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Author(s): Kasstan, Ben
Date: 2021
Abstract: Maintaining ‘faith’ in vaccination has emerged as a public health challenge amidst outbreaks of preventable disease among religious minorities and rising claims to ‘exemption’ from vaccine mandates. Outbreaks of measles and coronavirus have been particularly acute among Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods in North America, Europe and Israel, yet no comparative studies have been conducted to discern the shared and situated influences on vaccine decision-making.

This paper synthesises qualitative research into vaccine decision-making among Orthodox Jews in the United Kingdom and Israel during the 2014–15 and 2018-19 measles epidemics, and 2020–21 coronavirus pandemic. The methods integrate 66 semi-structured informal interviews conducted with parents, formal and informal healthcare practitioners, and religious leaders, as well as analysis of tailored non-vaccination advocacy events and literature.

The paper argues that the discourse of ‘religious’ exemption and opposition to vaccination obscures the diverse practices and philosophies that inform vaccine decisions, and how religious law and leaders form a contingent influence. Rather than viewing religion as the primary framework through which vaccine decisions are made, Orthodox Jewish parents were more concerned with safety, trust and choice in similar ways to ‘secular’ logics of non-vaccination. Yet, religious frameworks were mobilised, and at times politicised, to suit medico-legal discourse of ‘exemption’ from coercive or mandatory vaccine policies. By conceptualising tensions around protection as ‘political immunities,’ the paper offers a model to inform social science understandings of how health, law and religion intersect in contemporary vaccine opposition.
Date: 2021
Author(s): Baer, Marc David
Date: 2013
Date: 2021
Abstract: In 2015, Spain approved a law that offered citizenship to the descendants of Sephardi Jews expelled in 1492. Drawing on archival, ethnographic, and historical sources, I show that this law belongs to a political genealogy of philosephardism in which the “return” of Sephardi Jews has been imagined as a way to usher in a deferred Spanish modernity. Borrowing from anthropological theories of “racial fusion,” philosephardic thinkers at the turn of the twentieth century saw Sephardi Jews as inheritors of a racial mixture that made them living repositories of an earlier moment of national greatness. The senator Ángel Pulido, trained as an anthropologist, channeled these intellectual currents into an international campaign advocating the repatriation of Sephardi Jews. Linking this racial logic to an affective one, Pulido asserted that Sephardi Jews did not “harbor rancor” for the Expulsion, but instead felt love and nostalgia toward Spain, and could thus be trusted as loyal subjects who would help resurrect its empire. Today, affective criteria continue to be enmeshed in debates about who qualifies for inclusion and are inextricable from the histories of racial thought that made earlier exclusions possible. Like its precursors, the 2015 Sephardic citizenship law rhetorically fashioned Sephardi Jews as fundamentally Spanish, not only making claims about Sephardi Jews, but also making claims on them. Reckoning with how rancor and other sentiments have helped buttress such claims exposes the recalcitrant hold that philosephardic thought has on Spain's present, even those “progressive” political projects that promise to “return” what has been lost.
Author(s): Baugut, Philip
Date: 2021
Abstract: Rund 75 Jahre nach dem Holocaust verzeichnet die Polizei einen An-stieg antisemitischer Straftaten in Deutschland; als bedrohte Minderheit sorgen sich jüdi-sche Menschen um das gesellschaftliche Meinungsklima, das auch die etablierten Massen-medien prägen. Vor diesem Hintergrund untersucht der vorliegende Beitrag mit Hilfe des normativen Konzepts der „interkulturellen medialen Integration“ die medienjournalisti-sche Berichterstattung der Wochenzeitung Jüdische Allgemeine. Die Befunde der qualitati-ven Inhaltsanalyse von 168 Beiträgen zeigen, dass die vom Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland herausgegebene Publikation in verschiedener Hinsicht heftige Kritik an etab-lierten Medien übt. So hätten einzelne Medien antisemitische Stereotype verbreitet, Perso-nen, die sich antisemitisch äußern, eine Plattform geboten und Antisemitismus als solchen nicht erkannt, relativiert oder negiert. Im Sinne einer differenzierten Medienkritik macht die Jüdische Allgemeine aber auch deutlich, welche Merkmale von Medieninhalten sie für wünschenswert hält, darunter Berichte über alltägliches jüdisches Leben in Deutschland, aber auch authentische Beiträge über Antisemitismus, in denen Betroffene zu Wort kom-men. Die Befunde können zum einen verstehen helfen, warum viele Jüd*innen in Europa Antisemitismus in den Medien als Problem sehen. Zum anderen liefern sie Produzierenden von Medienangeboten Hinweise darauf, welche Resonanz ihre Inhalte innerhalb der jüdi-schen Gemeinschaft finden.
Author(s): Baugut, Philip
Date: 2021
Date: 2020
Abstract: In the Netherlands, religions are often positioned as opposite to secular ideals of women’s freedom. While women’s emancipation supposedly grants women their autonomy, religions are suspected of reaffirming gender inequality. In this religion-versus-emancipation dilemma, questions of the body are pertinent, since traditional religions are framed as restricting and regulating women’s bodies. Questions about modesty, sexual relations, clothing and food preparations often come up in such debates. There seems to be a particular tension for women who convert to religions that are often regarded as ‘gender conservative’, and this chapter sheds light on that field of tension. This expands the field of women’s conversion – which has typically focused on Islamic women – by employing a comparative analysis of interviews and participant observation with Jewish, Christian and Muslim Dutch women converts. Joining a religion that one was not raised in is a process of ethical self-fashioning through training and disciplining of both the body and mind. Converts have to learn how to eat, how to pray, how to dress and how to have sex in such a way that it permits them to give shape to their religious subjectivity and pious desires. What I found is that performing authenticity is a central and embodied characteristic of modern-day conversion stories in the ‘age of authenticity’. This performance is often played out through the sexual and gendered body and religious subject transformations were closely related to sexual self-fashioning. In order to understand these links between conversion, sexuality and the body, I focus on experiences and ideas about virginity and marriage, menstruation and homosexuality. In this chapter, I aim to show that sexual embodiments and ethics cannot be understood as either religious or secular, but rather as a new form of religious subjectivity within Europe as a space where authenticity has become the most important mode for selfhood.
Date: 2021
Abstract: This article presents research notes on an oral history project on the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on Jews over the age of 65 years. During the first stage of the project, we conducted nearly 80 interviews in eight cities worldwide: Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Milan, New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and St. Petersburg, and in Israel. The interviews were conducted in the spring of 2020 and reflect the atmosphere and perception of interviewees at the end of the first lockdown.

Based on an analysis of the interviews, the findings are divided into three spheres: (1) the personal experience during the pandemic, including personal difficulties and the impact of the lockdown on family and social contacts; (2) Jewish communal life, manifested in changed functions and emergence of new needs, as well as religious rituals during the pandemic; and (3) perceived relations between the Jewish community and wider society, including relations with state authorities and civil society, attitudes of and towards official media, and the possible impact of COVID-19 on antisemitism. Together, these spheres shed light on how elderly Jews experience their current situation under COVID-19—as individuals and as part of a community.

COVID-19 taught interviewees to reappraise what was important to them. They felt their family relations became stronger under the pandemic, and that their Jewish community was more meaningful than they had thought. They understood that online communication will continue to be present in all three spheres, but concluded that human contact cannot be substituted by technical devices.
Date: 2021
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic hit the British Jewish community hard. According to data gathered by JPR in July 2020, 25% of British Jews had already contracted the virus by that time and Jewish mortality rates in London in April 2020 – the peak of the first wave – were almost three times as high as usual. In Manchester, the picture was even worse.

Building on our previous studies on this topic, this paper looks at Jewish mortality over the first year of the pandemic, taking in both the first wave (March to May 2020) and the second wave (December 2020 to February 2021).

Whilst it confirms that excess mortality among Jews during the first wave was considerably higher than among comparative non-Jews (280% higher compared to 188%), it reveals that the second wave saw the opposite picture: 69% higher than expected levels of mortality for that period among Jews, compared to 77% among the non-Jewish comparative group. This second wave picture is exactly what one might expect to see given that Jews typically enjoy relatively good health and longevity, so it forces us to ask again: what happened during the first wave to cause such devastation across the Jewish community?

Whilst not yet definitive about their conclusions, the authors point towards the ‘religious sociability’ hypothesis – that notion that close interaction between Jews, prior to the first lockdown, caused the devastating spike in Jewish deaths early on. The paper also demonstrates that the ‘Jewish penalty’ at this time was greater among Orthodox Jews than Progressive ones which further strengthens the hypothesis, as much higher proportions of Orthodox Jews gather regularly for religious reasons than Progressive Jews (even though Progressive Jews do so more regularly than British society as a whole).

The fact that the picture of extremely high excess mortality among British Jews was not repeated during the second wave (on the contrary, excess mortality among Jews was very slightly lower than among the comparator non-Jewish population, and slightly higher among Progressive Jews than Orthodox ones), suggests that the religious sociability theory was no longer a major factor at this time. With many synagogues closed or complying closely with the social distancing policies established by government, Jews were affected by coronavirus in much the same way as others.

The findings in this paper should be taken seriously by at least two key groups. Epidemiologists and public health experts should explore the impact of religious sociability more carefully, as currently, socioeconomic factors tend to dominate analysis. And Jewish community leaders must also reflect on the findings and, in the event of a similar pandemic in the future, consider instituting protective measures much more quickly than occurred in early 2020.