The Center for Jewish Civilization offers a variety of courses for students pursuing the minor or certificate in Jewish Civilization. These courses are also open to students who are not seeking the minor or certificate.
As part of the School of Foreign Service, CJC courses are identified with INAF course numbers. However, in an effort to assist students in identifying courses in Jewish Civilization we have reintroduced JCIV course listings. Courses identified with JCIV course numbers include courses offered by other departments which count towards the CJC minor/certificate. The list of courses that count towards the minor/certificate is not limited to those courses with a JCIV course number as some departments choose to cross-list courses with the CJC rather than list the course under two different departments.
See below for a list of current courses being offered. Click the title to read a description of each course.
Reminder: Minor/Certificate students must take one social science course and one humanities course as part of their electives.
Current Courses - Fall 2017
Humanities and Literature
International Affairs and Diplomacy
Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Past course offerings
Below is a selection of past course offerings to give you a better sense of courses that might be offered in the future or again. Additionally, please note that Hebrew courses are offered every semester, but are not listed here.
Jewish Civilization Senior Colloquium
Individual directed research with a faculty member working in an area relevant to student's research interests in Jewish Civilization. The Semester’s work will culminate in a spring colloquium where students will present condensed oral versions of their 30-40 page senior thesis.
Intro to Jewish Civilization
An exploration of the fundamental political, cultural, and religious ideas that have served to define Jewish Civilization from biblical times to the present. Special attention is paid to stasis and dynamism in Jewish thought, the interaction of Jews with their host societies, and tensions within national and transnational Jewish communities. By reading religious texts, philosophical treatises, works of literature, as well as scholarly appraisals of them, this course attempts to understand what Jewish civilization is, how it has changed and/or evolved, and how it has influenced the Occident.
Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry
Almost 70 years after the War, the Holocaust remains one of the most researched chapters in human history. Both, for scholars, teachers, students and the tens of thousands of people living outside of Europe who had no personal connections to World War II and its events; the Holocaust remains a haunting and troubling question. Despite all the books written on this subject matter, there is still no clear and satisfactory answer about how this crime was possible, given the fact that the Holocaust was carried out by one of the most sophisticated, developed, cultured and civilized European nations. Almost 6 million Jews, mostly unarmed civilians, were murdered by well-educated German leaders who found killing the Jews as their most important task.
The main objective of this class is to examine several key issues including: the factors leading up to the Holocaust, the planning and implementation of extermination, and the response of nation-states. We will also examine important questions including; was German and European anti-Semitism a driving force that lead to this genocide? What was the role of modernity in this process and finally, we will discuss complicity and vicarious liability of European nations. This course will be divided into three major components including: the origins and development of anti-Semitism and its impact on anti-Jewish Nazi policy, preparations for and implementation of systematic and bureaucratized mass killing of Jews and other ethnic groups, and finally the response of the world during and after the Holocaust.
All these questions will be addressed and accessed through the reading of primary and secondary sources and film. We’ll be reading survivors testimonies and memoirs, as well as the testimonies of witnesses which often evoke painful and emotional reactions. We will also focus special attention on the moral questions faced by the victims, perpetrators, bystanders and rescuers.
What Really Happened in the Camps?
Fr. Dennis McManus
This course will examine new forensic evidence about imprisonment in Nazi death camps and labor centers. Informed by the work of Fr. Patrick Desbois, the forensic anthropologist whose book, Holocaust by Bullets, has revised the historiography of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, this study will compare present narratives of the design and operations of the camps to newly discovered forensics which alter our understanding. Taught in tandem with a reading of autobiographical literature from camp inmates such as Elie Wiesel, Jean Bernard, Viktor Frankl, Anne Frank, Ettie Hillesum and others. Team-taught between Fr. Desbois and Fr. McManus.
Science in Nazi Germany
This advanced undergraduate class examines the role of science in Nazi Germany. While at first glance the crimes of Nazi Germany, culminating in the Holocaust, strike us as a return to barbarism, research of the last twenty-five years has shown that scientists trained in the methods of modern science played an important role in the Nazi regime and were frequently complicit in its crimes. This finding raises a number of questions which we will examine in this class: Was German science somehow different from science in other European countries or does the case of German science reveal a more general truth about the possible political uses and abuses of science? What changes did German science undergo after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933? What were the continuities with pre-1933 science? In what ways does science in a dictatorship function differently from science in a democracy? Did the Nazis “abuse” science? What role did the bio-sciences play in Nazi racial policy, including the Holocaust? Was science under the Nazi regime “peudoscience”? What does the study of science in the Third Reich teach us about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, the history of science, and the role of science in our own society.
The topics examined in the class will include: introductions to the history of German science and to Nazi Germany; the eugenics movement in transnational perspective; eugenics, psychiatry and human genetics in Nazi Germany; the role of “racial science” in Nazi anti-Semitism and racial policy; the role of the medical profession in Nazi Germany; the role of academic experts in the wartime occupation of Eastern Europe and the Holocaust; the contribution of military research to the Nazi war effort and the German quest for the atomic bomb; comparative and transnational perspectives; the question of postwar justice and the legacy of Nazi science in Cold War America.
Theological Implications of the Holocaust
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.
International Affairs and Diplomacy
The beginning of the second decade of the 21st century marks a watershed in Israeli history, society and politics. Israel goes through one of its most turbulent times since the state's foundation in 1948. The need for a profound soul-searching and an open public debate about the state's future and character is added to other challenges such as the implications of the turmoil in the Middle East, Iran's nuclear program, the conflict with the Palestinians, and relations with Turkey, United States, the European Union, the Jewish Diaspora and so forth.
Between 2011 and 2012 approximately one million Israelis; Jews, Arabs, secular and religious marched Israel's streets, under the slogan of "Social Justice." They called for an equal share in the social burden between Israel's secular Jews and its ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) and Arad citizens; fairer allocation of state resources; better welfare system and education; costs of living and housing; and greater political accountability.
It is no longer bold to assume that the upcoming years will prove fundamental for Israel's very well-being. Subsequent implications will affect Israel's character as a democratic-Jewish state, civil society, political system, culture, security, and the delicate dynamics among Israel's many social groups.
To understand the developments leading to the current state of affairs and be able to engage in future discussions, one must be equipped with a profound knowledge of Israel's history, demography, identity, institutions, related terminology and so forth.
In this seminar we will gradually unfold the experiences of one of the world's most pluralistic societies. To enhance your understanding of Israel, academic readings and lectures will be supplemented with grass-root examples, media, comparative analyses, and guest speakers.
We will begin by equipping ourselves with a basic historical framework for the study of the subject under scrutiny. The bulk of the semester, however, will be devoted to exploring key themes and tensions that repeatedly appear across the span of Israel. Our inquiry will require from us to be inter-disciplinary, using tools and insights from political science, history, theology, law, sociology, philosophy, and fine arts.
History of Peacemaking in the Middle East
Ambassador Dennis Ross
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 Syrian, and will discuss what lessons must be learned from the past in order to shape a different future.
We will also consider the American role as well as that of outside parties in trying to resolve the conflict. Ultimately, the purpose of the course is to provide insight into why it has been so difficult to settle this conflict, and what, if anything can be done to settle it in the future.
Statecraft and Negotiation
Ambassador Dennis Ross
Statecraft and Negotiation: This seminar course will look at American foreign policy through the lens of statecraft. Statecraft involves the orchestration of all the instruments of power and influence to protect against threats and to promote broad national interests. Key elements of statecraft include developing strategy, defining objectives and purposes, identifying the means available for pursuing strategy and knowing how best to employ them. Because negotiations represent one policy tool that is central to nearly all forms of statecraft, the course will explore negotiations and mediation. It will look at the American approach to negotiations and also examine mediation as an instrument for settling or defusing local and sectarian conflicts.
Israel, Hamas & Hezbollah
Rafael D. Frankel
Since the 1980s, the violence of the Arab-Israeli conflict has not been between Israel and the surrounding Arab states, but rather between Israel and a host of non-state militant groups. Hamas and Hezbollah are the two most prominent of these groups and now figure prominently in the political and security dimensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This seminar will examine Hamas and Hezbollah as organizations; Israel's political and security strategies in dealing with "asymmetric" conflict; the interactions between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah; and place those interactions in the broader context of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the geopolitics of the Middle East. Prior knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict will be helpful but is not required, as the first weeks will be spent reviewing its current and historical dimensions. Class exercises will include debate, simulated negotiations, and guest speakers.
U.S. Policy and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: 2000 to Today
This seminar will examine U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Bush and Obama Administrations. We will quickly review the negotiations before the Clinton years and then examine why Clinton’s efforts failed. We will then turn to Bush policy before 9/11, and how that event changed his views and policies. Considerable time will be spent examining the policy moves that followed: endorsement of Palestinian statehood, the Quartet, the Roadmap, support for Gaza Disengagement, and the Annapolis conference. We will then turn to the first term of the Obama Administration, including the tension in U.S.-Israel relations and the contrast between Bush and Obama approaches. We will discuss “Fayyadism” and the debate over constructing a Palestinian state; continuing efforts to promote negotiations; the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah; the effects of the Arab Spring and the conflict in November 2012. We will also review how U.S. policy is formulated as a reflection of both bureaucratic power struggles and American domestic politics.
War & Peace: The Arabs-Israel, 1948
The course, conducted as a seminar and mainly on the basis of readings of contemporary documents, will focus on political, diplomatic and military aspects of the first Arab-Israeli war, of 1948. We will look at the United Nations partition resolution of 29 November 1947 and on the diplomatic-political struggle that preceded it. We will then look at the war's two halves - the civil was between the Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine between November 1947 and May 1948, and at the war between the newborn Sate of Israel and the surrounding Arab states that followed, during May 1948-July 1949. We will look at the international context of the war (Cold War, decolonization) and at the policies of the Great Power players - Britain, the United States and the USSR, and we will devote time to the emergence of the Palestinian refugee problem. Lastly, we will look at the war's consequences.
Humanities and Literature
The purpose of this class is to give students a balanced and comprehensive overview of a concept shrouded in confusion and hyperbole. Essential to our work will be the disentangling of three separate understandings of secularism that have become hopelessly knotted up in journalistic and even scholarly writing. These distinct ideas might be described as: 1) Church/State separation, 2) nonbelief, and, 3) the process of secularization.
This course explores the fiction of a wide variety of contemporary Jewish authors working in the post-Holocaust era. The body of work that they have produced may be described as comic, dark, critical of self (and others), and, quite often, exceedingly disturbing. These writers, however, can rarely be described as boring.
Throughout the semester we will cling to an analytical distinction in which how an author writes is contrasted to what an author writes about. This separation of form and content is performed under the artificial laboratory conditions of literary analysis. Form and content, needless to say, are inextricably bound and comprise an organic unity. Be that as it may, we will often employ this distinction in our study of the novels, novellas, and short stories that we encounter this semester.
In terms of form, the questions we ask are simple (though the answers we will come across are decidedly not): how is the work of literary art built? Why did the author decide to narrate the story in this particular manner and what advantages and disadvantages resulted from this decision? How is the overall work structured? How might we describe the prose style of the writer in question? What are the technical strengths and weaknesses of the author? What literary influences can be identified? What is unique or idiosyncratic about his or her artistry?
In terms of content, we will notice that certain themes recur in nearly all of the works selected for scrutiny. Using a kind of shorthand we will organize our semester around some recurring obsessions of Jewish-American writers (many of which bleed into one another): “Holocaust,” “Israel,” “American Jews and ‘Others,’” and “Immigrant Stories.”
As the term progresses we will come across recurring motifs which might be described as: “the emasculated diaspora Jew”: “the lonely protagonist”: “Jewish women for and against Judaism”: “an American Jew in Israel”: “the eternal immigrant”: “assimilation and its discontents”: “the lure of the secular”: “orthodoxy and modernity”: “the oversexed Jew/ess”: and “the (dysfunctional) Jewish family.”
The Israeli Novel
This course will offer a broad view of the Israeli novel, from its emergence in the early days of the State of Israel to the turn of the twenty first century. We will explore the textual reflection of major trends in Israeli culture and politics, while examining connections and tensions between different literary generations in Israel and between Israeli literature and world literature. Readings will include a selection of Israeli novels in translation but original Hebrew texts can be available.
Phillip Roth: Literature About Literature
The Jewish-American writer Philip Roth is reckoned as one of the most important novelists in the American post-War literary canon. While the comic, pornographic, and scatological dimensions of his work are well chronicled, less has been said about Roth’s enduring commitment to exploring genres of post-modern, metafictional and autofictional storytelling. In this course, we will read Roth’s “greatest hits” (e.g. Goodbye, Columbus, Portnoy’s Complaint, American Pastoral) with an eye towards understanding how he explored the question of (Jewish) identity by recourse to a fiction about fiction. This inquiry will require that we study his self- reflexive masterpieces such as My Life As a Man, The Ghost Writer, The Counterlife, and Operation Shylock, among others. When all is said and done, students will not only learn about Roth’s bold secular Jewish vision, his views on sexuality, and American history, but they will familiarize themselves with some of the late 20th century’s most intriguing forms of narrative experimentation.
Troubled Rivalry: History of Jewish-Catholic Relations
Fr. Dennis McManus
This course will trace the history of Catholic-Jewish relations from the time of Jesus through the events of the Holocaust. Examining major figures in the conflicts and friendships of these two religions, Troubled Rivalry will explore how the interaction of Catholicism and Judaism has taken many forms. What is the shape of their future? Readings, films, lectures and discussions; two research papers required, one at mid-term and one at end of term; letter grades.
Modern Jewish Thought
This course explores some of the major minds and movements in Jewish thinking in the last 350 years while asking four questions: what is "modern"? what is "Jewish"? what is "thought"? and how might we understand all three terms combined as one rubric? Stated otherwise: in considering the historical development of diverse thought patterns and issues that emerge outside and inside Jewish life during this period - Secularism, Nationalism, Marxism/Socialism, Existentialism, Psychoanalysis, Reconstructionism, Modern Orthodoxy, the Holocaust--what do the reflections of individuals diverse in background and outward expression share, by virtue of which we may group them together under such a rubric? The crisscross of personalities and genres--philosophy and theology and work that is not typically included within either of these categories--should, in the end, begin to answer parts of our questions, while stimulating yet further questions (at least some of them ultimately unanswerable).
Jewish American Literature
Jewish-American Literature: This course examines the novels, novellas and short stories of both established and emerging Jewish-American writers of the past half-century. Our inquiry examines literary representations of the Holocaust and its effect on subsequent generations, assimilation and its discontents, the state of Israel as seen in diasporic perspective, God and godlessness, anti-Semitism past and present, the secular/religious divide, and the encounter with the non-Jewish other, among other subjects. Some of the writers to be studied include Saul Bellow, Cynthia Ozick, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Allegra Goodman, Grace Paley, Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Safran Foer, Lara Vapnyar and David Bezmozgis.
Seven Popes and the Jews
Fr. Dennis McManus
Too often, Jewish-Catholic relations are studied only in terms of the crises that occur between these two faith communities. By contrast, this course will take a long-term view of the ways in which Jews and Catholics have interacted with each other, studying Jewish relations with the Church under seven papacies from Pius XI (1922-1939) through Francis (1936- ). Particular attention will be paid to the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, the changes that followed in Catholic teaching and practice towards Jews, and the unique contributions of each pope to Catholic-Jewish relations since World War I. Course materials will include books, articles, films, lectures and discussions.
To gain an appreciation for the role of the Holocaust in shaping Catholic-Jewish relations in the 20th century;
To develop a sense of the major questions involved in the Nazi attempt to exterminate Jews and the Catholic response to them;
To evaluate how each of the popes from Pius XI through Francis have dealt with relations with Jews;
To trace the course of the changes in Catholic expression and practice towards Jews since the end of World War I.
Symbols of Faith
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?
Judaism in America
Before Ellis Island, before the Lower East Side, Jewish immigrants had already spent over 200 years working to establish a uniquely American form of Judaism. This course will examine the transformation of American Jewish identity from its beginnings in the Colonial period to the present day. Topics will include the development of the various religious movements (Reform, Conservative, etc.), the rise of the American synagogue and mutual aid societies, approaches to social justice, and reactions to anti-Semitism.
Kabbalah in Its Contexts
This course will address the question of what "mysticism" is—how it differs from "normative" religious experience—and therefore how Jewish, Christian and Muslim mysticism differ from (and are rooted in) normative Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It will also address the question of how Jewish, Christian and Muslim mysticism differ from and share common ground with each other.
The course will follow a two-fold path. One will be conceptual: we will be constantly asking how what we are reading, talking and thinking about is specific or not specific to what Jewish or Christian or Muslim mysticism is. The other will be historical: all three mystical traditions undergo centuries of development and part of grasping them is seeing how they change even as they remain consistently focused on the same essential issues. (And those issues, not unique to mysticism or to these three “types” of mysticism, but uniquely addressed by each of them, include: why are we here? what, if anything, created us? for what purpose, if any? how can we know what It/He/She is and wants of us? how can we grasp that Other without losing hold of ourselves?—and so on...)