Monday, May 11, 2009

The Maimonides Madrasah: Islamic Secular Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Damascus

Where: Humanities 1 room 202, UC Santa Cruz
When: Monday, May 18 at 4:00pm

A visitor to the last standing Jewish day-school in Syria, the Maimonides Madrasah, will notice the logo of the Syrian Arab Republic's Ministry of Education proudly chiseled above the entrance. The secular state stakes out an overt presence in many other Jewish sites in Damascus. The very centerpiece of the Syrian National Museum is a historical reconstruction of a 3rd century Jewish synagogue. Last summer, the state provided Syrian readers curious about Syrian Jewish history with an alternative to the usual anti-Semitic polemics: a comprehensive state-mufti approved history of Damascene Jewry published in Arabic, replete with photographs. If Syria is a predominantly Muslim society and one of Israel's staunchest enemies, why does the state play such an active role in preserving Jewish institutions and representing their history? In doing so, how does the state simultaneously limit, even fossilize, them? This talk will frame Syrian Jewish life and heritage in the context of Syrian secularism. It will also address some theoretical questions regarding religious minorities and the on-going construction of secularisms in Islamic societies.

Joel Blecher is a graduate student in Islamic Studies at Princeton University's Department of Religion. He studied at the University of Damascus in 2006-7 and has undertaken several research and translation projects in Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia since then. Some of his recent work has focused on problems of consensus, authority and religious reform in medieval and modern Syria and the Arabian Peninsula.

This talk is the first in a series of events on Jews in Muslim lands made possible by a grant from the David B. Gold Foundation.

Co-sponsored by the Mediterranean Seminar, UCSC. Staff support provided by the Institute for Humanities Research.

Friday, May 8, 2009



A Dialogue With:

Nathaniel Deutsch, UC Santa Cruz
Mitchell Duneier, Princeton University
Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia University

Moderated by Eric Porter, UC Santa Cruz

Where: Humanities 1 room 210, UC Santa Cruz
When: Tuesday, May 19, at 4:00pm

Since its inception in sixteenth century Venice, the term “ghetto” has been applied to Jewish urban spaces in Europe and the United States. Over the last half century, it has also become associated with African American inner city neighborhoods. Highly regulated and surveilled by the state, Jewish and African American ghettos have also been marked by a high degree of social autonomy. Ghettos have functioned as sites of extraordinary cultural and religious creativity—and extreme violence and repression. Alternately mythologized and pathologized, the ghetto also exists as an imaginary space that has defined and distorted the historical representation(s) of Jews and African Americans, respectively. Over time, ghetto has come to signify a place, a way of being in the world, and a state of mind.

In this interdisciplinary dialogue, the first of a series that will bring together scholars of Jewish Studies with scholars from other fields, Professor Nathaniel Deutsch, Co-Director of the Center of Jewish Studies at UCSC, Professor Mitchell Duneier of Princeton University, and Professor Sudhir Venkatesh of Columbia University will discuss these and other aspects of the ghetto. Professor Eric Porter, Chair of the Department of American Studies at UCSC and author of the award winning book "What Is This Thing Called Jazz? African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists," will introduce and moderate the dialogue. The event is made possible by a grant from the David B. Gold Foundation and is co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology, the Department of American Studies, and the Urban Studies Working Group.

Sudhir Venkatesh is William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. He is an award-winning author, most recently of the New York Times bestseller "Gang Leader for a Day" (Penguin), a film maker, and radio producer, whose work has appeared in "The New York Times," "This American Life," and other venues. Venkatesh’s research on Chicago street gangs served as the basis for a chapter in "Freakonomics."

Mitchell Duneier is Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and regular Visiting Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. His first book, "Slim's Table: Race, Respectability, and Masculinity" won the 1994 American Sociological Association's award for Distinguished Scholarly Publication. His second book "Sidewalk" (1999), won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the C. Wright Mills Award.

The event is made possible by a grant from the David B. Gold Foundation and is co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology, the Department of American Studies, and the Urban Studies Working Group. Supported by the Institute for Humanities Research, UCSC.