Natan Paradise Speaks about Antisemitism and the Double Erasure of Jews on College Campuses

A blackboard behind erasers
Bryce Miller, "The Blackboard."

On April 9, 2021, Natan Paradise, Associate Director of the Center for Jewish Studies, spoke on “Religion and the Double Erasure of Jews on Campus” as part of “Religion, Public Education, and Diversity: A Pre-Conference Colloquium” organized by the Religion and the Public University Collaborative in conjunction with the 2021 spring meeting of the Upper Midwest American Academy of Religion. The Religion and the Public University Collaborative (RPUC), hosted by the Institute of Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, uses the tools of academic research and knowledge production to address questions and issues that arise at the intersections of religious freedom, academic freedom, and church-state separation on this and other public university campuses.

In his presentation, Paradise discussed the consequences of working and teaching in a system that largely misconstrues and often ignores the complex status and identities of Jews and the Jewish experience. He argued that the institutional reduction of Jews and Jewishness to the category of “religion,” which in the context of the academy has been an essentially Christian category incommensurate with Jewish self-understanding, has worked to exclude Jews from the diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on American campuses. “Treating Jewishness as merely ‘religion,’” he insisted, “has functioned in the minds of non-Jews to turn Jews, imagined always as the descendants of white Europeans even if that does not adequately represent Jews globally or in the U.S., into some kind of awkwardly situated White Protestant denomination--a fictive denomination that America eventually embraced during the Cold War era under the term “Judeo-Christian,” a term which came to mean Christian with a polite nod to the Jews in the corner who were being erased by rhetorical sleight of hand.”

This erasure, Paradise showed, has led in turn to the erasure of antisemitism from campus initiatives to combat racism, even as the United States has seen in recent years an explosion of antisemitic rhetoric and attacks that are inextricably linked to the racist agenda of White Nationalism. “Making antisemitism visible on college campuses requires,” Paradise concluded, “that institutions recognize that they have made a categorical error, mistaking one (potential) aspect of Jewishness--religion--for the whole of it, and that this error is compounded by the fact that the category itself has been flawed from the beginning. Until this error is remedied, equity and diversity initiatives (however well-intentioned) that relegate Jews to the ideologically constrained frame of “religious identities"; or “religious diversity” will only continue to harm Jewish students, faculty, and staff.”

Read a revised version of his remarks.



Image Bryce Miller, "The Blackboard." 

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