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Course Description

The Holocaust: Philosophical & Theological Reflections (3 cr.)
Elhanan Yakira
JSTU-J 303 Arts & Humanities Topics in Jewish Studies #30836 / PHIL-P 370 Topics in Philosophy #30315 / REL-A 300 Studies in African, European, and West Asian Religions #30708
MW 1:00-2:15

The Holocaust is the name given to Nazi Germany’s attempt to destroy the Jewish people. A major event, it has been the subject of incessant discussion: historiographical, literary, cinematographic, other forms of artistic representation, theological, jurisprudential, etc. Curiously enough, though, the number of philosophers who have dealt with the Holocaust in a systematic and strictly philosophical manner is surprisingly small. On the other hand, many of the philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century were deeply marked by this event. They remain, however, mostly silent about it. An interrogation of this silence or avoidance, of the fact that such an event has not attracted more direct attention from philosophers, will thus be the point of departure for the course. Other topics to be covered will include, first, a general introduction to the history of the Holocaust: students will be required to acquire basic knowledge of the historical facts concerning the final solution; and, second, the changes that have occurred in the last few decades in the ways the Holocaust is discussed within scholarly circles and also presented in more public ways, outside the sphere of philosophical reflection.
Other topics that the course will deal with:

  • How to talk about, show, present, and represent the Holocaust
  • Holocaust denial and the ideological and conceptual stakes involved in it
  • The question of the uniqueness of the Holocaust
  • The question of the Jewishness/universality of the Holocaust;
  • Victims, survivors, witnesses
  • Interpreting the Holocaust
  • Philosophical theologians and the Holocaust
  • The all-presence of the missing voice in contemporary philosophy

The main texts the students will be asked to read (in an approximate order of their discussions in class):

  • Berl Lang, Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide, Introduction; “Philosophy and/of the Holocaust”, in Post-Holocaust. Interpretation, Misinterpretation, and the Claims of History.
  • Christopher R. Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution.
  • Dan Michman, Holocaust Historiography a Jewish Perspective: Conceptualization, Terminology, Approaches and Fundamental Issues
  • Alvin Rosenfeld, The End of the Holocaust.
  • Steven T. Katz, The Holocaust in Historical Context. Vol.1: The Holocaust and Mass Death before the Modern Age, Introduction.
  • Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, Ch. 1.
  • Writings by Jean Amery, Aharon Appelfeld, Primo Levi.
  • The chapter on the film Shoah in Claude Lanzman’s Autobiography.
  • Diverse writings by Emil Fackenheim and other Jewish theologians.
  • Relevant writings by Levinas, Adorno, Foucault, Derrida.     

Beginning Summer 2011 & after: CASE A&H
Before Summer 2011:  A&H, JS History & Society or Religion & Thought