Workshop in Leipzig
10 Feb 2017 · 10.15 am

Theoriegeschichte und jüdische Geschichte

Venue: Simon-Dubnow-Institut für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur, Goldschmidtstraße 28, 04103 Leipzig, Seminarraum EG
Organized by Nicolas Berg (DI) and Daniel Weidner (ZfL)

Joint workshop of the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture, Leipzig (DI) and the Center for Literary and Cultural Studies, Berlin (ZfL)

In the autumn of 1913, the twenty-seven-year-old Arnold Zweig wrote: “For the moment, I feel very theoretical, very essayistic, very Jewish.” This affinity between theory and Jewish identity is what participants of this workshop seek to address. The meaning of “theory” as well as the meaning of “Jewish” cannot be understood as fixed entities but rather as something that must be, sometimes indeed through essayistic writing, explored time and again. This applies especially to historiography: Not only has “Jewish history” always evaded the narratives of national historiography, instead being written as a social history, a history of religion, of culture and of knowledge. So too has the history of theory posed a considerable problem to traditional historiography. It exceeds the boundaries of scientific disciplines and oscillates between different approaches from the history of ideas, the sociology of knowledge, as well as terminological and discursive histories.

That Jewish authors played a central role in the history of theory has often been remarked upon, for instance by Moritz Lazarus and Heymann Steinthal, Georg Simmel, Sigmund Freud, Karl Mannheim, Ludwik Fleck, Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno and Hannah Arendt. The workshop seeks to go beyond this fact and relate the historiography of theory to the complex history of the Jewish diaspora in modernity. In this sense, the workshop asks how the complex and specific cultural identity of Judaism should be accounted for in a historiography of theory? And how, in turn, is theoretical language employed in reflections of Jewish identity. How are Jewish experiences reflected in theory? How are they excluded and made blind? Which figures of Judaism are taken up by theory, which are affirmed, which negated and repelled? How are they expressed in writing theory, in rhetoric, topoi and metaphors? For instance, ‘exile,’ which often plays a role in theories of modernity, is to a large extent conceived religiously but can also undeniably represent the disenchanted world.

The workshop brings two institutions together, the ZfL and the DI, that share many research interests. Not least is the interest in understanding theory comprehensively as a reflexive attitude toward the modern world as well as in seeking alternative descriptions of modernity: be it that from a Jewish perspective the Christian narrative of secularization appears in a new light or that new contextualizations and readings reveal new constellations.

In German.



  • Raphael Gross (DI), Eva Geulen (ZfL): Welcome
  • Nicolas Berg (DI), Daniel Weidner (ZfL): Introduction

Panel I: Begriffe und Konzepte


  • Jan Gerber (DI): Karl Marx in Paris. Die Entdeckung der Klasse
  • Ernst Müller (ZfL): “Latenzzeit von Begriffen.” Lazar Gulkowitsch und seine Begriffsgeschichte des jüdischen Geistes


  • Elisabeth Gallas (DI): Begriffsbildung nach der Katastrophe. Netzwerke jüdischer Intellektueller in New York

Panel II: Texte und Diskurse


  • Mona Körte (ZfL): “methodisch – unmethodisch.” Zum Status des Versuchs in Arnold Zweigs Essays
  • Daniel Weidner (ZfL): Hinterlassenschaft und neue Generation. Georg Simmels Schüler


  • Nicolas Berg (DI): “Goethe” als Theorietext des deutschen Judentums


17.00–18.45 Book presentation
Presented by the authors Ernst Müller, Falko Schmieder (beide ZfL):
Begriffsgeschichte und historische Semantik. Ein kritisches Kompendium (stw 2117). Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag 2016