Speaking on Jerusalem, next week at Brandeis

I am looking forward to my talk on Jerusalem for the Brandeis University Schusterman Center for Israel Studies next Friday, October 24, at 12pm.

The topic of my presentation is “Jerusalem in the Religious Studies Classroom: Theoretical Considerations and Topical Issues” and it will be based on an essay recently published in a Syracuse University Press volume on Jerusalem: Conflict and Cooperation in a Contested City, edited by Madelaine Adelman and Miriam Fendius Elman.

Upcoming talks

I’ve been invited back by the fabulous folk at the CAS Core Curriculum to lecture on the Bible in general and the primordial history of Genesis in particular. (Tuesday, Sept 9, 2014, 9:30 am, at the Tsai Performance Center) I’ve been getting more comfortable with these lectures the more my own children have approached (and now reached) college age. It is very exciting to have the opportunity of framing the discussion of the Bible for two hundred first semester freshmen in fifty minutes or less.

On Oct 1 at 5pm I will lecture for the Institute for Philosophy and Religion (David Eckel, Dir.). This year’s series has the title Philosophy and the Future of Religion. My talk will be about whether philosophy can help us understand religion. My somewhat Straussian inclination is to argue that religion and philosophy are completely incompatible. But that would be a polemical position, and I am not sure it is the most productive or even the most accurate position to take. I will need to clarify and limit the topic, and I may be using Varro’s distinction between public, philosophical, and poetic religion to structure what we are even talking about when speaking of religion in general. My aspiration is to make this very complex and vast topic relevant for today.

Further out, I am excited about the programs of the Elie Wiesel Center this fall, with Eli Wiesel, Alan Dershowitz, Ami Ayalon, and Sayed Kashua topping the list. (See our website at www.bu.edu/judaicstudies.)

A nice little feature on my Jerusalem class, the summer version

Sue Seligson, reporting for a BUToday’s series, wrote a nice little feature on my Jerusalem class, which I recently taught as a summer term class. You can find her article here.

Elfriede Jelinek, taboo violation, and Zank

Just published in an Austrian internet portal dedicated to the work of Elfriede Jelinek, a comment responding to a video-text by the author Adolf Holl on the seven deadly sins. Thesis: without transgression no redemption; without taboo violation no living language. See HERE.

February 2014

Two classes up and running, one on Maimonides (RN420) and one on Jerusalem (RN220). Also: help me welcome Prof. Thomas Meyer, our special guest and visiting professor in Jewish studies and political philosophy this semester! You can find him almost every day at our new offices on the ground floor of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies, at 147 Bay State Road.

Please drop in and say hello!

Next week: Genesis

The very lovely people from the BU Core Curriculum kindly invited me back to give an introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Whether it’s age or the fact that I’ve been doing this kind of thing (i.e., teaching “Bible”) for such a long time, it strikes me as an extremely humbling and puzzling charge. After all, many of my colleagues might raise their eyebrows that the Core should invite someone who isn’t really a “Bible scholar.” I am really not; at least not in the sense that reading and producing scholarship on the Bible is central to what I do. So what gives me the right to introduce a few hundred freshman to the Hebrew Bible? Perhaps it is the very fact that I am not a “Bible scholar” that particularly qualifies me; after all, in their first collegiate encounter with the Bible as a cultural artifact, students are less in need of exposure to Bible scholarship than to an answer of why, in this day and age, it is still worthwhile to crack the spine of this ancient book. I am sure a genuine Bible scholar might be able to do this as well and better. But a “religion” scholar and student of philosophy like myself who has been continuously preoccupied with this question for over thirty years should indeed be asked that question. That there are people curious to hear my answer is a blessing, mostly for myself.

Review of Velkley on Strauss and Heidegger

This just in, a review of a really very thoughtful and readable book on Strauss, Heidegger and “original forgetting” by Richard Velkley. See HERE.

Jerusalem, Summer II 2013

There are still a few open seats in CASRN220 Holy City this summer, so please sign up and bring your friends. This will be an opportunity to explore what we mean when we (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) call this city “holy,” why and how people are attached to it, and why it is such a contested place. It is also quite beautiful, there’s a complex ancient history to be explored, going back to the Bible and beyond, there are Crusaders, jihadists, and strange messiahs, emperors, caliphs, and builders, architectural history, power, propaganda, and pilgrimage, a rich tapestry of personages and problems, all in one tiny mountain city at the intersection of Africa, Asia, and Europe. For more background on this course, see HERE. (And don’t forget to sign up!)

Krzystof Michalski (1948-2013)

Boston University has (or in this case: had) quite a few hidden gems. This one was hidden in plain sight. Krzystof Michalski taught every other semester for the CAS Philosophy department, courses on Nietzsche (the subject of his last book), political philosophy, and other subjects. He was the kind of gem John Silber tended to recruit: mavericks, individualists, people with a point of view. Student learning meant to be exposed to such individuals, provide opportunity for intellectual engagement with people who were anything but routine academics, without sacrificing professionalism.

I met Kryzstof a few years ago during a strangely formal dinner at the home of Peter Berger. But he was an utterly informal individual. We sat on a PhD defense together, where he showed how one could be kind to a candidate and at the same time uncompromisingly incisive. I asked him to be a reader on another student’s dissertation prospectus and he agreed without fuss. He was a good colleague and a lovely man.

To gauge the loss we incur with his sudden passing, you can peruse the many obituaries that have appeared, some of which are listed on the website of the Institut für die Wissenschaft vom Menschen in Vienna that he founded and directed for many years. This was first and foremost a meeting point for intellectuals from both sides of the Iron Curtain to discuss the common heritage and common themes that prevailed beyond the ideological divisions then still prevailing. Many of our students were able to get a taste of the Institut’s atmosphere and the opportunities for intellectual exchange it afforded. We hope this relationship between Boston and Vienna will continue, even though an essential personal ingredient will be missing.

January 2013

A new semester begins today. I am offering two courses: CASRN339 The Modern Jew, a course in the Other Within series; and CASRN797 Philosophical and Theological Approaches to Religion, a required core course for the Division of Religious and Theological Studies.

In other news, I am looking forward to taking on the directorship of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies in July, for a three-year term.

A few highlights from last year:

Dana Hollander and her colleagues hosted me as the Hooker Distinguished Visiting Professor, Department of Religion, McMaster University, Hamilton/Ontario, October 22-25, 2012, where I lectured on the state of the field of philosophy of religion and gave a public talk on how Jerusalem obtained the status of an extraordinary holy city. The highlight was a guest lecture, in one of Dana’s seminars, on the Rosenzweig-Rosenstock correspondence of 1916, about which I had written my Examensarbeit in Heidelberg in 1986. (Thanks, Dana! It was fun.)

At the International Rosenzweig Society Congress, University of Toronto, Sept 3, 2012, I spoke on “Is Cohen the Enemy? Reflections Apropos Mark Lilla’s A Stillborn God.”

Last summer I had the pleasure of lecturing in Frankfurt and Halle, namely.

“Zwischen Religionswissenschaft und »Aufbau im Untergang« – Martin Buber vor und nach der unbefristeten Beurlaubung 1933” at International Conference on “Scholarship in Times of Political Radicalisation: Jews, Nationalists, and Others at the University of Frankfurt in the First Part of the 20th Century,” Goethe University Frankfurt, June 27, 2012.

“Wissenschaft als Widerstand: Martin Buber über Bildung und die Bibel” Seminar and guest lecture in series on Jüdisches Denken in Frankfurt: Das Freie Jüdische Lehrhaus 1920-1938, under the auspices of the Martin Buber Professorship for Jewish Philosophy of Religion at Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main (Germany), May 9, 2012. Also at Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Seminar für Jüdische Studien, Halle (Germany), May 7, 2012.

Articles and book chapters that came out last year:

“Justice” in The Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy: The Modern Era, edited by Martin Kavka, Zachary Braiterman, and David Novak (Cambridge, New York, etc.: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 704-738.

“Strauss, Schmitt, and Peterson: Comparative Contours of the ‘Theological Political Predicament’” in German-Jewish Thought Between Religion and Politics. FS Mendes Flohr, ed. Martina Urban and Christian Wiese (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2012), pp. 317-333.

“Jasper’s Achsenzeit Hypothesis: A Critical Reappraisal” 30th-Anniversary Festschrift for the Karl Jaspers Society of North America, Philosophical Faith and the Future of Humanity, ed. Alan Olson, Greg Walters, and Helmut Wautischer (Amsterdam: Springer Verlag, 2012), pp. 189-202.

(With Thomas Meyer), “More Early Writings by Leo Strauss from the Jüdische Wochenzeitung für Cassel, Hessen und Waldeck (1925–1928)” in Interpretation 39/11, Spring-Summer 2012, pp. 109-137.

(With Hartwig Wiedebach), “The Kant-Maimonides Constellation” JJTP 20.2 (2012), 135-145.

“The Heteronomy of Modern Jewish Philosophy” in JJTP 20.1 (2012), 99-134.