- Mara H. Benjamin, Assistant Professor of Religion, St. Olaf College
- Naomi Brenner, Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, The Ohio State University
- Erica Lehrer, Assistant Professor of History, Concordia University
- Laura S. Levitt, Professor of Religion, Temple University
- Ranen Omer-Sherman, Professor of English and Jewish Studies, University of Miami
- Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor of American Studies and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies, University of Minnesota
- Adam Shear, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pittsburgh
- Barry Trachtenberg, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Judaic Studies Program, University at Albany
- Steven Zipperstein, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Stanford University
What would you like Perspectives to be?
Mara H. Benjamin
St. Olaf College
AJS Perspectives, in its present incarnation, is pretty close to ideal. With every issue, I look forward to learning a bit about what my colleagues in far-flung fields are working on. I like how the short essays are paired with an engaging image, and I like the formal and aesthetically pleasing pages. I suggest the following addition to make an already rich publication even more appealing and useful: a digital component linked to AJS Perspectives that would be devoted to explicitly addressing broader trends in the Jewish Studies as a whole. This section would be comparable in content to what appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education, but with a focus on Jewish Studies. I'd like to see AJS members have a place to discuss the rise of MOOCs; diversity and the ever-changing composition of Jewish Studies faculty and the students in our courses; recent moves toward academic boycotts; new possibilities for digital humanities in Jewish studies; the changing role of public and private funding for Jewish Studies programs; trends in financing higher education; and so on. It seems to me that each issue of AJS Perspectives could include a section that would focus on one such issue. A digital component, updated regularly, would include a broader range of perspectives on that same issue, with links to relevant other articles. This digital forum would host news and online conversation about how the featured topic affects our work as researchers and teachers.
The Ohio State University
I vaguely remember AJS Perspectives arriving in the mail in the past, often with a cover intriguing enough to earn it a spot on my "to-read" pile. But the pile kept growing, and Perspectives kept sinking lower and lower. Somehow, I never did more than flip through a few pages. Spurred by the invitation to comment in this issue, I finally perused several issues from recent years and was pleasantly surprised to see a variety of topics and voices that made for thought-provoking reading. I particularly appreciate the readable articles from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.
Since I have resolved to actually pay attention to future issues of Perspectives, I would like to focus my own suggestions primarily on form. There are many print publications related to Jewish Studies in one way or another, as my "to-read" pile can attest. But even as digital access to print publications grows, I am not familiar with a forum for Jewish Studies that really takes advantage of digital media in a sustained way. I can imagine a digital Perspectives that would gradually become an interactive resource for research and teaching. What if Perspectives launched moderated conversations related to issue themes and/or individual articles? Invited members to post short blog posts or reflections in between issues? Spearheaded projects using Google Maps and other collaborative platforms? Developed translations and annotations of primary sources or excerpts from key texts? Or simply integrated audio, visual, and audiovisual resources online? Cultivating an online presence takes skill, resources, and time. But in an academic field still dominated by print production, I would be excited to see a new, dynamic, and experimental digital presence in Jewish Studies.
With AJS Perspectives going online, a much broader discussion could be opened that links academic Jewish Studies practitioners with a range of Jewish culture workers, knowledge producers, and interested members of various publics who would make productive interlocutors around subjects of shared concern.
The periodical could grow into a lively venue for Jewish-related "public scholarship," whence ideas incubated in the academy may more easily infuse public debates, and provide Jewish community members and broader audiences new tools for thinking. Further, in accordance with democratizing trends in knowledge production among practitioners of publicly engaged academic work (e.g. through various forms of collaboration), Perspectives could also form an interface for bi-directional learning: a site where nonacademics who often think about and do creative work in domains shared by academics can engage with us.
With web 2.0, the editors could invite nonacademics invested in Jewish issues to pose questions or themes to which scholars could respond; they might also organize forums where scholars, artists, and community practitioners could debate a rich or pressing topic. This would provide a much-needed venue for wide-ranging public debate of critical social and cultural issues, when such space seems to be contracting in the Jewish communal world. Those who work in the Jewish communal sphere—as well as journalists, artists, and other culture workers—can offer "on the ground" views of, or creative approaches to, emergent phenomena, and benefit from academic specialists' contributions of new data, historical depth, comparative contexts, and new frameworks for thinking.
The web will also allow media-rich presentations of research-in-progress, and scholars could be fruitfully stretched in their own practice through invitations to contribute in nontextual ways. Perspectives could maintain an ongoing online gallery of scholars' forays into the production of exhibitions, films, sound recordings, websites, and other media.
Laura S. Levitt
I would like to see this beautiful publication continue to become what it is becoming—a venue for new thinking, overlooked topics, and a range of critical perspectives. What I want is to continue to be amazed by topics, scholars, critical approaches, research, and writing about issues I might know little about or topics I care about deeply but have rarely seen addressed in Jewish Studies. I want to see issues that take the next step. I want to imagine the queer issue or the post- postfeminist issue. I want to see Perspectives offer a forum to discuss Jews of color, especially Black Jews, in ways we have yet to do. I want to imagine issues on methods: the ethnography issue, the archive issue, or an issue devoted to sound or dance as Jewish Studies discourses. Closer to my own work I would love to think with colleagues in Jewish Studies more directly about how to talk about transmission as a multivalent thing, memory and disease, tradition and transvaluation. I want more visual culture and more engagement in the world. There are so many topics inspired by what Perspectives has already accomplished, and here are a few ideas for future topics: water; food; pilgrimages; Jewish photographies; theologies otherwise. It might also be great to do a "generations" issue or simply a millennial issue on millennial Jewish Studies and millennial scholars that is about the actors and the work they do, including what the job market portends.
University of Miami
I have long suspected that a significant number of those of us who consider much of our teaching and scholarship to fall at least to some degree within the astonishingly expansive realm known as Jewish Studies are often troubled by the gaps in our own education. And if any of us are ever in a position to retire we will probably seize on the opportunity to sit in on our colleagues' courses and fill those gaps. Some of us who have never been given the opportunity (or felt prepared) to teach an "Introduction to Jewish Studies" course of our own often spend time fantasizing about just what a course would entail. How would we create connections between the multifarious disciplines that make up our field, not to mention its extraordinary range of temporalities and spatialities? So many questions and opportunities would likely ensue! Hence it seems to me that the future incarnations of Perspectives will serve its community well by opening up spaces for dialogue on such questions as: What are the current scholarly arguments/conversations/controversies guiding Jewish Studies scholars who work within Anthropology, Archeology, Art History, Folklore, Geography, History, Literary Studies, Rabbinics, Sociology, etc.? How has Jewish identity evolved in changing cultural contexts? What about the boundaries between the Jewish and the non-Jewish over time and space? What do scholars working in such areas most want their colleagues in Jewish Studies to know about their work? What useful paradigms of Jewish life and culture enlivening our research and/or classrooms do we wish our colleagues to know more about? What are the open questions that still challenge us? How better might we ensure that Jewish Studies thrive as a truly integrated (rather than fragmented) community of scholars eager to learn from one another and import and transmit forms of knowledge to one another in ways that transcend our separate niches? And, to paraphrase David Biale in his magisterial inquiry Cultures of the Jews, how might we strive to affirm commonalities between the Jewish past and the Jewish present while still respecting all that is richly different, singular, and strange in those disparate continuums? And returning to that question which has nagged me for some time: what are the ideal Jewish texts to include in a truly interdisciplinary "Introduction to Jewish Studies" course? Finally, in our shared quest to learn from one another (and perhaps find some common ground), Perspectives should reflect the lively debates that stimulate the creative inquiries we conduct within separate disciplines, those that may not yet be fully understood by our colleagues but may one day serve as terrific catalysts for their own work in the classroom and beyond.
University of Minnesota
I would like Perspectives to continue its focus on emerging issues in the field of Jewish Studies, and to learn from colleagues whose research creates and shapes those questions. At the same time, Jewish Studies is being thrust inexorably into a different type of engagement as the university is, once again, an arena in which political and academic issues are linked, interwoven, and contested. There is no reason to assume that all colleagues affiliated with Jewish Studies view these issues similarly, and there may be variations among us. However, Perspectives is in a position to open conversations about academic boycotts, how Jewish Studies intersects with Israel Studies, and how to engage these issues as they emerge. Many of our colleagues are confident about precisely how to respond. But many other colleagues also feel unable to find a language that emphasizes complexity in the face of jagged polarizations. This timely and powerful publication might be just the space to begin complicated and exceptionally important conversations. These issues will inspire not only campus activism, but scholarship and teaching. These pages, digital or print, should be part of our own work to address this moment and those that lie ahead.
University of Pittsburgh
In a somewhat traditional sense, I see a continued role of AJS Perspectives as a reflection of the professional organization that represents our interests and serves our professional needs as scholars of Jewish Studies. I would like AJS Perspectives to be a vehicle for keeping up with developments across the breadth of Jewish Studies, especially for keeping up with developments in subfields other than my own, and for wider issues that connect with the work we do as scholars. That doesn't mean Perspectives needs to be a newsletter as such. Facebook, H-Net, blogs, and websites are enough for up-to-date (even up-to-the-minute) news and announcements of funding opportunities, new academic programs, job listings, calls for papers, and so forth. At the other end of the spectrum from fast-breaking to "slow-cooked": AJS Review and a host of other journals deliver excellent peer-reviewed original scholarship in the broad field of Jewish Studies, as well as book reviews and review essays. Ideally, Perspectives finds its niche somewhere in the middle, with articles falling into several (somewhat overlapping) categories:
(1) Reports on new and emerging subfields or scholarly conversations, pointing the interested reader to new resources and new conversation partners. Such reports would combine elements of review essays but need not limit themselves to already published material.
(2) Reports on new academic initiatives and projects. These reports can go beyond press release language toward more in-depth discussion and situate new projects within the broader scholarly landscape.
(3) Digests of new scholarship, especially abstracts of articles appearing in disciplinary journals or journals "outside" of Jewish Studies.
(4) Articles reporting on trends in academia, K-12 Jewish or general education, Jewish adult education, or rabbinical/ professional/communal education that affect (or could affect) the way we do our work as scholars and teachers of Jewish Studies.
(5) Articles reporting on "best practices" in Jewish Studies programs, department management, graduate or undergraduate education, or scholarly praxis.
University at Albany
Perspectives will face interesting challenges as it moves to an online format. As we saw by the small number of Twitter posts related to the 2013 conference, many AJS members (including myself) haven't yet embraced many of the new forms of information technology. While the online version of Perspectives might not fully replace the paper magazine, a major task is to create a website that will be of continual interest to readers, as opposed to simply a place where members can read the issue when it released twice a year.
I'd be interested in seeing Perspectives become a hub for discussions, information, and resources related to Jewish Studies more broadly and not restricted to AJS members only. This might mean taking some of the content that is currently on the AJS website and moving it to Perspectives online. For example, the online version could have job postings, fellowship and grant information, and research opportunities. It might also include moderated forums that would allow members to have genuine conversations with one another about the published articles in Perspectives as well as other topics within Jewish Studies. Perhaps discussions that began at the annual conference could be continued in the online forums. There could be conversations about recent books, articles, films, music, and exhibitions, as well as on career development, graduate programs, politics, teaching strategies, and so on.
Perspectives online could contain links to H-Net reviews and feature invited blogs. It could provide links to news stories related to Jewish Studies from around the web.
Such features would make the online site a place to visit Perspectives more than twice a year when the new edition of the magazine appears, and would highlight the continuing relevance of our field.
More and more I think about the changing contour of the North American university and how my generation—which earned its doctorates in the early 1980s—has enjoyed privileges, work rhythms, institutional frameworks (e.g. bookstores, newspaper book review sections featuring academic titles, the promise of tenure) now either in flux, or in some instances already relics. What does it mean for those of us who train PhD students to do what it is that we do and properly prepare them for the future when what this future looks like is—more than ever—a moving target?
Of course, there was a considerable chasm between the world our academic mentors lived in for the bulk of their careers and the one that we entered, at just the moment when Jewish Studies as a field came of age, situating itself in nearly every major university, establishing beachheads at so many of the university presses, etc. (I recall my Jewish History mentor Amos Funkenstein telling me that when interviewed for his position at UCLA in the 1970s he was never brought for a campus interview and asked only about his views on Freud and Jung; for years, before a job interview I found myself reaching for a volume of Freud the night before.) Still, today's uncertainties regarding matters so basic as the viability of the academic monograph and its role in tenure and promotion, the challenge of distance learning, the future of the classroom lecture, the shrinkage of tenure prospects cut to the bone; they make one uneasy about what it means to mentor today for tomorrow.
Perspectives would be well to highlight these looming dilemmas, to air them not because what we're likely to face in the future is imminent decline but rather change at a pace more rapid than most of us have ever encountered.