Agents of Cultural Change: Jewish and other Responses to Modernity, ca. 1750–1900


International Conference at the German Historical Institute, Washington DC, October 8–10, 2018

Conveners: Simone Lässig (German Historical Institute, Washington DC), Zohar Shavit (Tel Aviv University), Kerstin von der Krone (German Historical Institute, Washington DC)

Deadline: November 15, 2017

Everyday language posits a dichotomy between the traditional and the new, but as Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger taught us, ostensible traditions can be modern responses to new challenges. We have to be careful about easy dichotomies that assume the apparently old is really that. Educational, religious, and other cultural practices that appear to merely manifest the old can very well represent innovative adaptations of the traditional in response to new social, cultural, political, and economic challenges. This is the premise of the German–Israeli research project “Innovation through Tradition? Jewish Educational Media and Cultural Transformation in the Face of Modernity.”

Adopting the perspective of this DFG-funded project, our conference starts from the assumption that the history of Ashkenazi Jewry in German-speaking Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries can offer not only new insights into Jewish history but also an exciting point of departure for more general questions about the resilience and coping strategies that groups develop when confronted with deep-reaching, sometimes existence-threatening social change in an increasingly complex world. The conference asks how members of a distinctive socio-cultural system—characterized by a particular set of linguistic practices, cultural meanings, religious practices, and knowledge orders—transformed that system. Further, it seeks to understand how members of this system communicated and translated major changes, how they made them socially relevant and acceptable.

Exploring these questions on the basis of a variety of sources and perspectives, we are particularly interested in processes of cultural translation and knowledge production. Although Jewish history is the point of departure in our research, this conference aims at a broader perspective and will focus on entanglements and comparisons of Jewish and other responses to modernity. Thus, we encourage proposals for papers that address the full sweep of the modern religio-cultural landscape—especially in the German-speaking territories—and that offer conference participants a chance to relate Jewish historical experiences to broader aspects of cultural transfer and translation. We are particularly interested in contributions that discuss the interdependencies of education and religion and their impact on prevalent systems of knowledge and practices of knowledge production.
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17th World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem, August 6-10, 2017

Tal Kogman and Kerstin von der Krone will present their research in Jerusalem at the 17th World Congress of Jewish Studies, a conference organized by the World Union for Jewish Studies every four years. This year’s congress will take place August 6-10, 2017 at the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Tal Kogmann will speak about “The Birth of a New Ritual of Childhood: Birthday Celebrations in Ashkenaz in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries” (in Hebrew) as part of session 266, “Jewish Life in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries” on the morning of August 9th. In the afternoon, Kerstin von der Krone will give a talk entitled “Translating Judaism: Jewish Catechisms and Manuals and the Re-Definition of Jewish Religious Knowledge in the 19th Century” (in English) as part of session 398,  “Pedagogic Innovations, Jewish Education and Modern Jewish thought”.

“Religious Knowledge in Historical Perspective” and a new blog on the History of Knowledge

Kerstin von der Krone just published a short piece on the AHA session entitled  “The Dynamics of Religious Knowledge: Resilience and Innovation in the Face of Modernity,” which she organized jointly with Simone Lässig, on a new blog recently launched by the German Historical Institute (GHI).

The History of Knowledge blog and its associated research project are part of a new focus at the GHI following the appointment of Simone Lässig as director. The blog aims to serve as a venue for the exchange of ideas and information on the history of knowledge and will feature the research of the Innovation through Tradition? group, in particular as this group addresses religious knowledge in historical perspective.

Kerstin von der Krone offers some thoughts on the AHA session:

My year began with a session at the 131st Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association on “the dynamics of religious knowledge” in the modern era, a panel I organized with Simone Lässig. The three papers—presented by Anthony Steinhoff, Jana Tschurenev, and myself—approached developments in religious knowledge as manifestations of social and cultural change in the long nineteenth century. The studies explored a variety of religious groups in a broad array of historical configurations, from nineteenth-century Jewish religious education to the multireligious setting of Alsace Lorraine after 1870 and anticaste and feminist critiques of Hinduism in colonial India. Simone Lässig served as chair and provided a short introduction on knowledge as an object and category of historical analysis, drawing on her recent article in the Bulletin of the German Historical Institute. David M. Luebke took on the task of commenting on the three case studies from the perspective of an Early Modernist. His thoughtful and inspiring remarks highlighted points at which the three papers intersected.Kerstin von der Krone @histknowledge