Dr. Steven L. Jacobs is Professor and Aaron Aronov Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies at The University of Alabama. His primary research foci are in Biblical Studies, translation and interpretation, including the Dead Sea Scrolls; as well as Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
In the December 14, 2018 issue of The Chronicle Review, Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago penned a piece entitled “Go Ahead, Cite the Nazi” (B2).* His unnecessarily provocative argument as summarized by his disingenuous solution— “cite work that is relevant regardlessof the author’s [sic] misdeeds—was made even more disturbing by his conclusion, “you should not—under any circumstances—adjust your citation practices to punish scholars for [sic] bad behavior” (emphases added). Even more problematic was his total failure to address any notion of historical contextualization regarding the work of the philosophers he cites,Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)—the former an avowed antisemite and the latter an unrepentant Nazi, both of whom he rather cavalierly dismisses, choosing only to celebrate their “contributions” to philosophy. In my own field of religious studies, a “softer” but nonetheless equally problematic case would be that of Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), a formerly avowed Christian nationalist and supporter of the Romanian Iron Guard during World War II.
Dictionarily, the difference between a screed and a rant is the difference between written and oral discourse. What joins them together is a certain angry compulsion to “get the word out”, “wake up the lethargic” and/or, not without a certain brazenness, “right the wrong”. All-too-often, the words chosen are themselves hostile, and, rather than engaging the reader or listener, they serve to close the very doors they were originally intended, perhaps, to open.
Not so with Professor Aaron Hughes’s latest commentary on the, for him, sad state of Judaic Studies, my own subfield in the academic study of religion. Hughes, Ph.D. Indiana University and Philip S. Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Rochester, wrote a piece “Jewish Studies Is Too Jewish” in The Chronicle Review of The Chronicle of Higher Education on March 24, 2014, and which, in many ways, was an all-too-brief summary of his recent book The Study of Judaism: Authenticity, Identity, Scholarship (Albany: Suny Press, 2013; 1672 pages). Both the book and article have evoked fascinating responses from, among others, Michael Satlow (Brown University), and Zachary Braiterman (Syracuse University). More on this in a bit. Continue reading →