Themes of the Southeast German Studies Workshop 2022

Workshop Panel I: The Haskalah and European Enlightenment Revisited

The Enlightenment -- “Aufklärung” in German -- as a distinct phenomenon of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Western thought continues to occupy scholars from a broad array of disciplines from philosophy to early modern history and from religious studies to literary and cultural studies. In fact, some academic fields were themselves profoundly shaped by Enlightenment thought, which produced, among others, secularized modern approaches to psychology. Likewise, the Haskalah -- from Hebrew, le-haskil, “enlighten, clarify with the aid of the intellect” -- that began in the late eighteenth century remains one of the core topics of debate in modern Jewish historiography and studies. With almost no exception, scholarship has construed direct and profound, and at times confounding connections between the European Enlightenment and Haskalah. In a by-now classic study, David Sorkin has argued that both the Enlightenment and Haskalah in the German lands had been enabled by the broader transformations from feudal to bourgeois societies. More directly, most scholars present the Haskalah as the Jewish version of the European Enlightenment and an intellectual and cultural movement that can only be understood if related to broader eighteenth-century European developments, as well as to Jewish intellectuals’ efforts to rethink both their own and the broader Jewish communities’ relationships to European societies. In the process, some leading maskilim embraced assimilationist ideals, while others saw the Haskalah as an avenue to reinvigorate (and therefore accentuate and preserve) elements of a distinctively Jewish identity.

Despite the massive scholarship, it remains notoriously difficult to define and conceptualize both the European Enlightenment and the Haskalah in precise and satisfactory manners. There were so many different and contradictory supra-regional and local Aufklärer, philosophes, and maskilim, and, as leading scholars such as Shmuel Feiner maintain, such a lack of institutional coherence, an absence of far-reaching organization and no widely-shared program that any attempt at general definitions would require so many qualifications as to render the entire undertaking futile. Scholars have, of course, and continue to present a diverse slate of conceptualizations. In one of the most influential rereadings of recent years, Jonathan Israel has -- as part of a massive synthesis -- introduced the distinction between a “moderate” and “radical Enlightenment,” subsuming thinkers like Baruch Spinoza and Denis Diderot under the latter and associating it with an unflinchingly secular, democratic and egalitarian emancipatory program. The “moderate” Enlightenment, espoused by writers from Montesquieu to David Hume, by contrast, tried and, ultimately, failed to intellectually reconcile reason with faith and emancipation with existing forms of political power and social hierarchies. Still, today’s democratic liberalism along with much of the scholarship, in Israel’s estimation, mistakenly attribute too much significance to the moderate Enlightenment and obscure the core role of the radical Enlightenment. Other proponents of Enlightenment studies insist on the importance of differentiating between various different “national” and regional movements and, in turn, examine their relations, while some still try to maintain that the Enlightenment needs to be analyzed and understood as a unitary overarching phenomenon whose core of common values transcended regional variation.

In the process, much attention has been devoted to prominent philosophes like Voltaire and eminent maskilim like Moses Mendelssohn and, consequently, to the movements’ geographical centers of gravity in the United Provinces and Paris or -- with an eye on the Haskalah in German states -- Berlin. In recent years, more “obscure” Aufklärer and maskilim have been subjected to scholarly analysis, aiding also the revival of biographies as a prominent genre in scholarly writing. Furthermore, wide gaps, for example in the study of the Eastern European Haskalah and its impact on maskilim in the German lands remain. All the while, there have been further important shifts, as Haskalah studies are no longer dominated by the movement’s focus on and contribution to emancipation, modernization and the modern Jewish identity that scholars like Heinrich Graetz already articulated in the late nineteenth century. Instead, scholars like Sorkin and Feiner have replaced conventional and simplistic dichotomies with nuanced differentiations and introduced models that present the relations between “traditional” Judaism and Haskalah as an evolving spectrum of options. Another fruitful approach that enables analysis of reciprocal relations and influences as well as differences between the Enlightenment and Haskalah centers on broader questions of inclusion and exclusion on both the historiographical as well as historical levels.  

The 2022 SEGS Workshop invites the participants of this panel to explore key questions of and related to the Enlightenment and Haskalah in Central Europe and across the continent. We ask scholars from an array of disciplines and fields that engage with and/or intersect with German and (German) Jewish studies to consider one or more of the following questions (without being limited by them) and incorporate them into their papers:

  • What are the most constructive and insightful ways to define and conceptualize the Enlightenment and Haskalah in the German states and on the continent? What are the benefits of such conceptualizations or are these futile exercises in definitionalism?

  • What have been the historiographical costs of the fact that most works on the Enlightenment exclude serious consideration of Haskalah?  What might a history of Enlightenment that included Haskalah as an integral element within its embrace look like?  Have scholars of Haskalah been more effective in their discussions of the relations between the movements, or have their works been marked by unhelpful exclusions of their own?  Would the inclusion of Haskalah in the story of Enlightenment further strengthen historiographical momentum to divide the Enlightenment into exclusive parts – radical vs. moderate; national enlightenment vs. national enlightenment – or would it lend support to the image of Enlightenment as a variegated and capacious yet ultimately substantively unified overarching whole?

  • Equally compelling are questions of the contributions of Enlightenment and Haskalah thought to actual historical processes of inclusion and exclusion between groups.  How did Enlightenment thought’s contribution to processes of emancipation and values of toleration relate to its emphasis on categorization and classification that could reify boundaries between groups and provide damaging intellectual justification for processes of exclusion?  Did Haskalah thought ultimately encourage Jewish communities to define themselves as more distinct from or more tied to their non-Jewish neighbors?  Were actual opinions of Jewish- and non-Jewish Germans about one another changed in significant ways by these intellectual and cultural movements, and if so did those changes tilt more towards inclusion or exclusion?

  • The well-known 1856 painting of an imagined meeting between Lavater, Lessing, and Mendelssohn by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, dubbed by some as the “first (German) Jewish painter of the modern era,” reduces women to figures in the background with no role in the deliberations of the male philosophers. Women, almost needless to say, played a much more consequential role in Enlightenment and Haskalah movements. Why can’t histories of these two movements not be gender blind? What are the future prospects of gender analysis in Enlightenment and Haskalah studies? How, for example, might the greater inclusion of women such as the Jewish-German intellectual and salonnière Rahel Levin Varnhagen (1771-1833) within Enlightenment and Haskalah studies strengthen these fields, and perhaps serve as a bridge between the two?
    While the Haskalah in Central Europe has received considerable scholarly attention, the Eastern European Haskalah remains strikingly “understudied.” What are the connections between the Haskalah in the German-speaking lands and its counterpart in Eastern Europe? Did a Haskalah analogue of the Enlightenment’s ‘Republic of Letters’ bring maskilim from Central and Eastern Europe into dialogue? How substantial were the networks between their proponents and what impact did the practices and goals of the movement in Eastern Europe have on maskilim and other proponents in Central Europe?

  • Understandings of the Enlightenment often play a prominent role in the periodization of European history, serving for many scholars as a turning point from the early modern period to the modern period, while other scholars vigorously reject that move.  Does (or should) Haskalah play a similar role in the periodization of European Jewish history?  What are the consequences for our understandings of Enlightenment and Haskalah that they are so often seen as tightly imbricated with an emergent modernity?  Would viewing Enlightenment and Haskalah together complicate the periodizational implications?

  • Scholars who have challenged simple dichotomies in the study of the Haskalah (and Enlightenment) have also questioned fundamental distinctions such as rationalism vs. spirituality. Elke Morlok’s study of Isaac ben Moshe Halevi Satanow, a maskil in the Berlin Haskalah, for example demonstrates Satanow’s commitment to a “harmonious synthesis of divergent bodies of knowledge drawing upon natural sciences. . ., philosophy, religious traditions and Kabbalistic literature.” How widespread and consequential were these approaches in the two movements and in what ways do we need to adjust our understanding of them?

  • Scholars are fond of exclaiming that, ultimately, critiques of the Enlightenment are as old as the Enlightenment project itself. The same can be said about the Haskalah. What have been the main critiques of these movements over time, including the challenges of Postmodernism in the 1980s, as well as competing memories of both movements in the twentieth century? How have these critiques of Enlightenment/Haskalah impacted political and cultural life in the German states and beyond? 

  • Finally, borrowing from a 2017 international symposium at Lund University in Sweden, we need to ask “what is left of the Enlightenment” and Haskalah in and for the twenty-first century?

Workshop Panel II:Teaching German and German-Jewish Studies in the Twenty-First Century

From their inception, the SEGS workshops have always pondered questions of pedagogy and how to teach German studies and history -- and, to a lesser extent, German -- at colleges and universities in the Southeastern United States. Yet, there have been no panels exclusively devoted to pedagogy. This panel brings many of the previous SEGS workshops’ reflections on teaching and learning together and expands these important discussions by placing them in the context of steadily contracting disciplines and departments that engage in German studies in the U.S. According to the most recent survey of the Modern Language Association, for example, student enrollment in German at U.S. universities declined from 86,782 in 2013 to 80,594 in 2016. During the same period, modern Hebrew enrollments also shrank from 6,698 to 5,521 and Biblical Hebrew from 12,596 to 9,587. This trend extends far beyond the U.S. Since 1998, the number of universities in the UK that offer German, for instance, has declined by 50 percent. These decreases are also directly connected to fewer and fewer faculty positions and departments, programs or concentrations. By early October 2020, for example, only one tenure-track position advertisement had been posted in German studies at U.S. colleges and universities. Furthermore, these trends are hardly limited to language instruction or more traditionally-structured German (in a sense of Germanistik) departments, but also extend to more broadly-conceived German studies and German cultural studies departments as well as other academic units that include the teaching and study of German history, politics, and related areas, especially in the humanities and social sciences. At the same time, Jewish studies and the sub-field of German Jewish studies experienced, on the one hand, similar developments. According to recent surveys by the Association of Jewish Studies in 2014 and 2018, 30 percent of institutions witnessed declining enrollments with history, sociology, literature and Jewish studies departments hit particularly hard. Among the declining number of PhD recipients, more than half no longer ended up with teaching appointments in higher education of any rank. Moreover, about half of the institutions that offer Jewish studies provided their programs with budgets of $10,000 or less. On the other hand, however, 21 percent of institutions also experienced a growth in enrollments, more than two thirds of programs offered Holocaust classes with steady interest, and some fields such as Israel studies noticeably grew, adding courses and faculty lines.

In response, a steadily rising number of observers and academics particularly in German studies have characterized the field as being in a profound or even existential crisis; some, especially with an eye on the academic job market, have even gone as far as claiming that it had “no future.” Most members of the Southeast German Studies Consortium would not share these bleakest of assessments. Yet, the challenges -- further aggravated by the pandemic -- are enormous and demand decisive responses and reorientations. In many ways, these challenges also bear a lot of potential for restructuring and strengthening German studies and related fields. One area, as eloquently argued by scholars such as Vance Byrd (Grinnell College), that is in need of considerably more scholarly attention and institutional support and could play a key role in these reorientations is that of teaching scholarship and practice. Closely related is the need to anchor social practice and advocacy in German studies in order to address the needs of students from less privileged and diverse family backgrounds. In fact, some of the most promising recent initiatives include the Diversity, Decolonization, and the German Curriculum scholarly collective whose members, inspired by Black radical thinkers and their antiracist practices, have set out to create a “liberated curriculum, as the only legitimate and effective response to institutional oppression and white supremacy.” The focus is as much on faculty and “equitable and fair labor practices” as on students and the dismantling of a broad range of oppressions and impediments to more equity. 

For this panel, we invite a broad range of contributions from scholars of all disciplines and periods in German and German Jewish studies to reflect on the current state, future directions and history of pedagogy and teaching of these fields, including language instruction, in the U.S. Papers should address one or more of the following questions (without being fully limited by them): 

  • Returning to the basics: Why do we teach German and Hebrew along with German, Jewish and German Jewish studies at colleges and universities? In line of pedagogical best practices, what are the most successful ways of teaching these fields and mentoring students?

  • Education scholars have repeatedly stressed the importance of taking students’  “habit of mental clothes” (Dewey) into consideration. To what extent does it make a difference to be teaching these fields and subjects in the American Southeast in comparison with other regions or even countries? 

  • To what extent and how do structural oppressions and intersectional violence, including colorism, anti-Blackness and indigenous erasure, inform curricula and teaching and learning in German and German Jewish studies in the U.S. today?  What is the impact of rising levels of antisemitism and Holocaust and genocide denial in K-12 programs and colleges and universities? How can these various forms of oppression and violence be confronted?

  • What are the main approaches in feminist pedagogy -- understood, as in a project at Vanderbilt University, more as an overarching philosophy and less so as a collection of tools and strategies? How does the integration of feminist thought reshape theories and research on and the practice of teaching and learning in German and German Jewish studies?

  • How has the pandemic impacted teaching and learning German and Hebrew along with German and Jewish studies in general? What teaching methods and approaches -- also in the realm of critical digital pedagogy, digital Jewish and German studies as well as digital humanities  -- have proven particularly effective in teaching during times of global health crises?

  • What are the promises and dangers of -- as has long become reality, especially at less wealthy institutions -- integrating German language, literature and/or culture programs in large language and cultural studies departments or replacing a focus on national histories, including German, with transnational and global histories as exercised in more and more graduate programs at the region’s and nation’s research universities as part of their ongoing curriculum reforms?

  • How can German studies programs be effective advocates for the study of German language, history and culture? How far does this advocacy have to reach? How can, for example, K-12 programs be successfully included so that they are not closed down and continue to produce students enthusiastic about learning German and studying things German at the university level?

  • What is (or should be) the role of foundations like the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, government-funded institutions such as the Goethe Institutes and even embassies and consulates generals in supporting the teaching of German and German Jewish studies at U.S. universities?

Workshop Panel III: Democracy: Past, Present, Future

From the so-called Enlightenment period onward, the German-speaking world has often been designated by both scholars and political actors as the people through whom the hope and betrayal of democracy is bound to unfold. Called the locus of the most advanced conception of freedom, but also referenced -- among others by proponents of the Sonderweg thesis -- as the site of a cultural, political, and technological backwardness that could only result in calamity, disagreements about the character of German democracy have shaped our understanding of democracy more generally. Whether it was Immanuel Kant’s singular vision of eternal peace, attended by the first declaration of the need for an international system of right (Recht), or, following this same theoretical and practical lineage, Karl Marx’s ruthless critique of German “ideology” as a socially necessary force complicit in the violence that blocks human emancipation, the German-speaking world has long catalyzed the attention of those concerned with implementing institutions that might genuinely live up to the name “democracy.”

This long tradition of envisioning the prospects of a European or even an international peace on the basis of a German populous that is, on the one hand, allegedly its vanguard and, on the other, allegedly its rearguard, did not, of course, become any less pronounced when the volatile era of twentieth century imperialism began. Technology and theory collided, as Walter Benjamin once proclaimed, and have perhaps not been resolved to this day. Max Weber’s characterization of the “iron cage” of bourgeois rationalization, Karl Kraus’s messianic judgment against the journalistic culture of the so-called fourth estate, or Bertolt Brecht’s radical, experimental theater are only a few of the German-language contributions that point to just how much aesthetic criticism, sociology, and historiography, to say nothing of their philosophical and legal predecessors, continue to weigh on scholars’ understanding of the role of the German world in the hope and betrayal of the realization of democracy.

Given the degree to which so much turns on what, in overly simplistic terms, appears to be a straight line of development from the failings of the Weimar Republic to the horrors of Auschwitz, it behooves scholars to continue to return to the methodological, sociological, political, and legal questions that center on the problem of German democracy. Especially in light of what seems at present to be a rise in the authoritarian encroachment on the rights of citizens, the spread of permanent war, the surveillance state and its “state of emergency” decrees, as well as the volatilization of the balance of economic forces, this imperative to investigate all aspects of democracy as they both unfolded and misfired in the previous century in Germany, as well as how they are currently unfolding and arguably misfiring on a global scale, becomes all the more urgent.

Insofar as the question of democracy is never, especially in the modern era, a matter of the logic and practice of a single nation-state, so that the current relapse into barbarism or betrayal of democracy is always, in some respect, produced within a multinational context, this panel encourages papers that, in addition to the specific analysis of German history, does comparative work drawing open the links between many national formations and political struggles. For example, work that addresses the fascism(s) or authoritarian(s) of many states and historical periods is encouraged. So too is work that aims to illuminate the parallels between the economic, cultural, and legal antagonisms of twentieth-century crises with the economic, cultural, and legal antagonisms of the twenty-first century. Scholars in a range of interdisciplinary fields -- for example, historiography, philosophy, legal theory, political science, cultural studies, sociology, and economic history -- may take on one or more of the following themes (without being limited by them) as their point of departure:

  • The origins of “democracy” in the German lands.

  • The anti-democratic features of pre-Weimar and Weimar Germany.

  • The legacies of Nazism and impact on the GDR, Bonn and Berlin Republics (Bonn and Berlin were and are not “Weimar”?)

  • The relationship between neoliberalism and increasing authoritarianism in Europe and parts of Germany [see the successes of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in several East German Länder in the recent elections].

  • The crisis tendency or economic volatility of advanced capitalism.

  • The threats to democracy in the age of ecological calamity.

  • The critique of “democratic” institutions in light of the theoretical and practical contributions of post-colonial studies.

  • The role of racism in the social reproduction of domination.

  • The role or function of the surveillance state and digital culture in modern and modernizing states like the Berlin Republic.

  • The relationship between white supremacy in its many forms and the promise of democracy.

  • Comparative analysis of “state of emergency” (Ausnahmezustand) laws in the past and present.

  • The significance of patriarchal infringements on women’s reproductive rights.

  • The significance of advances and regressions in LGBTQI+ rights in recent years and in past struggles.

  • The history of ableism at the heart of modern narratives of progress.

  • COVID, health crises, and the bio-power of the state.

  • Refugee crises and asylum in the era of permanent war and climate change.

  • The propagandistic or ideological features of the spectacle economy.

  • The role of incarceration or immigration enforcement in Germany and the EU.

  • The history of the camps and the rightless victims of totalitarian regimes.

  • The significance of policies of torture, extraordinary rendition, and the debates over drone warfare in German politics and media discourses.

  • The significance of intellectual property rights and patent laws in a globalized world.

  • Militarism and nationalism amidst the claims of democracy.

  • The limited prospects of internationalism or other forms of solidarity amidst a fractured Left (see also the decline of Die Linke in recent elections).

  • The role or limits of party politics, parliamentarianism, or reformism.