The first theme relates to notions of identity and belonging, which have become crucial in discussions of race, ethnicity, religion, and nation in many humanities disciplines. A variety of historical, geographical and political factors have led Jews to be identified as a religion, an ethnicity, a race, or a culture. Jewish literature written in various languages and from diverse perspectives can help us rethink how issues of identity align with or complicate acts of identification. These questions about identity and belonging have become ever more pressing with the international increase in migration, racism, and antisemitism. Jewish Studies itself intersects differently with these fields of study in various disciplines. For instance, in Italian Studies, the recent growth in antisemitism, racism, and anti-migrant feeling, combined with contemporary discourses on postcolonialism and anti-racism, has led to new explorations of Italy’s often ignored history of colonization, xenophobia, and complicity in the Shoah. This differs from German Studies, where a long and rich tradition of Jewish writing and art coalesced into a sub-field as a result of historical circumstances surrounding the Holocaust. Subsequently, German-Jewish Studies has come to serve as a model for other cross-cultural subfields in the discipline, including Turkish-German Studies, Black German Studies, and Asian-German Studies. One aim of the lab is to continue this ongoing exploration of how Jewish Studies is positioned in other fields with students, faculty, and outside scholars. 

A second guiding idea is the possibility of finding new narratives and structures. Certain stories about Jews get told again and again–for instance, those of oppression and persecution–and certain binaries dominate our thinking about Jewish experience: tradition and modernity, diaspora and Zionism, the universal and the particular, and many more. We would like to move beyond these narratives and oppositions to develop new ways to conceptualize modern Jewish literature and culture. New narratives and structures will entail considering a range of linguistic and scholarly traditions. We aim to engage undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars working in languages that are not traditionally included in Jewish Studies.

A third major theme has to do with the idea of the modern. Jewish artists and writers are often categorized as modern when they are part of the modernist movements of their time, such as Expressionism or Surrealism, or if they use modern techniques such as montage, stream-of-consciousness narration, or atonality. They address “Jewishquestions” through global modernist form and style. We plan to explore other possibilities for understanding what constitutes Jewish modernism and how the idea of modernism shifts when considered in these terms.

Our fourth and final guiding concept is translation. We will consider how various aspects of translation–from the translator’s background to choices about target language and distribution–shape the understanding of a work as Jewish. Other questions include the role of self-translation within Jewish Studies, the complexity of translating multilingual works, and the phenomenon of first edition translations (e.g., German exile writers who wrote in German but whose work first appeared in English or Spanish translation). We would also draw on the diverse linguistic knowledge of Duke’s community to consider works that have not been translated into English, calling attention to the act of translation as a formative cultural and political act. We would plan to discuss how our lab works with the multiple, successful courses in our department that engage translation.