"Resurrecting the Jew": Symbolic Boundaries, Nationalism and Philosemitism in Contemporary Poland

Event Date: 
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Event Time: 
4:30 p.m.
Location: 
012 Bendheim Hall

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination's Program on Religion Diplomacy and International Relations will sponsor a public talk, "'Resurrecting the Jew': Symbolic Boundaries, Nationalism and Philosemitism in Contemporary Poland," by Professor Geneviève Zubrzycki, on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, at 4:30 p.m. in 012 Bendheim Hall on the Princeton University campus. This lecture is co-sponsored by the Program in Judaic Studies.

Since the fall of Communism, Poland’s small Jewish communities have undergone a significant revival, a process occurring in tandem with non-Jewish Poles’ soul searching about their role in the Holocaust and the development of their interest in Jewish culture and Poland’s Jewish past.  This interest is visible in the mushrooming of Festivals of Jewish culture throughout Poland, the renewed popularity of klezmer music, the dramatic proliferation of Judaica bookstores and Jewish cuisine restaurants, the governmental sponsorship of new museums and memorials, the emergence of Jewish studies programs at multiple universities, and the public centrality of artists’ and intellectuals’ engagements with Poland’s Jewish past and Polish-Jewish relations more broadly. How can we make sense of this phenomenon? What does Poland’s Jewish renaissance teach us about the politics of memory and identity formation, and the relationship between national identity and religion more broadly?  Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, archival research and interviews, Professor Zubrzycki studies various forms of Jewish-centered enterprises and practices, and analyzes the different meanings they hold for the Jewish and non-Jewish actors and institutions engaged in them. She shows how the revival of Jewish culture in Poland is part of broader attempt to redefine Polish national identity and build pluralism in an ethnically and denominationally homogeneous nation-state.

Geneviève Zubrzycki is Associate Professor of Sociology, Director of the Copernicus Program in Polish Studies, and Faculty Associate at the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.  She studies national identity and religion, collective memory and mythology, and the place of religious symbols in the public sphere. Her book The Crosses of Auschwitz: Nationalism and Religion in Post-Communist Poland (University of Chicago Press, 2006) won awards from the American Sociological Association, the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, and the Polish Studies Association. It is currently being translated into Polish (Krakow: Nomos, 2014).