Subject: Call for Papers: The Cultures of Maimonideanism: New Approaches to the History of Jewish Thought. 16-19 July 2007, EAJS Summer 2007 Colloquium
Date: 2 November 2006 14:39:00 GMT-05:00
CALL FOR PAPERS
EAJS Summer 2007 Colloquium
16-19 July 2007
The Cultures of Maimonideanism:
New Approaches to the History of Jewish Thought
Gad Freudenthal (CNRS, Paris) and James T. Robinson (University of Chicago)
The purpose of the Colloquium is to explore the study of Maimonideanism as a cluster of attitudes within traditional Judaism understanding themselves as committed to the teachings of Moses Maimonides and hence to some form of rationalism in interpreting the canonical texts of Judaism. By shifting the focus from Maimonides’ own ideas to the impact they had on people’s minds over eight centuries we wish to explore ways of bringing closer the history of Jewish philosophy and thought to Jewish history, and to cognate fields such as sociology, literature, and folklore. Special emphasis will be put on how the notion of Maimonideanism can be helpful in teaching the history of Jewish thought in universities.
Statement of Purpose and Intended Public
This Colloquium will be devoted to problématiques situated at the juncture of history and the history of philosophy. Our purpose is to consider not the philosophical ideas of individuals, but rather philosophical mentalities, i.e. clusters of related philosophical postures. Specifically, we will attend to the variety of philosophical stances perceiving themselves as committed to the teachings of Moses Maimonides (1137/8-1204). Maimonides’ emblematic figure was a rallying point for thinkers whose positions varied greatly, but all shades of what we will call Maimonideanism share a commitment to one form or another of rationalism, namely to the general idea that in interpreting its canonical texts Judaism must draw on the findings of human reason, i.e. on science and philosophy. Put differently: Maimonideanism is a stance recognizing that the Jewish canonical texts are not the only source of authority in Judaism; that appeal must be made also to “alien” or “foreign” intellectual products.
Attending to Maimonideanism rather than to the thought of Maimonides himself will allow us to consider the role of philosophical ideas in the reality of Jewish history, to view Maimonides not “merely” as a thinker, but as a historical agent or rather moving force. We thereby hope to introduce a new, additional, perspective to the history of Jewish thought and history. Students of the former should ask what made Maimonides into a cultural symbol that has motivated people ideologically during many centuries. Students of the latter should integrate in their narrative the history of Jewish thought, albeit not as the history of disembodied ideas, but as that of historical forces. In short, we wish to move toward an integrated perspective of the history of Jewish thought and of Jewish history.
Ideally, therefore, participants in this Colloquium would include scholars working in all areas in which Maimonides and Maimonideanism left a mark: historians of ideas in medieval and post-medieval Jewish cultures; historians of Jewish Law; historians of Jewish mysticism; historians of Jewish poetry and literature; historians of Biblical exegesis; historians of science; historians of linguistics; historians of Jewish folklore (non exhaustive enumeration).
It is common knowledge that Maimonides has meant very different things to his numerous readers over the centuries. Some have viewed him as a moderately conservative rabbi who introduced into Judaism a dose of Graeco-Arabic thought in order to better defend it against threats arising from these “alien sciences,” while others have believed that Maimonides was a radical thinker who entirely subscribed to the ideas of philosophy and gave up certain traditional tenets of Judaism. The former assume that Maimonides believed what he said he believed, while the latter urge that his writing was “esoteric” and that he in secret held beliefs diametrically opposed to those he feigned to hold. Arguably the debate between these two interpretations of Maimonides will never be resolved, and no lesser than the late Rabbi Joseph Qafih commented that Maimonides is like a mirror in which each reader sees his or her own spiritual image. Although our Colloquium will deliberately avoid entering this debate, it will assume it as a historical datum.
It is also common knowledge that Maimonides was immensely influential during his lifetime and during the eight centuries that passed since his death: he inspired a great number of individuals, who identified in his writings different ideas, which they defended as Maimonidean. An intellectual outlook that considered itself as (fully or partly) committed to Maimonides’ teaching or was so considered by others we call Maimonideanism. MaimonideanismS, their variety notwithstanding, all share a “family resemblance,” whose shared characteristic is the recognition of the authority of “alien” knowledge, deriving from human reason, in interpreting the authoritative Jewish texts. Historically, therefore, adherence to Maimonideanism signifies an attitude of openness (to varying degrees) toward “alien” cultures. A first problématique of this Colloquium will be to identify and map different Maimonidean stances and describe how they are related. Clearly, since Maimonideanisms were multifold, so necessarily were also the anti-Maimonidean stances.
Another problématique will revolve about the following question: what motivated so many Jewish thinkers, and indeed “ordinary people” too, to identify themselves as followers of Maimonides? Why did they not try to walk under their own banners? Supposing (in sociological terms) that Maimonides’ historical figure was a rallying point owing to his charisma, then our question is: what was the source of this exceptional and lasting charisma? Why did Maimonides enjoy a prestige and an authority unequaled (according to a popular adage) by any Jew since Moses? This question bears not on Maimonides’ ideas, it does not hinge on an interpretation of his thought, but rather is a question concerning the real historical impact of Maimonides, almost without regard to the contents of his ideas. From this perspective, we will be more interested in Maimonides’ images in human minds than in his real figure: images, representations, and historical memory move men and women as historical actors, and our purpose will be to uncover how those relating to Maimonides were active in shaping individuals’ conduct.
Shifting the emphasis from Maimonides to Maimonideanism, then, attending to intellectual mentalities of run-of-the-mill thinkers instead of focusing only on the thought of the Great Eagle himself, we hope to show how Maimonides’ ideas became a historically active force during the past eight centuries. From the 13th century, openness toward the “gentile” culture within Judaism is identified as Maimonidean, and it will be our goal to describe facets of the history of this frame of mind. We expect that viewing old questions through this new perspective will open new ways in the teaching of the history of Jewish thought.
The number of participants is limited to 30. Only 15 papers can be presented, but those who do not present papers themselves will be asked to participate as respondents. The length of each paper is strictly limited to 40 minutes, followed by a 15 minute response. An open floor discussion will follow. All papers and discussions will be in English. Graduate students are particularly welcome.
Registration fee, to be paid by all participants, will be £30. Accommodation in individual rooms in Wolfson College, Oxford, will be provided at the heavily subsidized rate of £10 per night. Meals (including breakfast) will be charged at around £20 per day.
A limited number of bursaries for those requiring help to meet these costs or the costs of travel may be made available at the discretion of the Executive Committee of the EAJS.
The 2007 Colloquium is organized by:
Gad Freudenthal, CNRS, Paris: firstname.lastname@example.org
James T. Robinson, The University of Chicago: email@example.com
The deadline for proposals is 31 December 2006. Proposals (max. 1 page) should be sent as e-mail attachments to the Colloquium organizers.
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