Spinoza and Mendelssohn: Politics of the Sacred and Profane | The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research
Spinoza and Mendelssohn: Politics of the Sacred and Profane

We are proud to announce the first in a series of courses presented in a partnership between the Center for Jewish History and the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, as part of a shared mission to promote open, rigorous, and critical academic study for the general public.


Wednesdays, beginning July 18, 7-9pm
Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th St. in Manhattan
Enrollment is capped at 20 and includes copies of Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise and Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem.
 Some food and drink will also be provided!

In this course, we will explore questions of political theology and “the secular” in two pivotal, controversial works in both Jewish thought and in the history of “Western” political philosophy: Baruch Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise and Moses Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem. We will study these texts in terms of their historical relationship to and interaction with normative ideas in “Western” philosophy, as well as in light of the questions in political philosophy and metaphysics they raise. How should we understand—or, rather, not understand—God? What is the proper relationship between religion and the state? How can we understand the differences between revealed “religion” and revealed “legislation”? How did Spinoza articulate an alternative vision of modernity nearly a century before Kant? How did Mendelssohn rebut Kantian ideals of freedom and autonomy by drawing on Jewish traditions and concepts of heteronomy? What philosophical positions can emerge from examining the contrast between Christian notions of universalism and Jewish conceptions of particularity? In addition to Spinoza and Mendelssohn, we will read commentaries on both authors and secondary literature on the nature of “religion” and “secularism.” This will not be a class merely in philosophical reading. We will try to understand, apply, and reflect critically on these questions in our contemporary context.

6 sessions over 6 weeks, $395

This course will be co-taught by Ajay Singh Chaudhary and Abby Kluchin.

Ajay Singh Chaudhary

Ajay Singh Chaudhary is the founding Director of the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. He is currently a Fellow at Columbia University’s Middle East Institute and a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia’s Institute for Comparative Literature and Society through the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies. He holds an M.Sc. in Culture and Society from the London School of Economics, an M.A. and M.Phil in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University, and a B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, Religious Studies, and Government from Cornell University. He spent the past two years teaching in Columbia’s Core Curriculum and his research focuses on comparative philosophy, Iranian and Islamic intellectual history, the Frankfurt School, modern Jewish thought, religion, social and critical theory, visual studies and post-colonial studies.  He has written for Dialectical AnthropologyThe Jewish Daily Forward, Filmmaker Magazine, and The Huffington Post.At any given time he is probably pacing, reading, playing video games or thinking about the relationship between norms, morals, and metaphysics and almost certainly not sleeping.

Abby Kluchin                         

Abby Kluchin holds a Ph.D., M.Phil., and M.A. in philosophy of religion from Columbia University and a B.A. with High Honors from Swarthmore College.  She taught for several years in Columbia’s Core Curriculum and is presently an adjunct member of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Cooper Union. Abby specializes in Continental philosophy, with emphases in poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, and feminist theory. Her current research focuses on the category of affect and the often neglected affective dimension of reading and writing, particularly in the realm of philosophical discourse. Abby is also a compulsive reader of Victorian novels and science fiction.

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