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Invisible Fences

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The Construction of “Insiders” and “Outsiders” in Jewish Historiography

image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

On a superficial level, the differentiation between “Jews” and “non-Jews” functions as one of the best-known lines of demarcation in the representation of Jewish culture and religion. It draws on a hermeneutical boundary between “insiders” and “outsiders” with regard to the understanding of specific “Jewish experiences.” In this article, I add that this division, often supported by theologians and scholars in the scientific study of religion\s, influences the organizational structure of academic institutions as well, bestowing more “authenticity” on the research of Jewish scholars than on that of non-Jewish scholars. I furthermore assert that, from a methodological point of view, this form of insider–outsider distinction can be seen as part of the discourse on first-order essentialism in Jewish Studies, which includes significant regional differences. Whereas many European scholars are oriented toward mono-cultural images of Jewish religions, scholars from the United States are often eager to explore the plurality of the increasingly diverse religious field. In Israel the insider–outsider distinction occurs on quite a different level, since more and more Israeli scholars criticize ethnicized patterns in Jewish studies.

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