Theses Doctoral

Reading Science in Early Writings of Leopold Zunz and Rifāʿa Rāfiʿ al-Ṭahṭāwī: On Beginnings of the Wissenschaft des Judentums and the Nahḍa

Johnston, Elizabeth

The dissertation is divided into two parts, each containing two chapters. Part I describes two nineteenth century movements and fields--the German Wissenschaft des Judentums (Science of Judaism) and the Arab nahda (Renaissance)--moving between what these developments are at their beginnings and what they have come to be through later developments and representations. I argue that both German Jews and Arabs were made to deal with Orientalism and colonialism in the nineteenth century, and that the different forms they encountered shaped how the Wissenschaft des Judentums and the nahda formulated their proposals for reform and their understandings of Europe and of Christianity. Part II turns to examine in greater depth two foundational literary and programmatic texts which initiate discourse of both movements: Leopold Zunz's Etwas ueber die rabbinische Litteratur (1818), which lays out the foundation for the field; and Rifa'a Rafi' al-Tahtawi's travel writing Takhlis al-ibriz ila talkhis bariz (1834). I take science as a departure point for reading these texts, because of the central role sciences play in each. This is not surprising given the post-Enlightenment milieu of which they are a part. From the time of Napoleon's imperialist ventures, which deeply impacted Prussia as well as Egypt, education and science--whether the Wissenschaft of the philosophical disciplines, or the sciences that drive technology--become foundational for intellectual, spiritual, and/or technological progress. I read both texts as interventions, aiming to direct and impact their readers in particular ways. The programs they propose are a part of, and responses to, Western Europe's modernity as it develops from the late eighteenth century into the nineteenth. Their formulations reflect what each writer proposes should be the relation between Europe and Christianity, as he seeks to either participate equally in a wider culture and academy (i.e., Zunz), or learn from Europe's advances, particularly its technological and scientific ones (i.e., al-Tahtawi;). Each posits a critique of Europe as it seeks to learn from and emulate what it takes Europe to be. Their interventions and effects, or lack thereof, contribute to narrating how Europe's story came to constitute a common modernity.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Anidjar, Gil
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 12, 2013