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Author(s): Valins, Oliver
Date: 1999
Abstract: Using theoretical concepts concerning space, identity and boundaries, this thesis examines a contemporary ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Broughton Park, Manchester (located in the north of England). The thesis discusses how these Jews practise and understand their lives within the context of a (post)modem world. Demographically, the overall population of Anglo-Jewry is declining (by as much as a third in the past forty years), with fears expressed about its future survival. Socially, there are major schisms between the different branches of Judaism, with increasing concerns about a polarisation between religious and secular. These factors provide the background to this thesis, which examines arguably the most extreme and still rapidly growing form of Judaism. The thesis uses a theoretical framework which takes seriously post-positivist understandings of space and identity, in which movement, inter-connections and, in particular, processes of hybridity are recognised. Same and other are never pure. Nonetheless, such theoretical conceptions tend to deny particular people's situated attempts to defend, institutionalise and 'slow down' identities and spaces, which are, I argue, key factors in understanding people's everyday lives. While such stabilisations can be described as reactionary, I suggest that they may also be celebrated (although in complex and ambivalent ways) as resistances to forces of homogeneity. Through the empirical materials collected in Broughton Park, a discussion of the institutionalisation of space detailed in the sacred text of the Talmud, and a reconsideration of post-positivist theories to do with identity and space, the thesis draws upon and extends critiques of hybridity as always a (positive) force of resistance, and boundaries as necessarily reactionary and aligned with powers of domination. Overall, it offers a theoretical and methodological framework with which to interrogate 'geographies of Jewry', taking seriously those calls for 'geographies of religion' to make use of post positivist understandings of space and identity.
Author(s): Valins, Oliver
Date: 2000
Abstract: Institutionalised religion, as a powerful force in the structuring of the daily lives of probably the majority of the world’s population, is a field of social research to which geographers can usefully contribute. This paper examines ancient and contemporary forms of Judaism, exploring the underlying codes and regulations designed to structure every aspect of life. The first part of the paper examines institutionalised uses of space in ancient times, as recorded in the sacred Jewish text of the Talmud. Through the sacred geography of the great Temple in Jerusalem and the legal authority of the religious court to punish offenders, the social system was (in principle at least) highly ordered and regulated. The second part examines the institutionalisation of the religion in contemporary times, which for orthodox Jews involves attempting to practise and maintain these same ancient codes and regulations. Practising ancient ways of life in contemporary (post)modern contexts can be extremely difficult, however, which I discuss with reference to the proposals of the religious authorities in Manchester, England, to construct an eruv; a legalistic device consisting of poles and wires which changes the classification of space, allowing (in particular) the elderly, infirm and parents with young children to travel on the Sabbath. The device faces criticism from secular and religious sources over the rights to ‘claim space’ and the religious legalistic viability of the project.