Symposium: The Messianic Impulse: Jews and Utopian Thought in Modern Europe

by CJS

When & Where

March 25, 2014
9:00 a.m.
Union South (1308 Dayton Street)

Schedule of Events

The full-day symposium will be held on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 in Union South. Events are to include a keynote, three short papers, and a roundtable discussion.

9:00    Welcome and Introduction (Tony Michels)

9:15    Keynote: “Jewish Messianism and Revolutionary Utopias in Central Europe: Erich Fromm’s Early Writings (1922-1930)” (Michael Löwy)

10:30  Break

11:00  Panel: Jewish Intellectuals in Comparative Perspective

  • Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, Chair (Dept. of History, UW–Madison)
  • Jack Jacobs, “The Frankfurt School on Israel: A Comparative Perspective”
  • Sarah Hammerschlag, “States of Exception: Zionism and the Messianic Impulse in L’école juive de Paris
  • Eugene Sheppard, “Reflections on the Elective Affinities of Messianic and Revolutionary Jewish Intellectuals from Left to Right”

12:30  Break

2:00   Roundtable (Löwy, Jacobs, Hammerschlag, Sheppard), moderated by Viren Murthy and Tony Michels (Department of History, UW–Madison)

3:30   Closing remarks (Tony Michels)

About the Symposium

In 1992, the French political theorist Michael Löwy published the English translation of Redemption and Utopia: Jewish Libertarian Thought in Central Europe. Löwy used the concept of “elective affinity” to explain “the surprising community of spirit that existed between redemptive messianic religious thought and the wide variety of radical secular utopian beliefs” held by Jewish intellectuals whose work was to mark modern culture: Martin Buber, Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin George Lukacs, and others. Redemption and Utopia served as the touchstone for a generation of intellectual historians seeking to understand the nexus between Judaism and modern political thought. This symposium, entitled “The Messianic Impulse: Jews and Utopian Thought in Modern Europe,” revisits Löwy’s classic book as the departure point for a wide-ranging discussion of Jewish intellectuals in modern Europe.

About the Speakers

Michael Löwy is a distinguished and eminent French-Brazilian social scientist, Marxist philosopher and literary scholar. In 1961, Löwy was awarded a scholarship for France and went to Paris, where he later permanently settled, becoming a French citizen. He studied sociology under the renowned Professor Lucien Goldmann, and earned his first doctorate degree in 1964. Subsequently, Löwy spent some years in Israel earning his living by university jobs in Haifa and Jerusalem and learned Hebrew, eventually becoming a lecturer at the University of Tel Aviv. Löwy returned to Paris in 1969 and began work on his habilitation thesis about György Lukács, earning his PhD in 1976.

From 1978 until his retirement, Lowy functioned as Research Director in Sociology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris, where he is now Emeritus Research Director. He was a regular guest lecturer at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris, and he has been a member of the Centre d’Etudes Interdisciplinaires des Faits Religieux, Paris. He has held seminars and guest lectures at a considerable number of universities in France, Germany, the United States, Brazil, Cuba and elsewhere, and he has frequently participated in scholarly symposia and presented his research in conferences held in France, the United States, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Israel and so on. In 1984, he was awarded the Silver Medal of the CNRS as best social scientist.

During the last 20 years, a special focus of his research has been on the sociology of religion. His magnum opus in this field was his book Redemption and Utopia (originally published in French and translated into several languages), in which he investigated the genesis of religious and non-religious eschatologies and of utopias and their differences in view of their liberation perspectives. Other main fields of Löwy’s scholarly research work have been the sociology of knowledge, the theology of liberation, messianism and utopian thought, romanticism, Jewish-German culture, Marx and Marxism, Marxism and the national question, nationalism and internationalism, Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution and the Third World, Latin American Trotskyism, and utopian and idealist dimensions in Marxist and libertarian thought. He has published a considerable number of books (some together with Robert Sayre), about these subjects. His books and articles have been translated into more than 20 languages and thus have found international reception and audience.

Sarah Hammerschlag is Assistant Professor of Religion and Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Her research thus far has focused on the position of Judaism in the post-World War II French intellectual scene, a field that puts her at the crossroads of numerous disciplines and scholarly approaches including philosophy, literary studies, and intellectual history. She is the author of The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2010). She has written essays on Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Blanchot which have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Jewish Quarterly Review and Shofar, among other places. She is currently working on two manuscripts, one entitled “Sowers and Sages: The Renaissance of Judaism in Postwar Paris”, and another on Levinas, Derrida, and Literature. She is also editing an anthology for Brandeis University Press on 20th-century French Jewish writing. The Figural Jew received an Honorable Mention for the 2012 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award, given by the Association of Jewish Scholars, and was a finalist for the AAR’s Best First Book in the History of Religions in 2011.

Jack Jacobs, Professor of Political Science at John Jay College and the CUNY Graduate Center, received a PhD from Columbia University and was an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Columbia before coming to John Jay. Professor Jacobs was a Fulbright Research Scholar at Tel Aviv University in 1996-1997, a visiting scholar at the Simon-Dubnow-Institut fuer jüdische Geschichte und Kultur at Leipzig University in 1998, the Workmen’s Circle/Dr. Emanuel Patt Visiting Professor at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in 2003-2004, and was also a Fulbright Scholar at Vilnius University in 2009. He has been the recipient of grants from the Forward Association, the Arthur Zygielbaum Memorial Fund, the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Leo Baeck Institute, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, among other sources. Professor Jacobs is the author of On Socialists and “the Jewish Question” after Marx (New York University Press 1992), and of Bundist Counterculture in Interwar Poland (Syracuse University Press, 2009), and the editor of Jewish Politics in Eastern Europe: The Bund at 100 (New York University Press 2001). Works by Professor Jacobs have appeared in French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian and Yiddish as well as in English. He has delivered academic lectures in Australia, Austria, China, England, France, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and South Africa, and is currently writing a book, under contract with Cambridge University Press, on the Frankfurt School, antisemitism, and Jewish life paths. He served, in 2012, as chair of the conference organizing committee for an international academic conference on Jews and the Left, held in New York, and also helped to arrange a workshop in Warsaw for graduate students and junior scholars conducting research on the history of the Bund.

Eugene R. Sheppard is Associate Professor of Modern Jewish History and Thought at Brandeis University, Associate Director of the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry, and associate editor of the Tauber Institute Series with Brandeis University Press. He is the author of Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile: The Making of a Political Philosopher (Brandeis University Press 2007), which critically assesses the development of this controversial and enigmatic German-Jewish refugee’s political philosophy and its legacy. Professor Sheppard is currently working on a book that explores the ways in which German Jewish intellectuals grappled with issues of loyalty from the 1920s through the 1950s. He is also co-editing the Nachlass of Simon Rawidowicz with David N. Myers (UCLA) and Benjamin Ravid (Brandeis University, Emeritus). He and Samuel Moyn (Columbia University) are managing editors of multi-volume “Brandeis Library of Modern Jewish Thought” on Brandeis University Press/UPNE.