Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, The New School

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, The New School
“Return to Sepharad”: An Ethnography of Jewish Revivalism in Spain

Five centuries after unconverted Jews were expelled from Iberia, Jews and Judaism are returning to Spain. In cities throughout Spain, medieval neighborhoods long bereft of Jewish inhabitants are being renovated into World Heritage Sites that promise to "return" visitors to medieval Sepharad; Spaniards who claim Jewish descent are "returning" to Judaism as converts; and millions of diasporic Sephardic Jews anticipate pending legislation that is poised to offer them the right to "return" to Spain as citizens. Although Jewish inheritance, conversion, and coexistence are commonly taken to be multiple manifestations of a single phenomenon—the "return to Sepharad"—I ask how the divergent actors and objectives that animate such "returns" reconfigure debates about the nature of Jewish personhood, history, and the pressing contemporary question of coexistence. My twelve months of fieldwork at synagogues, state bureaucracies, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and national foundations will be guided by the following questions: (1) Inheritance: What concepts and materials make it possible to claim people, places, and objects as Jewish inheritance? (2) Conversion: How and when is an individual's Jewishness recognized as a historical fact or a future possibility? (3) Coexistence: How do Jews figure in debates about the potential for the celebrated medieval convivencia of Jews, Christians, and Muslims to serve as a template for contemporary multicultural inclusion? Unlike research that focuses on the exclusion of Europe's religious minorities, this project will instead examine how practices of "return" seek to foster the inclusion—however uneven and contradictory—of Jewish people and history in Spain.