On and Off the Margin

The Anthropology of Contemporary Jewry

in Religion and Society
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  • 1 Purdue University buckser@purdue.edu
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In recent decades, the ethnography of Jews and Judaism has followed the larger movement in cultural anthropology toward a focus on the margin—the cultural, geographical, and demographic borderlands where questions of group and individual identity are negotiated. The article explores this literature and the questions it raises about the nature of Jewish community and culture. It discusses three areas where marginality has had a particular resonance in Jewish ethnography. Studies of 'marginal Jews' focus on the periphery of traditional Jewish communities, people whose gender, ethnic, and sexual identities lie outside of local normative models. Studies of 'unexpected Jewries' explore a geographical periphery outside the few centers that dominate international Jewish culture and self-understanding. Studies of 'Jews in motion' examine transitional Jews—tourists, immigrants, refugees, and others who bridge the local contexts within which Jewish identities are constructed. These studies reveal Jewish culture to be much more complex, dynamic, and durable than social scientists and Jews themselves have often imagined it.

Religion and Society

Advances in Research

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