Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

6/1/2010 - 5/31/2011

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

"Jew": A Multidimensional Study of a Key Identity Term

FAIN: FB-55043-10

Cynthia M. Baker
President and Trustees of Bates College (Lewiston, ME 04240-6028)

This book will map the emergence, historical development, and current permutations of the identity term "Jew". No studies yet exist that analyze the uses, appropriations, and deployments of this identity term in a synchronic and diachronic fashion from earliest antiquity through our postmodern era. The project has 3 parts: 1) examination of ancient evidence for the origins of the term as compiled and narrated through a range of modern categories and concerns; 2) exploration of overlapping and competing definitions (Christian, anti-Semitic, nationalist, etc.) that have constituted the identity category "Jew(s)" throughout history and in modern scholarship and public discourse; 3) examination of constructions of "Jew(s)" within emerging discourses of transnationalism and multiethnicity. The project is important both in its specificity and as a case study for analyzing "historically and cross-culturally" the dynamics of identity formation and attribution.

Media Coverage

Ask Me Another (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Jay Burns
Publication: Bates Magazine
Date: 8/27/2010
Abstract: Interview about project.

Associated Products

A "Jew" By Any Other Name? (Article)
Title: A "Jew" By Any Other Name?
Author: Cynthia M. Baker
Abstract: Forthcoming in issue 2.2 This essay undertakes to review and assess a range of current theories concerning one particular dimension of the “who/what is a Jew” question as it has arisen among scholars of antiquity: namely, the origins of “Jew(s)” and their relation to the categories “Judaean(s)” and “Judaism.”
Year: 2011
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Journal website.
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Journal of Ancient Judaism
Publisher: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht

Jew (Book)
Title: Jew
Author: Cynthia M. Baker
Abstract: Jew. The word possesses an uncanny power to provoke and unsettle. For millennia, Jew has signified the consummate Other, a persistent fly in the ointment of Western civilization’s grand narratives and cultural projects. Only very recently, however, has Jew been reclaimed as a term of self-identification and pride. With these insights as a point of departure, this book offers a wide-ranging exploration of the key word Jew—a term that lies not only at the heart of Jewish experience, but indeed at the core of Western civilization. Examining scholarly debates about the origins and early meanings of Jew, Cynthia M. Baker interrogates categories like “ethnicity,” “race,” and “religion” that inevitably feature in attempts to define the word. Tracing the term’s evolution, she also illuminates its many contradictions, revealing how Jew has served as a marker of materialism and intellectualism, socialism and capitalism, worldly cosmopolitanism and clannish parochialism, chosen status and accursed stigma. Baker proceeds to explore the complex challenges that attend the modern appropriation of Jew as a term of self-identification, with forays into Yiddish language and culture, as well as meditations on Jew-as-identity by contemporary public intellectuals. Finally, by tracing the phrase new Jews through a range of contexts—including the early Zionist movement, current debates about Muslim immigration to Europe, and recent sociological studies in the U.S.—the book provides a glimpse of what the word Jew is coming to mean in an era of Internet cultures, genetic sequencing, precarious nationalisms, and proliferating identities.
Year: 2017
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Rutgers University Press, publisher's website for the book
Secondary URL: http://
Secondary URL Description: worldcat page to locate library copies
Publisher: Rutgers University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780813563022
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes