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Major Trends in Modern Jewish Philosophy


Admission requirements

A global knowledge of modern philosophy and a working knowledge of the core notions in Jewish tradition are presupposed.
Knowledge of German is recommended, although English translations are available.


In the Enlightenment and its aftermath, tensions between Reason and Revelation, or between Philosophy and Tradition became acute. Jewish thinkers, like their Christian contemporaries, engaged in criticism of their religion. Some abandoned their faith; others attempted to create a synthesis between faith and reason. Spinoza, for example laid the foundation for biblical criticism, and Mendelssohn argued for the separation of church and state, each with its own area of responsibilities. The tensions brought on by modernity with its supposedly self-contained character continue to play a role in the writings of Jewish philosophers today.
In this course we will discuss four modern Jewish philosophers struggling to do justice to both their Jewish heritage and the demands of reason: Spinoza, Mendelssohn, Cohen and Benjamin.

Course objectives

 This course aims to provide an introduction to the main issues and topics in modern Jewish philosophy through an in depth focus on four thinkers.
 Students will improve their capacity for reading primary philosophical and theological texts.
 Students will be stimulated to reflect on some essential themes concerning the relation between religion and reason as such.


Mode of instruction

  • Seminar, with weekly assignments.

Assessment method

There will be weekly assignments that will be graded. The seminar will be concluded by writing a paper of 2500 words, to be submitted before June 30, 2013.


Blackboard will be used for providing texts, links and documents. Students will have to submit their assignments on blackboard.

Reading list

  • Spinoza, Tractatus theologico-politicus (many translations available, also online)

  • Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, oder über religiöse Macht und Judentum, Aisthesis Verlag 2001 (trans.: Jerusalem: Or on Religious Power and Judaism, Brandeis, 1983)

  • Hermann Cohen, Jüdische Schriften II & III (in University Library; trans.: Reason and Hope: Selections from the Jewish Writings of Hermann Cohen, Hebrew Union College 1993)

  • Walter Benjamin, texts from Gesammelte Schriften I & II and Briefe (in University Library; trans.: Selected Writings Vols. 1-3)


Via Usis.

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Extension of this seminar to 10 ects is possible. Please contact the course instructor.
MA-students who are interested can attend this seminar as well. Their work will be assessed on a MA level.