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Title: Objects of Affection: The Material Religion of American Jewish Nostalgia
Authors: Gross, Rachel Beth
Advisors: Weisenfeld, Judith
Contributors: Religion Department
Keywords: american
material culture
Subjects: Religion
Judaic studies
American studies
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation identifies nostalgia as an integral religious feature of American Jewish practice in the latter half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. Based on material culture studies, ethnographic research, and interviews, it examines American Jews' sentimental, generalized longing for their communal homelands of eastern Europe and ethnic neighborhoods in the United States, particularly but not exclusively New York's Lower East Side. The project focuses on four case studies of increasingly commercialized and institutionalized nostalgia: the materials and practices of Jewish genealogy and family history; the use of historic synagogues as heritage sites; illustrated children's books and dolls; and American Jewish foodways, particularly the culinary revival of restaurants inspired by traditional Ashkenazi cuisine. American Jews use each of these materials and spaces in their affective search for a seemingly authentic past. Emotional and spiritual connections to American Jewish history have been made consumable and uniform, accessible to American Jews across and beyond religious movements as well as to non-Jews. This thematic research on nostalgia moves beyond the scholarly distinctions between Judaism, the religion, and Jewishness, the culture, a dichotomy that has little practical application to the ways American Jews make and sustain personal and communal meaning. It also moves beyond simplistic divisions between "religious" and "secular" Jews that no longer accurately describe the diversity of American Jewish practice. American Jews with a broad array of religious affiliations and those with no affiliation engage in the ostensibly nonreligious activities of Jewish genealogical research, visiting Jewish historic sites, consuming markedly Jewish food, and purchasing books and toys that teach Jewish nostalgia to their children. These activities provide personally meaningful engagements with American Jewish pasts that afford affective connections to imagined transhistorical Jewish communities. Attention to American Jewish nostalgia identifies robust forms of religious meaning in works of public and personal histories, emphasizing the centrality of emotional and commemorative norms in American and Jewish religious practices. This study of the materials of nostalgia reveals normative themes about historical periods, immigration, and religious practices often taken for granted in American Jews' relation to history.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Religion

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