Conference – PUBLIC JEWISHNESS: CONTEXTS, MOTIVES, POLITICS, MEANING

This was a three-day participant-only workshop bringing PhD candidate ethnographers and established scholars whose work partially explores open representations or inhabitations of Jewishness, particularly in the presence of non-Jews. The symposium discussions focused on public/private distinctions, political and civic engagement, local and state heritagization processes and Jewish enactments of peoplehood. The past and forthcoming ethnographic projects we explored spanned the globe, whether São Paolo Jews and their relation to Brazil’s shift to Bolsonaro’s hard-right politics, Kochin’s Jewish community who are grappling with diminishing populations and Hassidic Jewish individuals who are creatively responding to Netflix documentaries through Yiddish theatre in Canada.

Anthropologists have noted how Jewish socialities have shifted across global contexts since the 1960s to become more public-facing and embedded within socially diverse spaces. The combination of growing socioeconomic infrastructures, such as the global boom of the heritage industry in the 1990s, liberal democratic state-led processes that encourage minority representation and participation within the wider democratic body and shifting Judaic ethical discourses around peoplehood and universalism, have been seen to contribute to the growth of spaces and practices which foster forms of Jewish communal life that play out in more public-facing forms. This symposium aimed to understand public and private Jewishness from a range of angles and contexts, teasing out surprising theoretical intersections between geographically diverse case studies.

The conference, hosted by the Anthropology Department of SOAS University, was designed to provide engagement and guidance to doctoral candidates about to begin ethnographic research, as well as to generate productive conversations across generations of scholars. The workshop was co-organised by Dr.Naomi Leite and myself.

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