Introduction to Gershom Scholem
Gershom Scholem (1897–1982) may be the best known scholar of Jewish Studies in the twentieth century. Above all he is associated with launching the modern academic study of Jewish mysticism. However, Scholem’s study of mysticism was only part of his much broader, far more engaged and systematic thinking about questions of contemporary politics and the Jewish historical condition. An influential political thinker and social theorist, Scholem put forth a philosophy of history that articulated the broader national-political project of his day. His studies in mysticism certainly influenced his social and political thought, but it is equally evident that his engagement with the latter shaped his understanding of the mystic and his world.
This course will introduce students to Scholem and his broad intellectual project. We will focus on three central fields of Scholem’s inquiry that relate to, and are informed by, his study of mysticism: kabbalah, messianism, and history. Each receives a thorough theorization by Sholem, and together, they establish the central concepts around which the broad scope of his thought is organized. After introducing the biographical and intellectual-historical context of Scholem’s life and study, we will turn to his major works on these concepts and explore central questions regarding language, literature, and nationhood. Readings will include excerpts from books, lectures, articles, and interviews in addition to Scholem’s correspondence with his close friend, Walter Benjamin.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
October 20 — November 10, 2021