University of Pennsylvania, Jewish Studies Program
Philadelphia, PA
Thursday, March 20, 2014

There exists a strong scholarly consensus that polemic has played a central role in Jewish history. Whether we consider polemics involving Samaritans, Christians, Qaraites, Muslims, Haskalah thinkers, Zionists, “the nations,” or contemporary group identity formation, polemical forms of argumentation and representation have been widespread in thinking about Jews and Judaism. However, this scholarly consensus often obfuscates rather than clarifies, preventing the category of polemic from receiving careful scrutiny. The label “polemic” can render certain aspects of a text unproblematic or irrelevant, because scholars frequently view polemic as a dishonest form of argumentation that bears little or no relationship to a writer’s “real” views. To move this situation forward, scholars must begin to ask the following questions. How can scholars identify polemic and delimit its boundaries? Does the label polemic imply that a given author actually held different views? How is that view identified? Are there limits to polemic, either based on reasonableness or believability? Do consumers of polemic share the scholarly skepticism of polemic or recognize the rhetorical strategies at play? What role does relationship with a real or imagined “Other” play in constructing identity?

This interdisciplinary graduate student conference at the University of Pennsylvania will focus on these and similar questions. It will feature Dr. Elisheva Carlebach, Columbia University, as the keynote speaker and students of different periods and disciplines in the study of Judaism and Jewish history who will bring different data to bear on these theoretical questions. This one-day event will be held on Thursday, March 20, 2014.

Proposals should be 500-800 words, and include a title, description of the specific materials studied and method, and a statement of thesis. Relevant papers might investigate specific texts, monuments, movements, people, or examples from material culture from any period of Jewish history, including contemporary research, with an eye toward the theoretical and methodological issues raised by problematizing the category of polemic. Papers may focus on any aspect of Jews and Judaism, from any perspective. We welcome submissions from graduate students both affiliated with and outside the University of Pennsylvania. Selected papers will receive small travel stipends.

Please contact ASR member Rachel Ellis at with any questions. Submit proposals to by January 6, 2014.