“The Other Within”

The Other Within is a BU faculty initiative supported by a grant from the Center for Cultural Judaism and administered by the Department of Religion, College of Arts & Sciences, to introduce new courses and new ways of approaching Jewish Studies into the curriculum and develop related co-curricular events. Topics such as gender, deviance, public/private sphere, sovereignty, tolerance, and law will cut across the sequence, though they will naturally be taken up differently in each course. The core of this initiative is a series of three interrelated courses to be taught sequentially as upper-level undergraduate courses also open to graduate students. The theme common to the three courses is The Other Within.

Project Description: The Problem of “the Other”

The problem of “the other,” and the relation of deviance and heterodoxy to normative order, is a theme of increasing interest in many areas of scholarship, from literature and anthropology to sociology, history, and even philosophy. Indeed, this interest in difference characterizes, to no small extent, the whole trajectory of postmodern scholarship. It does not take much imagination to recognize that, to some extent, the Muslim in today’s Europe is taking the place occupied by the Jew in the early modern period (if not before), indeed, of the Jew’s role in European history tout court until the Second World War. The fear of and fascination with the other; the highly ambivalent relation to the female other; and the positing of this community as not fully part of the overall social formation, all characterize contemporary attitudes towards Muslims as they once did (and, to some extent, still do) towards the Jews. However, the fact that the Jew to a large degree no longer occupies the role of the Christian other in Europe, and the United States as well, provokes us to visualize the theme of otherness in a different way. Rather than look at the Jew as the other, we wish to explore the Jewish other—the other of the other, as it were. We are interested in uncovering representations of otherness internal to Jewish history. We feel that this is a critical pedagogic move both for Jewish and non-Jewish students. Most remain comfortable within existing perspectives of the Jew as other (often understood as the Jew as victim, or as the victim who has achieved retribution); these courses encourage students, colleagues, and eventually the community at large to adopt a different perspective on Jewish culture. Our pedagogical goal is therefore to add a new idiom to our understanding of one of the prime markers of secularism (i.e., as pluralism) within Jewish civilization, one that will deepen our appreciation of its depths and subtleties.

For more information, contact Professor Zank (mzank@bu.edu) or visit The Other Within.