Conference in Zurich
19 Oct 2017 – 21 Oct 2017

Thirty Years After. Jacob Taubes between Politics, Philosophy and Religion

Venue: Collegium Helveticum, Semper-Sternwarte, Schmelzbergstr. 25, 8006 Zürich
Research project(s): Poetics and Jewish Philosophy

A Collaboration between the Center for Literary and Cultural Research in Berlin and the Ludwik Fleck Center for Philosophy of Science in Zurich

Since the number of participants is limited, registration is necessary and will be processed in the order of arrival. Please register at (keyword: taubes). Deadline is October 16, 2017.

Jacob Taubes – a controversial figure. 30 years after his death and 70 years after the publication of his famous dissertation thesis, we ask anew: what can we learn from Taubes, as a person as well as a vibrant intellectual voice for recent debates on religion, hermeneutics, and politics?

Jacob Taubes (1923–1987) was a controversial figure, embracing conflicting attitudes, stirring up tensions, and full of contradictions. He called himself a ›Pauline Arch-Jew‹ and nevertheless was inspired by Carl Schmitt to interpret the Letter to the Romans. He was arguably one of the most potent networkers in the humanities, yet his oeuvre remained relatively small. He polemically intervened in various intellectual debates, using a diversity of forms affiliated to the Jewish tradition of commentary. He was part of a budding academic jet set on both sides of the Atlantic, traveling restlessly from one continent to the other, establishing relations and seeking connections, but remained a »difficult person«; sometimes he was celebrated, sometimes met with reservation or even hostility. At the same time, he persistently kept to a narrow arsenal of subjects since the days of his dissertation on eschatology.

Jacob Taubes – a marginal rabbi at the center of intellectual networks, a key intellectual exploring the margins of academic life, a philosopher bored by »pure philosophy«. Taubes was connected with important cities such as New York, Jerusalem, Paris, Berlin, and Zurich. As he was educated and, finally, buried in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city is the appropriate place to reconsider Taubes’ achievements, thirty years after his decease. We would like to do so by structuring the manifold aspects of Taubes as an intellectual figure as well as of his challenging writings in four separate, yet interrelated sections:

  1. Taubes’s Theory: Between Friends and Foes
    Taubes was a polarizing and disturbing intellectual. Often enough friends became enemies, and teachers turned into adversaries, as in the case of Gershom Scholem; whereas others, such as Hans Blumenberg, remained aloof, or even tried to avoid contact, like Hans Jonas. On the other hand, Taubes was endowed with an elusive talent of reaching out over abysses and opening up locked doors, as was the case with Carl Schmitt or Armin Mohler. What impact did contacts such as these have on his readings? Is there a hidden agenda recognizable behind his efforts, conflicts, and what he intellectually embraced?
  2. Hermeneutics, Philosophy of Religion, and Interdisciplinarity
    In his beginnings at Freie Universität Berlin, Taubes combined the disciplines of philosophy, sociology of religion, and Jewish studies (Judaistik) – as well as the respective three institutes – in one person. Later on, all three disciplines were amalgamated to form the Institute of Hermeneutics. Among related issues, his papers and short contributions focus on messianism, gnostic thinking, eschatology, and St Paul as a turning point in the Jewish tradition. Can we determine the character of Taubes’ hermeneutic and philosophical work? What are its genres? Is there a mutual interaction between topics and disciplines? And, last but not least, what are the features of his approach to religion and theology?
  3. Taubes’s Legacy in Theory
    His Eschatology is a tour de force of the history of western thought, while the God of this tradition is presented as not being supernatural, but ›counter-worldly‹, hence by all appearances decisively belonging to a dualistic framework. What sources, textual traditions, and strategies are to be discerned in his Occidental Eschatology? What can we learn from Taubes’ thought for recent debates on secularization, contemporary religion, and future prospects of the ›political‹?  


Friday, 20 Oct 2017
9.30–10.00 am
Hartmut von Sass (Collegium Helveticum Zurich): Introduction: Depeche Mode. Taubes and his Style

SESSION 1 – Taubes’s Theory: Between Friends and Foes
10.00–11.00 am
Martin Treml (ZfL): »The apocalypse of our generation has come and
gone«: Jacob Taubes, views of the man, trajectories into his work

11.00–12.00 am
Christina Pareigis (ZfL): »Too alienated from her Jewish sources to be truly
demonic«. Susan Taubes und die intellektuellen Köpfe des 20. Jahrhunderts

SESSION 2 – Hermeneutics, Philosophy of Religion, and Interdisciplinarity
2.00–3.00 pm
Agata Bielik-Robson (University of Nottingham): Jacob Taubes, the Jewish Hegelian

3.00–4.00 pm
Herbert Kopp-Oberstebrink (ZfL): The Boredom of »Pure Philosophy«. Jacob Taubes, Academic Philosophy, and the Challenge of Theological Intervention

4.30–5.30 pm
Gabriel Motzkin (The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute): Taubes, Secularization, and the Philosophy of History

6.00–7.00 pm
What is Messianism, what Mysticism? – A talk with Daniel Boyarin moderated by
Hartmut von Sass & Martin Treml

Saturday, 21 Oct 2017
SESSION 3 – Taubes’s Legacy in Theory
10.00–11.00 am
Elettra Stimilli (Sapienza University of Rome): Jacob Taubes. Messianism and political theology after
the Shoah

11.30 am–12.30 pm
Sigrid Weigel (ZfL): In Paul’s Mask. Jacob Taubes reads Walter Benjamin

12.30–1.00 pm
Concluding remarks

Program and Abstracts