Lilah Shapiro

“Driven to Orthodoxy: Jewish identity, the achievement narrative, and family dynamics in American-Jewish culture as motivations for Teshuvah”

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to complete my dissertation work as a Martin Marty Junior Fellow. My dissertation research uses mixed methods to investigate motivations for individuals from predominantly secular, upper-middle class, Jewish backgrounds becoming Ba’alei Teshuvah, or newly Orthodox Jews. The dissertation shows that there is a prevalent and compelling achievement narrative experienced by many mainstream Jews in America. This narrative has created a collective identity through which American Jews see themselves as an extremely gifted and accomplished people and, further, has given rise to a highly pressured culture of achievement that proves to be problematic for some. I argue that some “return” to Orthodoxy as a way of negotiating the tensions wrought by the perceived achievement expectations of this culture. Over the course of the year I plan to complete my dissertation. I am very much looking forward to participating in the Marty Center Seminar. Throughout my graduate education some of my most profound and engaging educational experiences have been during my participation in conferences and workshops, both as a presenter and as an audience member/attendee. The input and feedback from colleagues, particularly those from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, has deepened my understanding of my own research and of my scholarship generally. Over the last years, as I have embarked on my dissertation research and writing, the most common substantive interactions with others regarding my work has involved answering “probing” questions such as, “But Mommy, how come there aren’t any pretty pictures in the book you’re writing?!” As much as I value my kids’ contributions, I am excited by the opportunity afforded by the fellowship to reengage in the academic community and share my work, and I am eager to learn from my peers.

Comparative Human Development