Israel Studies & Jewish Studies in America

, Abramson Family Founders Room, SIS Building

Updated 2/26/13

The "Israel Studies and Jewish Studies in America," conference is sponsored by American University's Center for Israel Studies and Jewish Studies Program, the Israel Institute (Jerusalem and Washington), and by Ludwig-Maximilian University Munich.


Conference Chairs:
Michael Brenner, Seymour and Lillian Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies, American University and Chair of Jewish History and Culture, Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich
Pamela Nadell, Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women's and Gender Studies, American University

Conference Description:
Israel is seen by the majority of the people, both in and outside of the country as a Jewish state. As such, its history cannot be adequately understood apart from Jewish history. At the same time, not all Israelis are Jews, and not everything about Israel is part of the Jewish experience. Additionally, after sixty-five years of statehood, Israel has developed its own history and culture. Should this be considered part of or distinct from Jewish history and culture?

The establishment of Israel Studies as a discipline all its own on American college campuses has challenged the place and concept of Jewish Studies. In some universities, Israel Studies is part of a department, center, or program along with Jewish Studies, while in other universities its distinct character is emphasized as separate. In his ground-breaking essay, "Is Israel a Jewish State?," historian Derek Penslar states that "the idea that Zionism was qualitatively distinct from other Jewish political movements in modern times and that Israel wrought a sea-change upon its immigrants has promoted an unfortunate separation between the fields of Israel and Jewish studies."

This conference, triggered by the establishment of the Seymour and Lillian Abensohn Chair of Israel Studies at American University, explores the question if this separation is indeed unfortunate and how American academics confront the positioning of the two fields: as two equal partners, as a minor versus a major field, as a more established discipline versus an academic newcomer?

Leading experts from across America will speak on these questions, drawing upon their own scholarship, teaching, and variant experiences at several different universities.

Preliminary Program:

10:30 am-11:00 am
Greetings: American University and Israel Studies
Howard Wachtel and Michael Brenner

11:00 am-1:00 pm
Jewish Studies and Israel Studies: A Roundtable Discussion
Brandeis: Ilan Troen and Sylvia Barack Fishman
UCLA: Aryeh Saposnik and Arnold Band
Maryland: Yoram Peri and Marsha Rozenblit
NYU: Ronald Zweig and Hasia Diner
Chair: Pamela Nadell

1:00-2:15 pm Hosted Lunch

2:15-4:00 pm Israel Studies between Academia and Politics:
Calvin Goldscheider (American University/Brown University)
Benjamin Ish-Shalom (Beit Morasha, Jerusalem)
Michael Kotzin (Chicago Jewish Federation, University of Illinois)
Ami Pedahzur (Texas)
Miriam Shenkar (Ohio)
Chair: Michael Brenner

4:00-4:15 pm Break

4:15-5:15 pm Keynote Lecture:
Leon Wieseltier “Israel Studies, Jewish Studies: Same but Different”

This conference is generously supported by the Washington-based Bender Foundation in memory of Sondra D. Bender, a longtime member of the American University board of trustees.

Questions: Laura Cutler, Center for Israel Studies, 202-885-3780,
Center for Israel Studies
Jewish Studies
Laura Cutler

Send email to Laura Cutler


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