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Author(s): Leite, Naomi
Date: 2017
Abstract: How are local understandings of identity, relatedness, and belonging transformed in a global era? How does international tourism affect possibilities for who one can become? In urban Portugal today, hundreds of individuals trace their ancestry to 15th century Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism, and many now seek to rejoin the Jewish people as a whole. For the most part, however, these self-titled Marranos ("hidden Jews") lack any direct experience of Jews or Judaism, and Portugal's tiny, tightly knit Jewish community offers no clear path of entry. According to Jewish law, to be recognized as a Jew one must be born to a Jewish mother or pursue religious conversion, an anathema to those who feel their ancestors' Judaism was cruelly stolen from them. After centuries of familial Catholicism, and having been refused inclusion locally, how will these self-declared ancestral Jews find belonging among "the Jewish family," writ large? How, that is, can people rejected as strangers face-to-face become members of a global imagined community - not only rhetorically, but experientially? Leite addresses this question through intimate portraits of the lives and experiences of a network of urban Marranos who sought contact with foreign Jewish tourists and outreach workers as a means of gaining educational and moral support in their quest. Exploring mutual imaginings and direct encounters between Marranos, Portuguese Jews, and foreign Jewish visitors, Unorthodox Kin deftly tracks how visions of self and kin evolve over time and across social spaces, ending in an unexpected path to belonging. In the process, the analysis weaves together a diverse set of current anthropological themes, from intersubjectivity to international tourism, class structures to the construction of identity, cultural logics of relatedness to transcultural communication. A compelling evocation of how ideas of ancestry shape the present, how feelings of kinship arise among far-flung strangers, and how some find mystical connection in a world said to be disenchanted, Unorthodox Kin will appeal to a wide audience interested in anthropology, sociology, Jewish studies, and religious studies. Its accessible, narrative-driven style makes it especially well suited for introductory and advanced courses in general cultural anthropology, ethnography, theories of identity and social categorization, and the study of globalization, kinship, tourism, and religion.
Author(s): Leite, Naomi
Date: 2011
Abstract: This dissertation explores issues of identification, relatedness, and belonging on a global scale,
through an ethnographic study of Portugal’s urban Marranos (descendants of fifteenth-century
forced converts to Catholicism) and foreign Jews who travel from abroad to meet them.
Although not Jewish according to Jewish law, given centuries of intermarriage, Marranos are
nonetheless widely considered to be part of “the Jewish family,” “lost brethren” who should be
welcomed back to the Jewish people. Many Jews view them within the metanarrative of Jewish
destruction and survival, the “eternal spark” that remains despite the Inquisition’s attempted
elimination of Judaism from the Portuguese landscape. However, for numerous local reasons the
present-day Marranos are not welcomed by Portugal’s tiny normative Jewish community. As a
result, the urban Marranos, who feel strongly that they are Jews by descent, turn to foreign
Jewish travelers as sources of educational, spiritual, and material assistance in their bid to join
the Jewish world and attain recognition as Jews in the present.
Based on two years of fieldwork in Marrano organizations in Lisbon and Porto and traveling
alongside Jewish tourists and outreach workers, the dissertation undertakes a processual analysis
of the constitution of ancestral Jewish identity and of the role of transnational, cross-cultural
affective ties in affording a sense of global Jewish belonging. The primary questions driving this
work are, first, how and why do far-flung people come to feel that they are related to one
another, and what terms do they use to characterize and think through that feeling of relatedness?
Second, to what extent are their perceptions of essential connection disrupted or transformed by
face-to-face contact? By interrogating the cultural logics of kinship writ large—the language and
conceptual frameworks people use to articulate and make sense of their feelings of relatedness to
one another—and then examining how those logics play out “on the ground,” this study provides
a fine-grained ethnographic analysis of the mechanisms through which global and ancestral
imaginings become concretized in social interaction. Ultimately, I argue, physical proximity
remains the productive sphere for identification and belonging, even as global interconnection
provides new opportunities for encounter.