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Course Description

Antisemitism: A Sociohistorical Perspective (3 cr.)
Günther Jikeli
JSTU-J 304 Social & Historical Topics in Jewish Studies #32844/ HIST-B 303 Issues in Modern European History
MW 2:30-3:45; KH 312

Irrational and often lethal hatred of Jews has a history of over 2000 years. Antisemitism made its first appearance in the ancient world, later intensifying in waves in Christian Europe and, to a lesser extent, in Islamic countries. Antisemitic myths became deeply embedded in Western culture. Racial and genocidal antisemitism rose with 19th century nationalism and culminated in the attempt by Nazi Germany to indiscriminately wipe out every member of the Jewish “race”. After Nazism was defeated and the horrors of the Holocaust became public, antisemitism in its racist forms became illegitimate in most societies. However, somewhat curiously, antisemitic attitudes and behavior continue to be a worldwide phenomenon today. They are often manifested in irrational attacks against the Jewish State of Israel, but also in distortions and denial of the Holocaust or in physical attacks against Jews. Antisemitic opinions are most openly voiced in Islamic countries, but their frequency is increasing again in a number of Western countries, including the United States. What are the historical roots of antisemitism? Why and in what forms does antisemitism persist today? What are factors in society that advance or contain antisemitism?

We will examine the most significant antisemitic myths and events in their historical and social contexts, including the image of Jews as murderers of God, usurers, and conspirators, as well as the blood libel. Students will complete the course with an increased understanding of the irrational motives involved in antisemitism, how antisemitism is similar to and different from other prejudices, as well as the multiple sources from which antisemitism derives.

We will study antisemitism from multiple angles, the foremost of which will be historical, but we will also examine social, philosophical, and psychological perspectives— through works that have become standard references on the subject of antisemitism as well as more recent works. Selected key antisemitic texts will also be discussed.

Required readings for the course will include extracts of classic texts such as Leon Poliakov's The History of Anti-Semitism, Jean-Paul Sarte's Anti-Semite and Jew, Theodor Adorno's and Max Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment (chapter: Elements of Antisemitism) and Jean Amery's essay The Respectable Antisemitism (the latter will be provided in class) as well as more recent works: Robert Wistrich's A Lethal Obsession: Antisemitism - From Antiquity to the Global Jihad, Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory and Alvin Rosenfeld's edited volume Resurgent Antisemitism. Extracts of Claude Lanzmann's documentary film Shoah will also be shown and discussed.

Written work for the course will include two papers: one of 6-8 pages, and a term paper of 15-20 pages. Students will also present two brief oral reports in class.  These assignments are described in detail on the course syllabus. There may also be an in-class examination. The final examination is optional.

Students will be expected to do the assigned readings on time, attend all class meetings, and actively participate  in class discussions on the literature and subjects. If you must miss a class session, be sure to let me know in advance. Repeated unexcused absences (more than 3) will lower your grade for the course.    

You are encouraged to see me during office hours (please make an appointment through email:, to discuss any aspect of your work in this course. I welcome meeting with you, so if you think I can be helpful, please feel free to get in touch.