What is Anti-Semitism?

Spring Quarter, 2024

Thursdays, 1 - 2:30 p.m., Norris University Center

C. What is Anti-Semitism? David Shyovitz, Associate Professor, Department of History Director, Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies

In modern political discourse, “anti-Semitism” is frequently invoked and infrequently defined. The imprecision with which the term is deployed leads to broad disagreements about the nature and scope of the phenomenon. Is anti-Semitism a form of racism? Of xenophobia? Of anti-religious animus, akin to Islamophobia? Is it a conspiracy theory? Does anti-Semitism assume that Jews constitute a religion? A nationality? An ethnicity? A “race”? One reason these questions are so hotly contested is because they are usually discussed ahistorically, in isolation from the extensive academic scholarship on the origins and development of anti-Semitism—both the actual phenomenon and the descriptive term itself. This course traces the historical trajectory of anti-Jewish rhetoric, violence, and discrimination from antiquity through the present. We will pay particular attention to the analytical concepts that historians have developed and deployed—including, but not limited to anti-Semitism, antisemitism, anti-Judaism, and Judeophobia. Rather than seeking to isolate an overarching definition of what is and is not anti-Semitic, we will explore the specific contexts in which anti-Jewish animus and violence developed, and the constantly evolving role “Jews” (as individuals and as a category) have played at key historical junctures.