Theses Doctoral

Affect in Power: Public Joy in Roman Palestine and the Lived Experience of the Rabbis (~70-350 CE)

DeGolan, Erez

This dissertation explores the nexus of joy and power in the lived experience of the ancient rabbis of Roman Palestine (first to fourth centuries CE). The study brings together affect theory and history of emotion to reimagine a phenomenological approach to classical rabbinic texts, a phenomenology that is historically and philologically grounded and attuned to embodied aspects of emotional experiences. By applying this method, this work situates the rabbis of Palestine within the “imperial economy of emotions,” in which provincial subjects utilized a surplus or shortage of collective emotions to assert or resist their place within the dominant political system of the Roman empire.

It argues that, within this economy, the rabbis’ engagement with public joy—construed as a somatic and relational experience —was key to their negotiation of Roman imperialism. The dissertation thus makes three chief contributions to the study of ancient Judaism, cognate areas of research, and the field of Religious Studies more broadly.

First, it demonstrates how joy, an emotion that is habitually thought of as politically inert, was a potent force in the world of the rabbis and other provincial subjects of the Roman empire. Second, through the case study of the ancient rabbis, the dissertation shows that the minority-majority interface in asymmetric power systems must be understood not only in terms of discourse and ideology but also as a product of the affective forces of daily life. Third, by performing a historically grounded phenomenology of joy, “Affect in Power” pushes back on the wholesale rejection of “experience” as an analytical category in contemporary scholarship.


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2028-04-07.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Berkowitz, Beth Ann
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 19, 2023