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Level 6

6AAT3052 European Jews and the 'Orient'


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee this module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Dr Andrea Schatz 


One 2,000-word essay (30%); one 3,000 word essay (60%); and classroom participation (10%)



One 2,000-word essay (30%); one 3,000 word essay (60%); and one oral presentation (10%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: Two-hour weekly classes over ten weeks
Pre-requisites: none

With the emergence of colonialism and the European Enlightenment, “Europe” and the “Orient” were increasingly seen as two spheres, which, although interconnected, stood in complete opposition to each other. What did this mean for European Jews? On the one hand they had lived in Europe for centuries, on the other hand they were now depicted as “Orientals”, and, to make things even more complex, their diaspora networks spread across both “Europe” and the “Orient”. European Jews responded to the powerful idea of a “Jewish Orient” in many different ways, and their responses had a profound impact on how they understood their presence in Europe, their history and future as a nation (Zionism), and their religious commitments. In this module, we will ask:

  • What is a diaspora?
  • What is “Orientalism”?
  • How did the notions of “Europe” and the “Orient” emerge, and how did European Jews take them up and transform them to define their place among European nation states and in the Jewish diaspora?
  • How do Jews and the “Orient” figure in new approaches to Religious Studies in a post-secular world?

In the course of the term, we will be particularly attentive to the important role of British authors in negotiations on the meanings of “East” and “West” in Jewish and global contexts.

Primary sources (political, theoretical and literary texts), secondary literature, visual material and short lectures will form the basis of class discussions. Essays will allow students to systematically develop their writing skills; marked essays will be returned with comments and discussed in individual tutorials.

Sample topics

  • Introduction: Identity & Diaspora
  • The Enlightenment and the “Orient”
  • Orientalising Judaism 
  • Disorienting Europe 
  • Orientalism 
  • East and West in London 
  • Jews and the “Orient” in Religious Studies
  • Diasporas: Egypt – India – Cambridge
  • The Levant: After Jews and Arabs?

Preliminary Reading

Efron, John et al., The Jews: A History, 1st ed. 2009; 2nd ed. 2013 (in Maughan). Any chapter you find interesting will be useful.

Further information

Module aims
  • To introduce students to concepts of the "Orient" in Christian and Jewish contexts. The module juxtaposes a long history of religious and cultural connections with the divisions at work in the notions of “East” and “West” as they emerged in the early modern and modern era; and it traces the implications of the concept of the “Orient” in current debates in the field of Religious Studies.
  • To examine how Jews took up, modified and subverted Christian concepts of the "Orient".
  • To allow students to develop a nuanced understanding of the concept of “diaspora", which forms the basis of various - Jewish and non-Jewish - critical responses to the concept of the “Orient”.
Learning outcomes

Generic skills

  • Ability to engage competently and critically with primary texts and to relate them to their religious, cultural and political contexts.
  • Ability to analyse texts, issues and arguments.
  • Ability to develop and present original, coherent and persuasive arguments in oral and in written form.

Module specific skills

  • To understand key moments in the evolvement of the concept of the “Orient”.
  • To describe and discuss Christian and Jewish interpretations of the “Jewish Orient”.
  • To know and discuss current intellectual, religious, and literary approaches that aim to subvert the dichotomy of “East” and “West”, taking the interconnected world of the Jewish diaspora as their point of departure.
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