Cosmopolitanism and the Jews
AHRC FELLOWSHIP, 2013-14
Dr. Cathy Gelbin
This is a nine-month research project funded by the AHRC Fellowship scheme, for which there is a dedicated website with news of related events.
Cosmopolitanism has recently become a keyword in envisioning productive types of inclusivity and diversity in the West, where societies are increasingly shaped by migration, transnational and diasporic processes. This project contends that from early modernity onwards, Jews represented the paradigm of the cosmopolitan because they were seen as a people beyond borders. Today, they have largely vanished from the picture but remain in the palimpsest of academic discourse about the cosmopolitan. What I am presenting with my co-author, Prof. Sander L. Gilman (Emory University), is a case study and a history: the origin of the modern anxiety about immigration and the free flow of peoples across boundaries, and the meanings that nation states and these individuals attach to such movement pro and contra. This history has direct relevance to contemporary debates on migration in Germany and the UK, and our globalising world more broadly.
Our planned study explores the German-Jewish example as an exemplary case study of cosmopolitanism, which works itself out in complex ways across the Western hemisphere and beyond. We set out from the premise that German-speaking Jews both epitomized the figure of the cosmopolitan and themselves contributed a rich body of literary and theoretical writing on this concept. We question how Jews were and are made to function as the litmus test of Kant's and Fichte's cosmopolitanist dialectic of particularist universality. We argue that the rootless Jew, the stranger or pariah, the cosmopolitan and the internationalist form part of the dichotomous imagery attached to Jewish mobility and fluidity. We seek to demonstrate how these notions consolidated during the Enlightenment and ensuing nationalist and racial thought. Our study will analyse the inherent instability of these images of the Jews, showing how they served to fuel antisemitic discourses, but also seemingly productive notions of the Jews. These perceptions, we contend, culminated in the early 20th-century perception of the Jews as cosmopolitans per se and served to ideologically underpin the Nazi and Stalinist persecutions of Jews.
Focussing on self-identified German-Jewish writers participating in modern Jewish cultural and political discourses during the 19th and 20th centuries, we want to explore how concepts of Jewish mobility and fluidity arose in particular contexts of social change. We present the historically ambivalent application of these ideas about the Jews to indicative case studies of individual authors and their work.
2. TOWN MEETING
Migration and Culture in London’s East End 1800 to the Present
Rich Mix Arts Centre, London, 20 January 2014
Co-organised by Dr Cathy Gelbin and Prof Sander Gilman as part of their AHRC-funded research project Cosmopolitanism and the Jews
Bringing together local people with practitioners in education and the arts, this event explores the rich stories of migration to London’s East End.
Dr Cathy Gelbin (University of Manchester), Introduction
Prof Sander Gilman (Emory University), Migration and Culture in the East End – Why the East End?
Rachel Lichtenstein, writer and artist (London), The Dutch Jewish Community of Sandys Row Synagogue
Munsur Ali, writer, producer and director (London), Mass Migration: A Cause by the End Days of the Empire
Jane Earl, Rich Mix director (London), Building A Multi-Cultural Arts Audience in the East End
Ruth Novaczek, artist and filmmaker (London), Rootless Cosmopolitans
Listen to the podcast of the Panel Discussion.
For the screened trailer of Munsur Ali’s Shongram, visit http://www.shongram.com
For a clip of Ruth Novaczek’s screened Rootless Cosmopolitans, visit
Jews on the Move: Particularist Universality in Modern Cosmopolitanist Thought
International Conference, Leo Baeck Institute London
Co-organised by Cathy Gelbin (University of Manchester) and Sander L. Gilman (Emory University
11-12 May 2014
Our AHRC-funded conference on Cosmopolitanism and the Jews will look at the image and participation of Jews in the construction of modern cosmopolitanist thought. Cosmopolitanism has recently become a keyword in envisioning productive types of inclusivity and diversity in the West (e.g. Cohen 1992, Appiah 1998 and Beck 2006). From early modernity onwards, Jews represented the paradigm of the cosmopolitan. They were seen as a people unfettered by Herder’s newly evolving idea of national borders as natural and defined by language. German-speaking Jews both epitomized the figure of the cosmopolitan and themselves contributed a rich body of literary and theoretical writing on this concept. Today, Jews have largely vanished from the debate about cosmopolitanism yet remain the palimpsest of academic discourse about the cosmopolitan. While the issue of the cosmopolitan has returned with a vengeance to the social sciences and to the political arena (in the shape of debates about the movement of people and their urbanisation) little attention has been given to when and how this concept evolved.
Examining the case of German-speaking Jews in international perspective, the two-day event explores how Jews were and are made to function as the litmus test of Kant’s and Fichte’s dialectic of particularist universality, which fuelled cosmopolitanist ideas. Leading scholars in the field will situate selected comparative case studies from Europe, the United States and the Middle East within the broader field of cosmopolitanism studies.
Registration for this event is free, but please register with Carina Chitayat, firstname.lastname@example.org, to secure your place and obtain all further information.
SUNDAY, 11 MAY 2014
SESSION I, 14.00-15.00
Prof. Robert Fine (Warwick University), Keynote lecture: The Two Faces of Universalism: Emancipation and the Jewish Question
SESSION II, 15.00-16.30
Prof. Sander Gilman (Emory University), Aliens vs. Predators: Cosmopolitan Jews vs. Jewish Nomads
Prof. Saskia Sassen (Columbia University), tbc
Coffee break, 16.30-17.00
SESSION III, 17.00-18.30
Ruth Novaczek (London), The New World, Diaspora and 21st- Century Cosmopolitanism
Followed by a screening of Ruth Novaczek’s new film, The New World
MONDAY, 12 MAY 2014
SESSION IV, 9.00-10.30
Prof. Michael Keith (University of Oxford), The Parochially Global Cosmopolitan
Prof. Mica Nava (University of East London), Jews and Other Others: Cosmopolitan or Not?
Coffee break, 10.30-11.00
SESSION V, 11.00-12.30
Wayne Cristaudo (Charles Darwin University Northern Territory Australia), Revolutions, World Wars and the Continuing Process of Redemptive Cosmopolitanism
Dr. Ilse Lazaroms (Central European University), Hotel Patriots or Permanent Strangers? Joseph Roth, Transitory Lives, and the Literatures of Interwar Central Europe
SESSION VI, 14.00-15.30
Prof. Philip Spencer (Kingston University, London), Marxism, Cosmopolitanism and the Jews
Dr. Cathy Gelbin (University of Manchester), Rootless Cosmopolitans: East Germany and the Stalinist Persecutions of Jews
Coffee break, 15.30-16.00
SESSION VII, 16.00-17.30
Dr. Xun Zhou (University of Essex), Being Jewish and Cosmopolitan: a Jewish experience in Hong Kong
Dr Claire Sutherland (Durham University), Essential Outsiders and the Search for Cosmopolitan Citizenship
Closing statements, 17.30-18.00