Modernity's Other: Studies on Jewish Women

Modernity's Other: Studies on Jewish Women

February 12-13, 2007
University of Chicago Divinity School
Swift Hall
1025 East 58th Street
Chicago, Illinois, 60637


Modernity's Other is a public conference intended to facilitate conversation across disciplines; everyone, regardless of academic background and institutional affiliation, is welcome at each lecture and discussion. Faculty, students, and community members are encouraged to attend. A general prospectus for the conference follows:

Among the far-reaching changes witnessed by what is generally called modernity is the separation of previously undifferentiated spheres of life—belief vs. practice, public vs. private. This change poses a radical challenge in particular to Judaism, a religion that posited the fundamental interconnectedness of belief and practice. With the separation of these (decidedly gendered) spheres came changing attitudes toward Jews as a people, citizens, capital, and a community. While scholars have studied the effects of these changes on Jewish men, there remains a dearth of inquiry into the unique experiences and perceptions of Jewish women.

We envision the conference to consist of two major, related topics:

1) The first topic includes the cluster of historical questions concerning the changes and continuities in the lives of Jewish women with the onset of modernity. Material changes—physical, intellectual, social, and economic—in women's lives have ensued, but sustained scholarly treatment of these issues is still lacking. How do Jewish women's identities, their roles in the family, and their roles in Jewish communities change? How do these changes differ across degrees of religious observance and levels of economic stability? Above all, how do women represent these changes to themselves?

2) The second topic consists of theoretical questions about the status of Jewish women in modernity. Daniel Boyarin, for instance, has argued that the feminized Jewish man has been the occluded "Other" of the modern West. The questions we aim to raise deal with the Other of the Other: the Jewish woman. How does the "othering" of Jewish men along gendered lines render visible or, alternatively, obscure the contributions of women to intellectual history, religious thought, and cultural production? What happens to constructions and valuations of sexual differences and gender roles within the Jewish community when Jewish men must respond to a challenge of their masculinity from the world outside? How has the gendered character of modern anti-Semitism directed at Jewish men affected the religious subjectivity of Jewish women? Lastly, how have these issues shaped the political status (i.e. political agency, representation, earning power, etc.) of Jewish women within the context of the modern political and economic order?

We envision this conference to be an opportunity for scholars—together with graduate students at the University and in the community—to investigate new sources and reexamine primary documents through the perspective of alternative visions of gender and agency, indeed alternative modernities.

Because of the contact email's difficulty accepting attachments, the call for papers deadline has been extended to November 1. Notification of acceptance will be by November 5.

Paper proposals are currently being accepted.

The conference is sponsored by the Martin Marty Center and the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Chicago.

For information, contact Sarah Imhoff and Larisa Reznik at

Co-sponsored by The Center for Gender Studies, Committee on Jewish Studies, History of Judaism Club, and Feminist Theories and the Study of Religion group.