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Non-Transcendental Morality: Judaism, Islam, and Atheism

The Others’ Faith: World Religions through the Lens of Judaism and Islam (video recording available, in German and English)

The fourth event of our lecture series “The Others’ Faith” is dedicated to atheism and the question: Can mindsets critical of religion be constructive for a Jewish and Islamic theology that speaks to our times?

Skepticism, non-belief, and doubt have accompanied religions since their beginnings. As a result of advancing secularization, however, atheistic and agnostic convictions have become widespread in the Western world to an unprecedented level. How do Judaism and Islam respond to this?

recording available

Jacques Berlinerblau and Ufuk Topkara discuss, if mindsets critical of religion can be constructive for a Jewish and Islamic theology that speaks to our times. Event from 20 April 2020 (in German and English); Jewish Museum 2020

As monotheistic religions, they both see the negation of God as a rejection of moral values. But do moral principles necessarily require recourse to transcendence? And how do Judaism and Islam meet the claim of rationality and reason formulated by the atheists?

A discussion with Jacques Berlinerblau (Georgetown University) and Ufuk Topkara (University of Virginia). Moderation Asher Mattern (University of Tübingen).

Logo der Ringvorlesung
Portrait of Jacques Berlinerblau and Ufuk Topkara

Jaques Berlinerblau (left), photo: Rafael Suanes und Ufuk Topkara, photo: private

Jacques Berlinerblau

Jacques Berlinerblau is a Professor of Jewish Civilization and the Director of the Center for Jewish Civilization at der Georgetown University. He has published on a wide variety of scholarly subjects with special attention to heresy, atheism and secularism. He is the author of How to be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom.

The scholarly study of Jewish Atheism is still in its nascent stage and as such there is little in the way of peer-reviewed literature about this topic. This makes it challenging to confirm, or even investigate, a popular axiom which holds that Jews exhibit a unique affinity for godlessness.

The purposes of my discussion at the Jewish Museum are broad and programmatic. I will begin by surveying plausible and major “taproots,” or drivers, of Jewish atheism, assuming its presence is as pronounced as some believe. These, sometimes overlapping, taproots are: 1) a peculiar motif in Jewish Rabbinic speculation that permits for intense focus on what is colloquially known as Torah over and against concentration on the metaphysical God of Israel, 2) a rhetorical tendency within early Judaism for playful, verging-on-blasphemous, speculation about the divine, 3) a collective history of suffering, culminating in the Shoah, that elicits a uniquely Jewish “theodicy,” or explanation of suffering in light of God’s alleged beneficence, 4) the widespread embrace by 19th-century Eastern European Jews of Marxist-tinged worldviews which explicitly relegated the divine to the realm of “the superstructural,” “the chimerical,” etc., and, 5) a historical skepticism among a “pariah people” about official God narratives the likes of which were encountered in European Christendom.

Maybe as a cause and effect of the proceeding, Jews can find religious solace in, around, below, and even beyond God, all the while remaining Jews. Which is to say, many Jews can find validation as Jews in a sense of peoplehood, and/or a commitment to Zionism, and/or immersion in Jewish culture. That such a mode of religiosity is uniquely Jewish and uniquely bewildering to traditionalist Christians, Muslims, (and many orthodox Jews) is a key point to be made in this presentation. This paper ends with a plea for researchers and religious figures of all stripes to adopt a less doctrinaire and judgmental view of Jewish atheism and related positions. A willingness to understand the fluid, complex, historically conditioned and culturally creative nature of this form of Judaism is the ideological starting point for the study of Jewish Atheism.

Ufuk Topkara

Ufuk Topkara studied philosophy at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and Harvard University. He has served as a lecturer in Islam at Evangelische Akademie Berlin and is the author of the book Umrisse einer zeitgemäßen philosophischen Theologie im Islam: Die Verfeinerung des Charakters (Outlines of a Contemporary Philosophical Theology in Islam: The Refinement of Character), which combines Islamic philosophy with existentialist philosophy.

Where, when, what?

  • LanguageThe event was held in German and English. Jacques Berlinerblau presented in English, UfukTopkara in German.

Lecture Series 2019/20: The Others’ Faith (6)

The Others’ Faith

This lecture series explores the complex relationship of Judaism and Islam to the other religions. Two researchers are invited to each event who present the topic from Jewish and Islamic perspectives and enter into dialog with each other.

On the Path to Enlightenment: Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism

With Jerome Gellman (Ben-Gurion University) und Johan Elverskog (Southern Methodist University)

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Thu, 18 Jun 2020 (with video recording)

Non-Transcendental Morality: Judaism, Islam, and Atheism

With Jacques Berlinerblau (Georgetown University) and Ufuk Topkara (Johns Hopkins University), in German and English

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20 Apr 2020 (with video recording)

What Do You Think about Jesus? Judaism, Islam, and Christianity

With Israel Yuval (Hebrew University in Jerusalem) and Maha El Kaisy-Friemuth (Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg), in German and English

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18 Feb 2020 (with video recording)

Mono or Poly? Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism

With Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein (Elijah Interfaith Institute) and Reza Shah-Kazemi (Institute of Ismaili Studies in London)

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4 Feb 2020 (with video recording)

Judaism and Islam – The History of Theological Relations

With Lukas Mühlethaler (Free University Berlin) and Imam Abdullah Antepli (Duke University, USA), in German and English

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Academy Programs: Past Events for You to Listen To and Watch (56)

Past Events for You to Listen To and Watch

We have recorded some of our conferences, lectures, readings, and panel discussions for you as audio or video files.

Non-Transcendental Morality: Judaism, Islam, and Atheism

With Jacques Berlinerblau (Georgetown University) and Ufuk Topkara (Johns Hopkins University), in German and English

Lecture Series
20 Apr 2020 (with video recording)

Tying the Knot versus Bonds with God: Jews and Muslims in Interfaith Marriages

With Madeleine Dreyfus (psychoanalyst with a doctorate in cultural anthropology) und Imen Gallala-Arndt (lawyer and a lecturer at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology), in German

Lecture Series
Thu, 18 Jun 2020 (with video recording)

What Do You Think about Jesus? Judaism, Islam, and Christianity

With Israel Yuval (Hebrew University in Jerusalem) and Maha El Kaisy-Friemuth (Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg), in German and English

Lecture Series
18 Feb 2020 (with video recording)

Mono or Poly? Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism

With Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein (Elijah Interfaith Institute) and Reza Shah-Kazemi (Institute of Ismaili Studies in London)

Lecture Series
4 Feb 2020 (with video recording)

About a Tea Bowl

Discussion with brief presentations about interwoven experiences of post-Soviet Jewish migration, with video recording, in German

Lecture/Discussion
27 Nov 2019 (with video recording)

Ruth Wodak:
Swing to the right?!

Ruth Wodak traces how a new “normality to the right” is establishing itself in many European countries (in German)

Lecture/Discussion
17 October 2019

“To Know One Religion Is to Know None”

28 August 2019
W. Michael Blumenthal Fellow Walid Abdelgawad talks about reflections on Islam and Judaism in the writings of German-speaking Jewish orientalists between 1833 and 1955 (in German)
Video: in German; no subtitles

Do You Believe in Miracles?

With James A. Diamond (Professor in Jewish Studies at the University of Waterloo, Canada) and Umeyye Isra Yazicioglu (Professor in Religious Studies at St. Joseph’s University in Philidelphia, United States)

Lecture Series
13 Jun 2019 (with video recording)

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Museums, Religion, and the Work of Reconciliation and Remembrance

9 May 2019
Museums are called on to deal critically and transparently with the often invisible colonial history of their collections. The curators Jisgang Nika Collision (Haida Gwaii Museum, Haida Nation & Canada) and Léontine Meijer-van Mensch (Saxonian State Ethnographic Collections) discussed this topic.

Humanity: Between Destiny and Free Will

With Alan Mittleman (Jewish Theological Seminary of America) and Martin Mahmud Kellner (Institute of Islamic Theology, Osnabrück)

Lecture Series
30 Apr 2019 (with video recording)

Access Barriers. Critical Perspectives on Racism in Schools and Curatorial Practices

Keynote by Bonita Bennett (District Six Museum, Cape Town) at the conference Access Barriers on museums as places of social change.

Lecture/Discussion
20 Mar 2019

How Much God Is in the Holy Scriptures?

With Benjamin Sommer (expert in modern Jewish theology) and Ghassan el Masri (researcher on the Koran in the context of the Arabic literature of his time), in German and English

Lecture Series
5 Mar 2019 (with video recording)

God, Darwin, and Evolution

Natan Slifkin (Biblical Museum of Natural History, Israel) and Fatimah Jackson (Howard University, USA) discuss how Jewish and Islamic theologians treat evolutionary biology.

Lecture Series
31 Jan 2019 (with video recording)

Happy Birthday, Academy Programs!

2 December 2018
Welcoming Remarks and Introducing the Academy Programs | Discussion with Performance: Archive of Life. Memory in a Society Shaped by Migration | Panel Discussion: Jewish Fathers – Jewish Children? | Panel Discussion: A Pre-fascist Era? | Reception: 5 Years – 5 Friends – 5 Gifts

Science in the Light of Faith

Geoffrey A. Mitelman and Ahmad S. Dallal discuss how Jewish and Islamic theologians have reflected for centuries on the conflicting powers of God and his revelation and human reason.

Lecture Series
20 Nov 2018 (with video recording)

Living with Islamophobia

11 and 12 October 2018
The international conference “Living with Islamophobia” considered how cultural and religious affiliations are constructed and invited experts to enter into discussion.

Judaism and Islam – The History of Theological Relations

Prelude to the new lecture series The Others’ Faith. With Lukas Mühlethaler (Free University Berlin) and Imam Abdullah Antepli (Duke University, USA), in German and English

Lecture Series
21 Nov 2019 (with video recording)

Imported Antisemitism?

30 August 2018
Is Antisemitism increasing with the number of refugees from Arab countries? We discuss with political, academic, and practical experts which manifestations of antisemitism among Arab migrants and Muslims in Germany exist (in German).

My God, Your God, No God

Part of our lecture Series Jewish and Islamic Perspectives on Human Rights

Lecture Series
14 Jun 2018 (with video recording)

Ongoing Struggles. Anti-Discrimination Work during the Rise of the Far Right

7 June 2018
Opening Session of the academic conference
Including Imani Perry's keynote »What Lies Underneath: Difficult Histories and the Resurgence of The Far Right«

Equal before God and Humans?

Part of our lecture series Jewish and Islamic Perspectives on Human Rights

Lecture Series
3 May 2018 (with video recording)

How Much Criticism Do Judaism and Islam Tolerate?

Part of our lecture series Jewish and Islamic Perspectives on Human Rights

Lecture Series
12 Apr 2018 (with video recording)

What is the Relationship Between Antisemitism and Islamophobia?

20 March 2018
Lectures by David Feldman and Stefanie Schüler-Springorum

The Right to Life

Part of our lecture series Jewish and Islamic Perspectives on Human Rights

Lecture Series
8 Mar 2018 (with video recording)

Human Rights Treaties and How They are Received

Part of our lecture series Jewish and Islamic Perspectives on Human Rights

Lecture Series
25 Jan 2018 (with video recording)

Human Rights and Religions – A Contradiction?

Part of our lecture series Jewish and Islamic Perspectives on Human Rights

Lecture Series
23 Nov 2017 (with video recording)

Kunstwerk von Moran Sanderovich

New Judaism – Alliances in Postmigrant Society

16 November 2017
Discussion on concepts of being Jewish within the third generation of Jews in Germany (in German and English)

Dmitrij Belkin

Germanija. How I Became an Adult and a Jew in Germany

19 October 2017
Reading and discussion on Dmitrij Belkin's narrative that also throws light on immigration today.

IN-/EXCLUSIONS and Self-Empowerment in the Cultural Business

12 October 2017
With Max Czollek, Dan Thy Nguyen, Sandrine Micossé-Aikins, and Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz (in German)

People, National Community, AfD

10 October 2017
Book presentation and discussion with the author Michael Wildt and Alexander Häusler (in German)
Audio: in German

Future Memories

26 September 2017
Discussion on the Importance of Minority Perspectives for European Societies’ Commemorative Cultures

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Man as Lord or Guardian of Creation?

13 July 2017
Reading with discussion: Nawal Ammar and Hava Tirosh-Samuelson
Video: German and English, no subtitles

Religion. Fashion. Empowerment.

29 June 2017
Discussion with Reina Lewis and Meriem Lebdiri (in German and English)

Yousef Abad

6 July 2017
Eliz Sanasarian and Elham Rokni on video art by Elham Rokni and the situation of Jews in Iran from the 1979 revolution to today.
Audio: in English

With Karamba to the Bundestag
My Journey from Senegal to the German Parliament

1 June 2017
Karamba Diaby tells of his birth country Senegal, of life in the GDR, his work in the Bundestag, and of his vision of an open and future-oriented society.
Audio: in German

Portrait Ariel Sabar

Ariel Sabar
My Father’s Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq

11 May 2017
Reading and talk with the writer Ariel Sabar on the story of his father Yona Sabar, professor of the Neo-Aramaic language, and the Kurdish-Jewish history.
Audio: in English

Israelis in Germany
Ideological Debates and Changing Identities

4 May 2017
Talk and Slideshow with Dr. Dani Kranz and Katja Harbi from the University of Wuppertal on Israeli Jews in today's Germany.
Audio: in German

Letters

Im/Possibilities
Perspectives on Refugee Participation

29 March 2017
Conference on the situation for refugees in Europe and Germany. Recording of the opening event with a talk by Gurminder K Bhambra, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick, UK, followed by a panel discussion.
Audio: in German and English

Our Father: A Sinti Family Recounts

23 March 2017
Conversation and reading with the German-Sinti civil rights activist and author Anita Awosusi and her daughter Tayo Onutor about their family’s history.
Audio: in German

Porträt der Autorin und Buchtitel <cite>Die Zerreißprobe. Wie die Angst vor dem Fremdem unsere Demokratie bedroht</cite>

The Acid Test
How Fear of Foreigners is Threatening our Democracy

16 February 2017
The Islamic studies and education scholar Lamya Kaddor reads from her book and discusses integration with Minister of State Aydan Özoğuz and Andreas Zick.
Audio: in German

Jews in North Africa During the Second World War

26 Januar 2017
Theme day with lectures by Michel Abitbol, Eric Salerno, Patrick Bernhard, Haim Saadoun, and panel discussion
Language: German, English, and French

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A Jew in Neukölln – My Path to Coexistence of Religions

19 October 2016
The theology student and writer Ármin Langer reads from his book and talks about Jewish life in Neukölln.
Audio: in German

Sites of Memory: Lost and Entangled Narratives

16 September 2016
Conference with Dr. Rosa Fava, Juliane Jurewicz, Prof. Dr. Iman Attia, Olga Gerstenberger, Ozan Keskinkiliç, Anita Awosusi, Ilona Lagrene, Prof. Dr. Michael Rothberg, and Serpil Polat
Video: in German and English, no subtitles

TIME OF CRISIS

7 September 2016
Panel discussion with Dan Diner, Adam Michnik, Dietmar Herz, Étienne François, and Hans Kundnani
Video: in German, no subtitles

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Antisemitism in the Arabic World – Facts and Myths

26 April 2016
Panel discussion with Michael Kiefer and Omar Kamil
Video: in German, no subtitles

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Angst ums Abendland (Fears For the West)
Book Presentation with Daniel Bax

6 April 2016
Talk with Daniel Bax and Gideon Botsch on Right-wing populist parties, anti-Muslim sentiments, flight and asylum.
Audio: in German

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Post-migrant Society?!

12–14 November 2015
International conference, recording of the opening event
Video: in German and English, no subtitles

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Kill Me a Son!

3–4 September 2015
Symposium, recording of the opening event
With: Prof. Dr. Peter Schäfer and Prof. Dr. Angelika Neuwirth
Video: in German, no subtitles

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The Realignment of "Education after Auschwitz" in Immigration Society

27 January 2015
Book presentation and panel discussion with the author Rosa Fava, Angela Kühner (University of Frankfurt), Selman Erkovan, history teacher in training, and Marco Kühnert, a guide at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, Hamburg.
Audio: in German

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A Shared View of Europe – Jewish and Muslim Experiences as Reflected in Public Controversies

19 January 2015
Panel discussion with Prof. Nilüfer Göle, Shai Lavi and Gökçe Yurdakul
Video: in German, no subtitles

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Contemporary Jewish Life in a Global Modernity

11–12 December 2014
International conference, recording of the presentation "Future of European Jewry"
With: Dr. Karen Körber and Dr. Diana Pinto
Video: in English, no subtitles

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Snip it?!

4 December 2014, 7 pm
Presentation of a study on the circumcision debate followed by a discussion as part of the Judeo-Islamic Forum.
Video: in German, no subtitles

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Concepts of Citizenship and Participation in European Comparison

7–8 April 2014
Symposium, recording of the keynote by Prof. Dr. Rainer Bauböck and the followed panel discussion
With: Prof. Dr. Rainer Bauböck, Dr. Manuela Bojadžijev, Josip Juratovic and Dr. Monika Lüke
Video: in German, no subtitles

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Is Higher Education a Safeguard Against Racism and Antisemitism?

20 February 2014
Presentation of a study followed by panel discussion with Wassilis Kassis, Charlotte Schallié, Iman Attia, Stefanie Schüler-Springorum and Andreas Zick
Video: in German, no subtitles

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Modernized, then Tolerated?

10 October 2013
Panel discussion with Micha Brumlik, Petra Bahr, Kadir Sanci, and Thomas Bauer about religion and navigating between tradition and adaptation.
Audio: in German

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The History of Jews and Dönme in Turkey

31 January 2011
The Turkish studies scholar Corry Guttstadt and the historian Marc Baer discuss the history of Jews and Dönme (converts) in Turkey.
Audio: in German