Review Comment

[RELI V3571] Judaism, Jewishness, and Modernity

May 14, 2011

Schorsch, Jonathan
[RELI V3571] Judaism, Jewishness, and Modernity

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Professor Schorsch is a scholar of the highest order whose dedication to his subject and students ought to be evident to any who takes this course. His style is passionate and well-informed par excellence. Any student with even the slightest interest in Judaism, philosophy, or general intellectualism will find fantastic outlets for those interests in this course.

The course's thesis is deliberately general--how have different thinkers responded to Judaism's confrontation with modernity philosophically, historically, sociologically, theologically, etc.--such as to allow students to project their own interests onto the course's trajectory. Professor Schorsch is always open to questions, and his extensive knowledge of all things academically Jewish makes his insights highly valuable. The course is discussion-based, so student participation is welcomed and understood as an essential component to cultivating understanding. The texts used in this course are highly stimulating (of course that is a subjective valuation, but I don't think it's so farfetched) and I, as well as others whose interest was evident from their comments, certainly appreciated the opportunity to come to class and talk about our reactions rather than simply listen to Prof. Schorsch lecture, even though that is a stimulating activity in itself.

This course is a fair amount of work, both in terms of volume and the often impenetrable nature of its content. If you're looking for an easy A, take another class. But if you possess an earnest curiosity, or even a modicum of interest in the subject, this is where you want to be. You will learn tremendously under the auspices of a fantastic, compelling lecturer and walk away with knowledge that will infiltrate many aspects of your life in ways that those other "easier" classes never will. This is a far cry from a B-S lecture offering cursory overviews that will ultimately leave you hardly informed of the material. Jewish or not (because this course assumes very little prior knowledge), the ambitious student will leave this course understanding exactly why he or she came to Columbia--to learn from the best and cultivate a genuine thirst for knowledge.


The work for this course is voluminous, but there is very little expectation that one do all of it all of the time. Professor Schorsch constructs his syllabus with care, complete with "recommended readings" that assist in further research on a particular topic, to be undertaken at one's leisure. One can get by with having only done some of the reading, but it is rare that one will even want to do any less than the full assignment. That said, assignments can range from 50-200 pages per class period, which can be a challenge to complete. If you can do even a portion, though, you will have enough of a grounding to participate and Prof. Schorsch will be more than happy to fill in gaps. No calling anybody out, so the environment is conducive to open discussion.

There are three three-page biography assignments that allow students to do their own research on any thinker who is "modern" and "Jewish" (which is a very broad burden). The assignments are interesting and serve well their purpose in acquainting students with the thought of a particular figure, either one treated on the syllabus or not. There is also a 10-page final paper on a topic of the student's choice. It is unlikely that a student who takes the course seriously will be at a loss of ideas for what to write about.

Grading is 100% fair--not too easy, but you will get what you deserve given your effort, skills, and interest. Getting an A is possible if you put in the requisite work along the way. Schorsch always gives extensive comments on returned assignments that are helpful and indicate the care he takes with his students' work, a sign of respect that is refreshing compared to some other class experiences.

Directory Data

Dept/Subj Directory Course Professor Year Semester Time Section
RELI / RELI RELI RELI V3571: Judaism, Jewishness, Modernity Jonathan Schorsch 2011 Spring MW / 2:40- 3:55 PM 1
RELI / RELI RELI RELI V3571: Judaism, Jewishness, Modernity Jonathan Schorsch 2009 Fall TR / 2:40- 3:55 PM 1