The modern American research university is a house of many rooms. The field of Israel Studies, which has emerged in the past decade, occupies one of the newest—and smallest—of those rooms. Israel Studies programs are meant to address a serious problem and take advantage of a large opportunity on campus. What happens to them in the coming years will tell us something significant about Israel as a topic of study and about the American university itself.
Studying Israel Jan Jaben-Eilon
, Jerusalem Post
. The growth of interest in Israel as a field of serious academic study is not just American but worldwide.
Multicultural Israel in a Global Perspective Association for Israel Studies. The Association for Israel Studies, in existence since 1985, plans its 2012 conference in Haifa.
Follow the Money Alex Joffe, Jewish Ideas Daily. Between 1995 and 2008, Arab Gulf states gave $234 million in contracts and about $88 million in gifts to American universities. What has their money purchased?
Jewish Studies in Decline? Alex Joffe, Jewish Ideas Daily. Retiring faculty are not replaced, less research money is allocated, and fewer students enter the field. Is there a future for the academic study of Judaism?
In American universities over the past 150 years and more, academic programs and departments have come and gone. One reason is that increasing specialization is, to some extent, intrinsic to the pursuit of knowledge. Departments such as physics and chemistry broke off from one another as their disciplines grew too large and complex to be confined within a single intellectual and administrative space. There have been fractures in disciplines like anthropology, where scholars of culture and scholars of biology discovered that they could no longer bear one another.
More recently, specialization has also been fueled by demands, from the subjects of study themselves, for inclusion on the academic menu. Since the 1960’s, we have seen a proliferation of ethnic and gender studies programs meant to bring the narratives of ignored or excluded groups into the larger discussion. Jews and Jewish Studies programs in American universities have been among the leaders of this drive for inclusion through separation.
At their best, such efforts have created true and valuable diversity—in the sense of new streams of thought—within American universities. They have also created walled-off compartments in which faculty can preach to choirs of student disciples (or simply to themselves) and the politicians among them can clamor for more resources, often by claiming past or present discrimination. Unlike Jewish Studies programs, which are largely funded by Jewish donors, most ethnic and gender studies programs are paid for by the host universities themselves. Such programs can perhaps best be characterized as having produced some scholarship and much politicking.
Israel Studies programs have a different provenance. After World War II, U.S. universities saw the rise of “area studies,” in which scholars crossed the boundaries of disciplines like history, economics, and political science in pursuit of ‘useful knowledge’ about a geographic region or cultural area. Middle Eastern Studies departments emerged as part of this trend. They are long awash in funds from, among other donors, Arab governments. Predictably, these departments have been dominated by scholars of the Arab and Muslim worlds. As their subjects have increasingly become the focus of world conflict, these scholars have—perhaps inevitably, in light of the current university climate—become advocates…. READ MORE
Alex Joffe is a research scholar with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.