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Re-reading the Self: Reflection's Dynamics (Biblical/Rabbinic)

Mon, December 17, 3:00 to 4:30pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Backbay 1 Complex

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


If a reader's cardinal sin, following Ian MacEwan, is "the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you," then scholars of biblical and rabbinic literatures have proven all too human in our struggle to conceptualize the other selves that they project. By imposing modern and contemporary models of the self upon these ancient sources, and sidelining models internal to the sources themselves, we have overlooked their different ways of determining; integrating; and externalizing their own self-conceptions; in short, of realizing themselves as both subjects and objects.

Responding to this shared problem, however, recent studies in both subfields take reflection as an alternative starting-point for reconstructing biblical and rabbinic models of the self. Rather than assume their radical difference or irenic continuity with respect to the post/modern self (defined, in many circles, by its uniquely reflective and auto-poetic capacities), these studies have analyzed how biblical and rabbinic sources mark their own internal processes of self-formation. By showing, e.g., how words map the self's boundaries and its porousness along a mind/body axis; how rabbis rethink subjectivity by reading the notions of attention and intention out of biblical law; and how the self's persistence is figured by biblical and other ancient paradigms for its transmission, these studies help us to see ancient selves as no less a result of creative reflection–as no less real–than our own.

Along those lines, panelists are invited to reflect on reflection from biblical to rabbinic literatures, using two comparative angles. The first is ethnographic: through texts' verbal and hermeneutic categories of self-reflection, we set their models of the self against a wider cultural backdrop. Here we may ask: how is their language of reflection related to their discourses of collective self-definition? The second angle of comparison is genealogical, returning our gaze on our own interpretive present. Here we go beyond the goal of adequacy to our sources, asking: what new interventions in contemporary problems are made possible by this challenge to harmonizing receptions of the ancient self?

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