Religious Studies 777: Judaism and the (Theo-)Political (Winter 2009)

This syllabus is posted at and is also accessible by way of my home page (see below).  It will be updated periodically, and students in the class are asked to consult it regularly during the semester.

CLASS MEETINGS: Wednesdays, 3:30-5:30 p.m., University Hall B115

updated March 3, 2009


Dana Hollander, Department of Religious Studies, University Hall 109, (905) 525-9140, ext. 24759*,*,

*in your phone and e-mail messages, please let me know how I can reach you by phone

OFFICE HOUR: Wednesdays, 6-7 p.m., or by appointment

Course Description / Course Readings / Course Requirements   |   SCHEDULE: January / February / MarchApril


The course will follow three streams of thinking about the possibility of a "Jewish (theo-)political": (1) Does the idea of "political theology" in the sense suggested by Carl Schmitt have relevance for thinking about Judaism or Jewish thought?  (2)  Is there another, non-Schmittian sense of "political theology" or "theopolitics" that specifically captures the relationship of Judaism and the political?  (3) Can Jewish reflections about the state and the experience of statelessness, and about law, inform a Jewish conception of the (theo-)political - and if so, in what sense?


Details for how to obtain each reading appear beside the individual readings on the course schedule below.


Grades will be based on Participation/Presentation 50%, Secondary Literature Report 15%, Final Paper 35%.

January 5

Organizational Meeting

January 14 - meet in UH 122

Introduction: Political Theology, Judaism and Politics

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology (1922), trans. George Schwab [book available for purchase/on reserve], chaps. 1-3 / OR: brief selection

Leo Strauss, Philosophy and Law (1935)  [purchase book / master copy in UH 104]: Introduction


Heinrich Meier, "What Is Political Theology?" in Interpretation 30 (2003) [master copy in UH 104; or consult print journal in Mills Library]  (Also see: Meier, The Lesson of Carl Schmitt (1994), chap. 3, and Meier, Leo Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem, trans. Marcus Brainard (2003; Cambridge UP, 2006) [books on reserve])

General Readings on Judaism and Politics/History:

The Jewish Political Tradition, ed. Walzer, Lorberbaum et al. vol. 1: Authority (2000), vol. 2: Membership (2003) [books on reserve]

Ismar Schorsch, "On the History of the Political Judgment of the Jew" (1976), in From Text to Context: The Turn to History in Modern Judaism (1994) [master copy in UH 104 / book on reserve]

Menachem Lorberbaum, "Introduction" to Politics and the Limits of Law. Secularizing the Political in Medieval Jewish Thought (2001) [master copy in UH 104 / book on reserve]

-----, "Politics and Religion: Politics and Judaism" (2005) in Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed. [available online to McMaster affiliates]

January 21

Leo Strauss, cont'd

Philosophy and Law: Introduction, cont'd; chap. 1

Background Reading on the "Early Strauss":

David Janssens, Between Athens and Jerusalem. Philosophy, Prophecy, and Politics in Leo Strauss's Early Thought (2008), chaps. 1-3 [master copy in UH 104]

Supplementary Sources:

Julius Guttmann, The Philosophy of Judaism (1933), trans. David Silverman.  In an earlier edition, this book was entitled Philosophies of Judaism [both books should be available on reserve shortly] 

Eliezer Schweid, "Religion and Philosophy: The Scholarly-Theological Debate between Julius Guttmann and Leo Strauss" (1990) [master copy in UH 104]

presentation: Ben Shragge

January 28

Philosophy and Law: chap. 2

Introduction to Persecution and the Art of Writing (1952) (included in Leo Strauss, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, ed. Kenneth Hart Green) [book on reserve; master copy in UH 104

presentation: Ben Shragge, Jason Anderson

February 4

Philosophy and Law: chap. 3

presentation: Jason Anderson


Secondary Literature Report due February 13


February 25

Strauss revisited

Preface to Spinoza's Critique of Religion (1965) and "Jerusalem and Athens" (1967) - both included in Leo Strauss, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, ed. Kenneth Hart Green [book on reserve; master copies in UH 104]

A discussion of secondary literature on Strauss, based on participants' Secondary Literature Reports

March 4 

Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) 

Jerusalem, or On Religious Power and Judaism (1783), trans. Allan Arkush [purchase book], Section I 
(original: Jerusalem oder über religiöse Macht und Judentum, ed. David Martyn, or in Mendelssohn, Jubiläumsausgabe, Band 8 [books on reserve])

Concordance for editions of Jerusalem.

presentation: Galen Crout

Introductory Readings on Mendelssohn:

Julius H. Schoeps, "1783. Moses Mendelssohn writes Jerusalem..." in Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture, 1096-1996, ed. Gilman/Zipes [book on reserve/master copy in UH 104]

Allan Arkush, "Mendelssohn, Moses"  and Jay Harris, "Enlightenment, Jewish" in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998) [online/Mills Reference]

Daniel Dahlstrom, "Moses Mendelssohn" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2002) [online]

Alexander Altmann, "Introduction" to Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, trans. Allan Arkush (1983) [purchase book/book on reserve]

Willi Goetschel, Spinoza's Modernity. Mendelssohn, Lessing, and Heine (2004), part 2, esp. chap. 10 [book on reserve]

March 11 (special location: Chester New Hall 216)

Mendelssohn, cont'd

Jerusalem, Section II

presentation: Tema Smith

March 18, 25

Martin Buber

selections from Kingship of God (1932) [purchase book] and The Prophetic Faith (1940)

presentation: Jessica Radin


Michael Zank, "Buber and Religionswissenschaft. The Case of His Studies on Biblical Faith" in New Perspectives on Martin Buber (2006) [ordered for reserve / copy to be placed in UH 104]

Dan Avnon, Martin Buber: The Hidden Dialogue (1998) [on reserve]


 April 1

Jacob Taubes

The Political Theology of Paul (1987) [purchase book]

presentation: Michael Bartos


Nitzan Lebovic, "The Jerusalem School: The Theopolitical Hour" in New German Critique 105, vol. 35, no. 3 (Fall 2008), Special Issue on "Political Theology"