Introduction – University of Copenhagen

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Andrew Rogers, Pillars of Witness (1999), Jewish Holocaust Centre Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Claudia Welz

1) The Aim of CJMC

The aim of the Center for the Study of Jewish Thought in Modern Culture (CJMC) is to create an academic home at the University of Copenhagen for the discussion of three focal areas which are particularly prominent in Jewish thought, but which also have a much broader significance (see research focus).

The Jewish experience of centuries-long diaspora and exile, for instance, may become the point of departure for reflections on migration and multi-cultural identities. Since biblical times, existential questions concerning the human condition have crystallized in Jewish thought. The Shoah has made obvious the urgency of witnessing after genocide and the importance of remembrance. If, despite historical breaches, continuity, here, depends not on bloodline but on a text-line with inherent controversy (cf. Amos Oz), it is vital to keep alive the study of these texts and testimonies. CJMC focuses on Jewish thought, also as it manifests itself in non-discursive works of art. Seen from this perspective, Jewish tradition is not alien to modern culture, but part of and a critical edge within it.

CJMC’s multi-disciplinary approach is propelled by scholarly interests not only in classic, but also in forgotten or understudied Jewish sources and their capacity to enrich contemporary culture. The aim is to initiate a dialogue between foreign and familiar voices from the past and present, and to link internal and outside perspectives on Jewish thought.

2) CJMC in its Danish Context

In recent years, the field of Jewish Studies has been neglected at most Scandinavian universities – also in Denmark. This is all the more astonishing, given that Denmark is one of very few countries in Europe in which civil society seemed intact at a time when Jewish citizens elsewhere were persecuted.

In March 1814, the new Royal Decree gave Jews born in Denmark nearly the same rights as other citizens. Since then, the Jews have had freedom of faith and trade.

In October 2013, Denmark celebrated the 70th anniversary of the world famous rescue of the Danish Jews during World War II. With the help of the local population, most of them fled to Sweden and thus ninety-nine percent of Danish Jewry survived the Holocaust. This event has always appeared as a unique light in the darkness of the Nazi era. The Danish Jewish Museum – designed by Daniel Libeskind – shows the cultural history of Jewish life before and after Denmark’s liberation in 1945.

So far, all Faculties of Theology in Denmark have largely concentrated on Christianity, Islam, and their roots in ancient Judaism. Research institutions dealing with modern Jewish thought including its religious dimensions have been absent. CJMC will fill this lacuna. The center was opened at the University of Copenhagen on March 25, 2014. The members of CJMC’s international research team find that it is imperative to reestablish Jewish Studies in Copenhagen with a view to offering a public forum for exchanges of thought between scholars interested in Judaism and its impact in modern and postmodern philosophy, theology, psychology, history, sociology, literature, art, and culture in general.