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Andrew Buckser

Anthropologists have moved away from using belief as the defining feature of religion, portraying it instead as something whose nature and significance vary among times and cultures. This raises new questions about how specific notions of belief come into being and their connections to social, cultural, and political systems. This article explores these questions in the Jewish community of Copenhagen, focusing on two periods when ideas about belief changed radically: the emancipation period at the opening of the nineteenth century, and the decades after World War II. In each, changes in the ways that Jews conceptualized and appealed to belief reflected changes in the internal social dynamics of Danish Jewry. They also reflected changes in the larger Danish culture and in state political agendas.

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Andrew Buckser

This article discusses structural, logistical, and administrative issues associated with the use of participant observation assignments in teaching the anthropology of religion. Fieldwork presents extraordinary opportunities for teaching students about the nature of cultural difference, but it also poses pedagogical challenges that require careful planning and supervision. The article reviews problems including the scope and nature of the observation, student preparation and guidance, connecting with fieldsites, presentation formats, issues of ethics and confidentiality, and university administrative considerations.

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On and Off the Margin

The Anthropology of Contemporary Jewry

Andrew Buckser

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.