwide has not only had a profound impact on contemporary global geo-politics but has also triggered heated debates around the question of the compatibility of Islam with liberal democracy. This course investigates the "vexed" relationship between Islam and politics, profoundly influenced by the experience of colonialism, and standing in complex relationship to concepts such as the modern nation-state, democracy, liberalism, or secularism.

    The course combines empirically grounded studies on the multiple facets of past and contemporary Muslim politics in Muslim-majority and minority contexts with a more theoretical investigation of modern Islamic political thought; here we examine the intellectual origins of Islamic politics, its arguments, and the challenges it poses to its liberal counterparts, but also its conundrums and contradictions. From its inception, the Islamic tradition has placed a heavy emphasis on the word and on listening to the word, and has developed a rich and ambiguous relation to aurality. This course investigates this relationship an takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining theological, historical, anthropological and theoretical literature.

    Regularly Taught Courses

    In the early weeks of the course we discuss different approaches to the question of the senses in general and the auditory sense in particular, from classical philosophy to the recent re-discovery of the auditory sense by anthropolists. We also consider the relationship between listening and power, especially in regard to modern secular sensibilities. The course then examines the changing conceptions of listening in Islamic contexts from classical times to the contemporary.