9 April–Sam Shonkoff

Please join us for the first regular event of the Spring 2012 Theology Workshop: a presentation and discussion with Sam B. Shonkoff, PhD Student in History of Judaism; 12:00-1:20 PM, Monday, April 9th, Swift 201.


“We Shall Do and We Shall Understand”: HalakhahHabitus and Embodied Theology in Judaism”

There is widespread disagreement amongst scholars as to whether or not theology plays an integral role in Judaism. This presentation proposes that Judaism does have a strong theological dimension, but that it defies modern categories of theology, which are constrained within the horizons of logia. Jewish theology is not based on words, beliefs or concepts as much as on actions, mannerisms and spatiality. In repudiation of the Durkheimian beliefs-rites dichotomy, Sam will contend that halakhah—the corpus of normative Jewish practice—is the foundation of Jewish theology. Recent scholarship on paradigms of embodiment and the body as a site of subjectivity have contributed immensely to religious studies, but they have not yet sufficiently expanded our definition of theology. The notion of embodied theology opens up new frontiers for the study of religions such as Judaism and Islam, which tend to simultaneously emphasize the ineffability of God and the centrality of divinely mandated practices.

In discussion of this paper, we will explore notions of halakhah in relation to Bourdieu’s conception of habitus. Bourdieu’s work has profoundly influenced religious studies, but it has not yet been adequately applied to the study of normative practice in Judaism. Correlations between them shed much light on halakhah‘s embodied theology. Both habitus and halakhah presuppose that (1) bodily movements and actions manifest a community’s beliefs and principles; (2) subject-object and body-mind dualities are problematic; and (3) practice eludes functionalist explanations. Furthermore, fundamental differences between habitus and halakhah—largely concerning the genesis, cultivation and psychology of embodied practice—highlight the theological core of halakhah.

Josh Connor, PhD Student in Ethics, will respond. The paper will be available for advance reading through the Theology Workshop listserve, but no preparation is required. Lunch will be provided.