SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

R451 Jewish Identity from Ancient to Modern Times

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 2

This course will discuss the various ways in which Jewish identity is expressed and represented in ancient, medieval, and modern Jewish cultures. Jewish identity formation needs to be explored within the context of the respective political, social, and economic circumstances in which Jews lived.

For the respective time periods under discussion here the impact of surrounding cultures (Graeco-Roman, Byzantine Christian, Muslim, European and American) and the various forms of acculturation and assimilation that developed will be examined. We shall analyse the significance of religious, ethnic, national, and cultural markers of identity in the definitions of Judaism and trace developments in the expression of Jewish identity.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

LO1) understand that Jewish identity is a flexible and variable category whose expression and representation depends on the historical, political, and cultural contexts in which Jews live
LO2) distinguish between individual and institutional definitions of identity
LO3) be knowledgeable of Jewish history and changing social, political, and cultural circumstances and environments
LO4) differentiate between assimilation and acculturation and understand the meanings and uses of these terms
LO5) examine the impact of Graeco-Roman, Byzantine Christian, medieval Islamic and modern Enlightenment culture on representations of Jewishness
LO6) recognise stereotypical representations of Jews in texts, films, images, and popular culture and examine the contexts in which they arise
LO7) recognise the gendered nature of representations of Jewishness and analyse the respective determining factors
LO8) examine the impact of imperialism and colonialism on representations of Jewishness.


  • Lectures: 1hr per week
  • Seminars: 1hr per week
  • Independent study: 50hrs (over 10 weeks)

Method of assessment

  • oral presentation (10%)
  • 2,500-word essay (30%)
  • 2-hour exam (60%)

Suggested reading

  • Cohen, Steven M. American Modernity and Jewish Identity,New York (1983),
  • Frank, Daniel, The Jews of Medieval Islam: Community, Society, and Identity, Leiden (1995),
  • Neusner, Jacob, ed. Israel and Zion in American Judaism: The Zionist Fulfillment, New York (1983).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules