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Jewish identity construction and perpetuation in contemporary Britain


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This thesis attends to the major question ‘how is Jewish identity created and maintained in contemporary Britain?’ To answer this question, I have done one year of ethnographic fieldwork in Britain, which included 121 interviews with Jewish people of various ages and across different religious as well as non-religious denominations.
This thesis identifies four major elements informing the creation and perpetuation of Jewish identity: One, a sense of difference from the majority population creates and maintains the identity. Jews can perceive themselves to be different religiously, nationally, ethnically and/or culturally from white Christian British people. Two, trauma memory has an impact on the creation and sustenance of this identity. Vicarious group trauma, meaning trauma experienced by proxy of previous generations, can inform identity through its influence on everyday experiences. Three, community affiliation plays a role in creating and particularly reinforcing the identification. The Jewish community provides resources, social interaction and thus signalled attention, and regard; all of them respond to innate human needs that a person aims to have satisfied. Four, a group norm of continuity is important in the perpetuation of this identity within and across generations. This norm is created and sustained by its members through their focus on endogamy. Wanting to have a partner from one’s own group, have Jewish children and raise them in a Jewish lifestyle can, thereby, reinforce and maintain a sense of Jewishness (inter-) generationally. Without members marrying within the faith and having children that are raised with Judaism, it would be difficult to preserve Jewish identity in a country where the group does not constitute the majority.
The thesis concludes that there are two reasons why Jews in diaspora have been able to sustain as a group and maintain their identity over time. Firstly, the multi-dimensionality of the Jewish group and respective affiliation platforms have allowed its members to create a multi-faceted meaning of being Jewish, and, secondly, continuous external challenges to the group’s security together with constant reminders of those challenges; both have prevented the group from assimilating into mainstream society.



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Link to download in university repository, Jewish identity construction and perpetuation in contemporary Britain

Bibliographic Information

Fuhr, Christina Jewish identity construction and perpetuation in contemporary Britain. Oxford University. 2012:  https://archive.jpr.org.uk/object-uk270