Philosophy | Topics in Philosophy of Judaism
P305 | 3241 | Morgan
Topic: Responses to the Holocaust: Philosophy, Religion, Ethics, Film, Politics, and
This section is a COAS Intensive Writing Course
In this class, we shall examine various responses to the Nazi atrocities and the death
camps. At first, in the postwar period, a small number of philosophers, literary figures,
and political thinkers tried to understand these events in terms of traditional categories.
We shall look at works by Primo Levi, Jean Amery, Jean Paul Sartre, and Hannah Arendt
and consider the nature of Nazi anti-Semitism, the evil of the criminals and the crimes,
and the way in which the death camp experience challenged conceptions of human
dignity, solidarity, and language.
In the sixties, there emerged a tradition of theological discussion about God, evil,
religious institutions and practices, and the Nazi atrocities. We shall examine this
tradition in detail and its major figures, Jewish and Christian, including Richard
Rubenstein, Emil Fackenheim, Eliezer Berkovits, Irving Greenberg, and Roy Eckardt.
This tradition of religious discussion flourished in the seventies and involved attempts to
understand what Judaism and Christianity in a post-Holocaust world would be like. Of
special interest was the relationship between the Holocaust and the re-establishment and
defense of the state of Israel. In addition to considering examples of this development
and some criticisms of it, we shall discuss the ways in which the Holocaust interacted
with contemporary culture and the problems raised about it, about our capacity to grasp
and deal with it, and more. We shall consider the impact of the Holocaust on political
culture in America, Germany, and Israel; the attempts to portray the Holocaust in film
and general questions about representation and memory; and the political and cultural
controversies about historiography and the Holocaust. Our discussion will take us to
current debates on these issues.
The course satisfies the COAS Intensive Writing requirement. There will be four written
assignments during the semester and a final term essay. There will be no examinations.
Readings will come from various books and a course reader. Although the course
number is P305, it requires no specific background in Philosophy, Jewish Studies, or
religious thought. Students should be prepared for careful reading of a variety of types of
material and written work throughout the semester. Discussion in class will focus on the
readings. In addition, there will be films shown on a few occasions outside of class at
times to be arranged.
If you have questions about the course, please contact the instructor, Mike Morgan, at