View Our Fall 2022 Course Lineup!

The Center for Jewish Civilization is pleased to announce its lineup of Fall 2022 courses!

Holocaust Courses

  • “Holocaust: Unique or Universal?,” Prof. Anna Sommer, JCIV-120
    • The Holocaust is a case study through which to understand societal behaviors and the communal impact of hatred and prejudice. It provides a universal lesson on community responses to hatred and intolerance. Additionally, it demonstrates how modern nation states can wield accomplishments of modernity to implement destructive policies, ranging from social engineering to mass murder. This class will problematize the notion of the Holocaust’s “uniqueness.” Throughout this course, students will examine this genocidal event within the context of its universality. Students will look at the origins of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes and the role of “masses” in societies. They will also analyze the use of propaganda and terror to sustain power and social compliancy. Through an in-depth study of power, powerlessness, indifference and complicity, students will ultimately interpret and contrast the responses of so-called “ordinary people” vs. political leaders to state-sponsored mass murder.
  • “Theological Implications of the Holocaust,” Prof. Ori Soltes, JCIV-138
    • The Holocaust is recognized as one of the traumatic moments in human history. The uniquely systematic depths of human-human interaction it revealed, paired with daring acts of heroism which the period yielded, have raised a range of questions which challenge long-held assumptions about what humanity is, if and what God is, and how to understand the concepts of good and evil. This course will have as its goal to assess the Holocaust as it has been approached by a range of thinkers, and to place it within the larger context of theology, history, art and thought. While our primary backdrop will be theological questions provoked by its narrative — from both Jewish and Christian perspectives — we will inevitably encompass the larger historical picture of Jewish-Christian, Jewish-Jewish, Christian-Christian and human-divine relations. We will also consider the importance, in the later part of the twentieth century, of visual (and other) art as a means of response — both in the expression of anger and in seeking healing — to this trauma.
  • “Nazi Policies and Practices Regarding Disability,” Father Patrick Desbois & Andrej Umansky, JCIV-218
    • This course will examine both the philosophy and the practice of the Nazis against those who were disabled, whether German, Roma or Jewish. Emphasis will be placed in two areas: (1) the roots of the concept of “disability” in Nazi thinking and medical policy and (2) the application of this policy by medical and social service personnel throughout Nazi-occupied territory. A close look at the role of eugenics, social Darwinism and “race and blood” hygiene laws will also be included as contributing to the notion of “disability.” Various figures in implementing these policies will also be studied, such as Hans Asperger, a pioneer researcher in Autism, whose own discoveries encouraged the elimination of disabled children at killing centers such as Spiegelgrund.
  • “Holocaust by Bullets,” Father Patrick Desbois & Andrej Umansky, JCIV-276
    • While many students are familiar with the main lines of the Nazi extermination of Jews in Western Europe during World War II, few know that a parallel effort was waged in the East. There, Nazis killed Jews methodically, but not in mass camps built for extermination. Instead, the Nazis conceived of mobile killing units which wiped out the Jewish population of small villages, resulting in more than a million and a half more Jewish deaths than is commonly realized. Fr. Patrick Desbois, a forensic anthropologist and author of “Holocaust by Bullets,” will team teach a course that examines the Holocaust in general and this little known chapter in particular. Mid-term and final exams. Class participation and preparation essential.
  • “American Catholics, the Hitler Regime, and the Holocaust,” Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming, JCIV-028
    • How did American Catholics respond to the rise of Nazism (1933-1945) and the Holocaust, the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators? Catholics were among those the Germans persecuted, incarcerated in concentration camps, and killed – and also part of a tradition in which antisemitism was not rejected as a sin until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). What messages came from American Catholic leaders and prelates during this era? This course will focus on several episodes and figures in particular: the 1938 radio address on so-called Night of Broken Glass, broadcast from The Catholic University of America; the threat of the far right Christian Front movement, led by Father Charles Coughlin; and the so-called “Hidden Encyclical” authored in part by Father John La Farge, long-time editor of America magazine. During the course, students will be exposed to recently released films, key readings, and the papers of Father La Farge, held at Georgetown University. This course meets on August 31, September 14, September 21, October 5, and October 19.

International Affairs and Diplomacy Courses

  • “Congress and the Making of Middle East Foreign Policy,” Ms. Danielle Pletka, JCIV-235
    • While foreign policy is the constitutional prerogative of the president, for much of recent history, it has been the Congress that has led the way in shaping US foreign policy toward the Middle East. From aid to Israel and sanctions against Iran to the war on terror, the legislative branch has influenced America’s role in the world in ways that few appreciate. Beginning with a detailed overview of the legislative process, this course will explore how Congress has shaped the modern Middle East, looking at key pieces of legislation and historical and contemporary case studies.
  • “Jews and Muslims: Rethinking Narratives,” Prof. Jessica Roda, JCIV-271
    • This course explores the modern history of Jewish-Muslim relations beyond conflict. By examining the Jewish experience in the Islamic world from the 7th century until today, students will discover the interconnected and entangled religious worlds of Jews and Muslims (from Morocco to Iran). Through active learning methods, they will learn about the two religious groups that participated in the production of a heritage that resonates today. During this course, students will investigate a subject pertaining to the Muslim-Jewish relationship (historical or contemporary perspectives) of their choice. They will present their research in a creative format of their choice (podcast, video, writing, art project), in addition to learning the tools to create a one-episode podcast.
  • “The Weaponization of Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, Islamophobia, and Xenophobia in the Covid-19 Pandemic Era,” Mr. Jacob Ware, JCIV-281
    • The Weaponization of Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, Islamophobia, and Xenophobia in the COVID-19 Pandemic era. Over the past several years, the Western world has suffered a dangerous rise in far-right extremism, providing an imminent terrorism and hate crime threat to Jewish communities, as well as Muslims, African Americans, and, in some cases, women. This class will assess the ideological underpinnings of the anti-Semitic far-right, trace the movement’s rise in the Obama and Trump years, analyze the current movement’s tactical and communications preferences, and evaluate ongoing and future counterterrorism and countering violent extremism measures. The aim is to provide an extensive and objective assessment of the current threat to Jewish communities and beyond, and to offer students an introduction to the counterterrorism world and to underscore the importance of understanding and fighting hate in all its forms.
  • “The Societal, Political and Security Implications of Israel’s Relations with the Arab and Muslim World,” Mr. Jonathan Lincoln, JCIV-297
    • The Societal, Political and Security Implications of Israel’s Relations with the Arab and Muslim World. This course will review the Zionist Movement’s and the State of Israel’s relations with the Arab and Muslim World throughout four modules. The first will examine the implications of Jewish immigration from the Middle East and North Africa for the state formation process. Students will also assess Israel’s approaches to Arab and Palestinian minorities. The second module will review the development of Israel’s relations with Arab and Muslim majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa, from the pre-state period through the major military confrontations of 1948, 1967 and 1973. It will also survey the Camp David Accords with Egypt, as well as Israel’s wars in Lebanon and their effect on Palestinians. The third module will take a closer look at the development of relations between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and Iran. During the last module, students will study the impact of recent political changes in the Middle East. Specifically, they will evaluate what the end of the Cold War, the Arab Spring, and the Abraham Accords have meant for both Israel’s diplomatic relations in the region and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • “The History of Peacemaking in the Middle East,” Amb. Dennis Ross, JCIV-321
    • This course will deal with the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the efforts to resolve it. One basic point to understand about the conflict is that it is not a morality play. One side is not all right and the other all wrong. That is not to say that they are equally responsible for what has happened, but it is to say that both have suffered and both would benefit enormously from ending the conflict and its animating grievances. We will explore why each side tends to see the world the way it does, and why mythologies have taken hold of all sides and made reality hard to grasp. We will examine narratives of the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the Arabs more generally. Mindsets must be understood in any negotiation, and we will look at what shaped each side’s approach to the conflict historically as well as its approach to conflict resolution over the periods of the most intensive diplomacy. We will analyze how close the efforts in the year 2000 came to ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and Israelis and Syrians, and will discuss the lessons from the past. But we will also explore what has emerged more recently and explain what produced the Abraham Accords and peace agreements with four different Arab countries and Israel. Understanding the normalization process and how to build on it is essential not only for grasping the new realities in the region but also for promoting peace. Ultimately, the purpose of the course is to provide insight into why it has been so difficult to settle this conflict, and what can be done to settle it in the future.
  • “Terrorism: Middle East and North Africa,” Prof. and CJC Dir. Bruce Hoffman, JCIV-341
    • Terrorism has long been a means of political expression in the Middle East and has flourished throughout the region from antiquity to the present. This seminar surveys the arc and evolution of terrorism from the Sicarii and the assassins through the violence and rebellions in Egypt and Palestine of the 1920s through the end of World War II; The anti-colonial campaigns in both those places as well as in Algeria and Yemen; The persistence of both Palestinian and Jewish extremist violence; The emergence of Hezbollah in Lebanon; Salience of state-sponsored terrorism across the region, the insurgencies in Iraq; The rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS; And the ongoing upheavals in Syria, Libya, the Sinai, and Yemen. Students who do not attend the first class will be dropped. Class restricted to JCIV minor/certificate and SFS students only. Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors only.
  • “Islam, Judaism and Western Civilization,” Prof. Ed Husain, JCIV-447
    • Governments and non-state actors are fomenting conflicts and wars by perverting religion, history and identity. This course investigates Jewish and Islamic influences that form today’s Western civilization. It has been designed to equip students with a deeper understanding of the modern West, evaluate the narrative of clash of civilizations, and explore a synthesis of civilizations. With extremism and anti-Americanism on the rise in the Muslim world, and anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment increasing in the West, this course excavates the intellectual roots of the threats ripping apart modern civilization.

Humanities, Culture & Jewish Studies Courses

  • “Interfaith Marriage in Literature and Film,” Prof. Meital Orr, JCIV-183
    • This course will examine works of literature and film, from the early 20th century to the present day, which focus on the controversial subject and increasingly prevalent reality of interfaith and intercultural relationships and marriages. The course will begin with a view toward the Jewish perspective on this issue (from Biblical to Israeli) covered in the first three weeks, with the remainder of the semester devoted to the navigation of this complex terrain by different religious and national groups in international literature and film, among them: Christians and Muslims, Arabs, Africans and African-Americans, Asians and Asian-Americans, Indians and Pakistanis, Hispanics and Latinx, the LGBTQ community, and Native Americans. Texts will include primary works of fiction and cinema, and secondary works by literature and film critics, sociologists and anthropologists. Inquiry will focus on ways in which the concerns of each group have intersected, reflecting communal pressures as well as changing realities and norms. The multiplicity of perspectives across all groups, bely both the need to marry within the fold to preserve communal, religious-cultural values, along with a growing admission of the reality of increasing diversity in modern, pluralistic societies and the benefits these bring.
  • “Jewish Literature in the Global South,” Prof. David Ebenbach, JCIV-220
    • From Bombay to Buenos Aires: Jewish Literature of the Global South What did “Brazil’s greatest modern writer,” “The Father of Contemporary Indian English Poetry,” and “the doyenne of South African English letters” have in common? These writers (Clarice Lispector, Nissim Ezekiel, and Nadine Gordimer) were all Jewish—and they were far from alone. The nations of Asia, South America, and Africa have produced a variety of remarkable Jewish writers of fiction and poetry who belong in any canon of Jewish literature. In this course we’ll deeply engage a diverse sample of that literature, and in ways (discussion, creative writing, interactive projects) that take us beyond the borders of the standard analytical essay.
  • “Symbols of Faith,” Prof. Ori Soltes, JCIV-224
    • This course will consider the common origins and divergent and often convergent directions of the three Abraham faiths; and how those origins and directions affect their respective visual vocabularies. How have all three traditions adopted and adapted visual ideas from pagan art that predates all of them as well as from each other? How have they transformed or reinterpreted the meanings of common symbols in order to express their distinct sense of God and of the relationship between divinity and humanity? How have Judaism and Islam visually expressed God without the possibility of figurative imaging and how has Christianity gone beyond the limits of figurative expression in visually articulating God? How is the legacy of antiquity and the medieval period still palpable in the era of both modern and contemporary art?
  • “Jews on Trial,” Prof. Ori Soltes, JCIV-225
    • This course begins by asking when and how law became separate from religion in the Israelite-Judaean world. It moves on to consider how we might evaluate and understand the narrative of Jesus’ trial and demise in the Gospels in light of information outside those accounts within Judaean, pagan Roman and early Jewish literature. Noting that, regardless of the details that favor or disfavor the Gospel account, many generations of Christians have accept it as unequivocally true, the book goes on with a review that is both concise and extensive of the history of Christian-Jewish relations, examining that relationship through a legal and quasi-legal lens. From medieval Blood Libels to the notorious Dreyfus Affair and from the story of Leo Frank’s trial and eventual murder to that of Adolph Eichmann’s trial and execution to that of Jonathan Pollard’s trial behind closed doors and ongoing incarceration, the narrative suggests that the Jew seems always to be on trial in the courtroom of journalistic and historiographic examination, whether as the accused, the accuser, the jury or the judge.
  • “Arguing with God: The Bible as Literature,” Prof. Meital Orr, JCIV-254
    • In a somewhat idiosyncratic essay, the literary critic George Steiner made the intriguing observation that the true homeland of the Jewish people was not necessarily Zion, the synagogue, or some other space, be it physical or meta-physical. Rather, Steiner insisted that the true Jewish homeland was the text. In this course, we will introduce you to a wide variety of classic (Biblical) and less than classic Jewish texts which interpret them. We will argue that for Jews the process of interpreting those texts is every bit as important—if not more so—than understanding the intentions of those who authored them. This then is a class about the interpretive injunction inherent in Jewish tradition, or its unique and relatively liberal propensity for discussing, interpreting, questioning, and even arguing – not only with the text but with G-d Himself. We will understand Jewish texts from a historical, literary and above all, comparative perspective, and examine all the many ways in which Jews read their texts. It will be our working hypothesis that it is this very interpretive, or hermeneutical, process that lies at the core of Jewish identity. Our inquiry is beholden to certain classic Jewish forms of argumentation and disputation. As such this class will be taught in a manner that replicates many classic Jewish learning styles, so the student should be prepared to speak up and out, all the while listening very carefully to the thoughts of their colleagues. No previous knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, Jewish history, literature or culture is assumed. Class performance is entirely based on analytical investment.
  • “Jews and the Making of Modernity,” Prof. Ed Husain, JCIV-304
    • Jewish artists, writers, musicians, thinkers and politicians have shaped our shared world. This course examines some of those luminaries and their contributions to our way of life. For example, the Statue of Liberty is adorned with the words ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ — penned by a proudly Jewish poet, Emma Lazarus. But is freedom enough? Hannah Arendt wryly observed that ‘The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.’ This course will explore paradoxes and paradigms that have moulded modernity. To advance our grasp of the ideas underpinning our 21st-century inheritance, we will study the abiding works of Jewish influencers, including Marx, Disraeli, Herzl, Proust, Kafka, Modigliani, Mahler, Freud, Popper, Wittgenstein, Simone Weil and others.
  • “Jews in 20th Century American Pop Culture,” Prof. Lauren Strauss, JCIV-029
    • The plethora of Jews in America’s theater, movie, music, comics, and television industries has attracted a great deal of notice from observers and from Jews themselves. But Jewish involvement in the development of American popular culture is about much more than religious identification or ethnic jokes. In this course, we explore questions of Jewish identity and social change, as well as the influence of politics, gender, race, and sexual identity on the production of culture. From earlier twentieth century entertainers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Sophie Tucker to later legends such as Stephen Sondheim, Barbra Streisand, Lenny Bruce and Superman, and on to contemporary figures like Sarah Silverman and Jerry Seinfeld, the study of Jews in American popular culture invites us to reflect on what it means to live as a minority in society, as a Jew in a democracy, and as an American in the modern world. Course meets for five Tuesdays: September 6, 13, 20, October 4, 11.

Required Certificate / Minor Courses

  • “Introduction to JCIV,” Prof. Meital Orr (point of contact) and CJC Faculty, JCIV-199
    • This course will provide a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to understanding Jewish Civilization, and will be taught by a different faculty member from the Center for Jewish Civilization (CJC) every week, each of whom will teach the area of their expertise. Students will learn the history of the Jewish people from ancient times to modern-day Israel, including in-depth coverage of the Holocaust and the development of Zionism. Students will learn about Judaism through major Jewish texts, denominations, holidays and life-cycle events – and about Jewish culture, through a global lens on Jewish literature, film and music. Students will learn about historic relations between Islam and Judaism, the Arab world and Israel, as well as how to think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Students will also learn about Jewish engagement with American democracy, and global Jewish realities impacted by increasing anti-Semitism and white Supremacism in the 20th and 21th centuries. Having learned about the many foundational aspects of Jewish civilization, students will then have the opportunity to pursue further knowledge in any area of the course, through thematically-based classes at the CJC by any of the experts from whom they have learned in this course. Professor Orr will be the point of contact for students in the class, and help guide them through this multi-disciplinary journey.
  • “Jewish Civilization Senior Colloquium,” Prof. Anna Sommer, JCIV-443
    • As part of the Minor in Jewish Civilization students complete a capstone experience: either a traditional research thesis or a project with a creative component. The capstone project will be a topic related to Jewish civilization, prepared under the supervision of a faculty member associated with the Center for Jewish Civilization, the Visiting Professor of Jewish Civilization, Goldman Visiting Israeli Professor, or if appropriate special permission may be granted by the program director for another Georgetown faculty member to serve as essay advisor. Upon completion, seniors make a presentation of their research at the annual senior thesis colloquium held during commencement week.

Hebrew Courses

  • “Intensive Beginning Modern Hebrew I,” Prof. Sara Grayson, HEBR-101
  • “Intermediate Modern Hebrew I,” Prof. Meital Orr, HEBR-201
  • “Advanced Modern Hebrew I,” Prof. Sara Grayson, HEBR-300