Theses Doctoral

Prophetesses of the Body: American Jewish Women and the Politics of Embodied Knowledge

Rock-Singer, Cara

What Stephen Shapin and Simon Schaffer’s Leviathan and the Air Pump demonstrates to be the case in early modern scientific culture is no less true of the experimental ethic of Jewish feminists today: epistemology and politics are inseparably linked and are projected onto the material of everyday life. In this study of transnational Jewish theopolitics and biopolitics, I show how women enlist their reproductive bodies to develop new forms of spiritual leadership, medical expertise, and religious knowledge and authority as they work to reshape American Judaism. I situate Jewish feminist claims to authenticity and authority within the entangled networks of bio-capital, nationalisms, the logics of classical liberalism and religious subjectivity, and scientific and Rabbinic moral economies. By contextualizing Jewish feminisms in technoscience’s politicization of the sexual body and Christianity’s elevation of the spirit over material, I elucidate how sexual, religious, and epistemic hierarchies structure formations of American religion. This dissertation contributes to growing literatures on religion and science; gender, secularism, and spirituality; transnational American studies; and feminist approaches to medicine and the body. While previous studies on religion and science have highlighted the inseparability of the categories in Euro-American Protestant history or showcased the participation of Jewish men in the development of modern science, this project draws on the “lived religion” methodology to move beyond the activities of elites in institutional spaces. In doing so, it shows how knowledge production happens in intimate, holy places and is structured by sacred and bodily cycles. By stretching the temporal and spatial boundaries of the study of American Judaism, this dissertation reveals how interconnected feminist projects are remaking Judaism as an American religion.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Bender, Courtney
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 27, 2018