The course deals with ethnicity, inter-communal relations and cultural exchange through the case studies of Jewish communities in Modern Asia (19th-20th centuries). Comparative analysis of minorities can contribute to study processes of cross-cultural contacts and the factors enabling or, alternately, obstructing multi-ethnic and religious pluralistic societies. Theoretical and methodological approaches will be presented as the basis for studying interactions between minorities and between them and the majority in the context of radical changes in economy, society, science, culture and religion in late modernity. Jews migrated and settled along the historic networks of global trade (the Silk Road and the Indian Ocean), in similarity to Muslims and Christians. During the late colonial period additional migrations and transitions were affected by global crises and changes. In this course we propose that Asian Jews should be studied as integral part of Central and Southeastern Asian societies - and not as the commonly accepted notion of “isolated” Jewish communities. The course combines analytic approaches of social sciences with approaches of the Humanities, anthropological and sociological perspectives with cultural history and critical theory.
How do diverse patterns of ethnic relations and the preservation and constructing of communal identity inter-relate with cross-cultural encounters and cultural adaptation? And what can we study from the case study of Jewish communities in Asia on contacts and exchange between civilizations, religions and diverse ethnic groups in the Asian sphere? These questions will be addressed also in regard of the role of minorities within the economic system, the relationship between minorities and the authorities of political systems and their dynamics in relation to colonialism, modernity, secularism and nationalism. Students will be invited to concentrate on a specific area, theme, or specific Jewish community according their interest.