New Journal on the History of Ideas

New journal: “Republics of Letters” Intellectual History with a concentration on the Early Modern period First Issue

From the Editor Dan Edelstein

But intellectual history has considerably evolved since the days of Arthur Lovejoy. As the foremost practitioner of the genre in the United States, Anthony Grafton, describes in “The History of Ideas: Precept and Practice, 1950-2000 and Beyond,” a chapter of his most recent book, intellectual historians have long abandoned the Platonic world of ideas and stepped back down into the earthly cave, examining how printing techniques, political debates, legal traditions, university curricula, and philosophical controversies shape the ways in which ideas are received and disseminated. No longer do historians view ideas as astrologers viewed the stars, as exercising a powerful influence from afar; the new intellectual history studies what happens when ideas and individuals, groups, or nations collide in the linear accelerator of history. As William Sewell demonstrates repeatedly in his brilliant 2005 collection of essays, Logics of History, the study of culture as a web of meanings is not at all incompatible with the study of culture as a set of practices—they are in fact necessary complements.

As I read this, I am reminded that in mainstream Jewish studies Moshe Idel sticks to Lovejoy, a parthenogenesis of ideas.  Rabbinic history of modern denominations  still uses Manheim’s 1929 definition of ideology.

5 responses to “New Journal on the History of Ideas

  1. Who in Jewish Studies practises history the new way? Like Grafton? Like Greenblatt?

    What would such a new approach look like in your opinion with respect to post WW2 Orthodox Jewish History?

    • Max Weber and Karl Manheim suggested that the change of modernity lead to a transformation from unconscious traditionalism to conscious modernity. In their model, modern religion reorganizes itself in a brand new combination of rationalism, disenchantment, and a this-worldly perspective. Following this approach, Jacob Katz presents the rise of Orthodoxy as a self-conscious identification with something new, namely self-conscious Orthodoxy, which continues despite the challenge of Reform and secularization. This approach holds that there is no modern perception of Orthodoxy without Reform; there is only breakdown and transformation.
      Jacob Katz’s historical studies of the Nineteenth century debates between Rabbis Moses Sofer and S. R. Hirsch created a historical prism with which to view these writers as the forerunners of today’s Ultra Orthodox and Modern Orthodox movements. Katz’s studies shifted the emphasis of discussion of Modern Orthodoxy away from specific philosophic discussions of modernism, high modernism, scientific cosmology, and rationality and towards the history of movements. Popular use of Katz’s works has obscured the ways that American and Israeli Orthodoxies are not dependent on the German debates and has encouraged the prevalent usage of the term “Orthodoxy” as in continuity with the way it was used in the nineteenth-century battles between Orthodoxy and Reform. Moreover, Katz’s views are limiting in that there are only two categories of Orthodoxy in this typology. Some who follow this approach can only see Centrism as a shift to the right, rather than a worldview in its own right, and thereby relegating the engaged yeshivish position to that of an epiphenomenon.
      As we look back from a new millennium, we can get a stronger sense that modern secularization was an independent ideology from religion that made tolerance, science, and liberalism possible. Rather than creating a new ideology opposed to religion, we can see that practitioners of Orthodoxy could conveniently accept many part of secular ideology and leave their Orthodoxy in place. Rather than bifurcate history into binary pairs of before and after, or modern or not, Orthodox groups have certain percentages of both ideologies modern and Orthodox.

      Clifford Geertz took issue with Manheim’s considering ideology as a distortion. Rather, all ideology is embedded in a cultural construction that bears the meaning, symbolism, and moral order of the society. Following this approach, Robert Wuthnow shows how ideology creates situations where, for example, Orthodox Jews and Evangelicals share a common ideology. Furthermore, Michel de Certeau point out how ideology is always spatially located, and Antonio Gramsci and Pierre Bourdieu note that our discussions of ideology separate living from thinking.

  2. I want to ask a follow up question on one of your many points. You write that Clifford Geertz held “all ideology is embedded in a cultural construction that bears the meaning, symbolism, and moral order of the society.”

    How would that work with respect to any of the Orthodox variations? Has anyone applied his idea to the Jewish world? And how does this relate to what people call thick descriptions?


  3. How would that work with respect to any of the Orthodox variations?

    I wrote an article about 8 years ago for Edah that starts to answer your question narrowly from within the YU world. I would not write it with that narrow focus today and I am not ready to return to the article.

    Click to access 4_1_brill.pdf

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