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Indiana University Bloomington
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Sarah Imhoff

Assistant Professor, Jewish Studies & Religious Studies
Director of Graduate Studies, Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program

Both my research and teaching reflect my interest in the ways that texts and representation create possibilities for constructing Jewishness in historical context. How, for instance, have categories like religion, race, and gender worked to determine who is Jewish or what constitutes the essence of Jewishness? How have particular hermeneutical strategies defined Jews or Judaism? My interests range from the ways that Midrash and Talmud use a unique interpretive style to craft Judaism to the ways contemporary American norms can create (or foreclose) possibilities of Jewish identity or belonging.
I am currently completing my first monograph, Masculinity and the Making of American Judaism, which argues that American Jewish men in the early twentieth century were gendered differently from American norms, and that this masculinity helped acculturated Jews argue for the value of an enlightened Judaism.
I also research the meaning of Jewishness in contemporary American contexts. I am especially interested in the ways that race, DNA, and medical knowledge shape what it means to be Jewish—or even who is a Jew—today.
My next research project is a study of religion and the body, centering on Jessie Sampter, an early twentieth-century American Zionist. But Sampter’s own life and body hardly matched typical Zionist ideals: while Zionism celebrated the strong and healthy body, Sampter spoke of herself as “crippled” from polio and plagued by weakness and sickness her whole life; while Zionism applauded reproductive (women’s) bodies, Sampter never married or bore children—in fact, she wrote of homoerotic longings and had same-sex relationships we would consider queer. So how did a queer, “crippled” woman become a leading voice of American Zionism, and why has history largely overlooked her? This microhistory explains how we make of a Zionist whose embodied experiences did not conform to Zionist ideals— and suggests that this conflict between embodiment and religious thought was far from unique in American religious experience.

My work has appeared in the Journal of ReligionAmerican Jewish HistoryReligious Studies Review, and other academic journals and edited volumes. I am also a contributor to Sh’maOccasional Religion, and Sightings.


  • Ph.D. at University of Chicago, 2010

Research Interests

  • Gender and American Jewish History
  • Race and Jewishness
  • Rabbinic Literature
  • American Religious History

Courses Recently Taught

  • Jews, Christians, Muslims
  • Understanding the Rabbinic Mind
  • Jews and Race in the United States
  • Gender and Rabbinic Literature
  • American Jewish History
  • Introduction to Judaism
updated 11/2015