The Humanities and Social Sciences Fund Conference on Imagining the Renaissance / Defining the Jews (Jerusalem, January 12-15, 2020)

“Ours is a global frame,” as Natalie Zemon Davis has written. Nowadays, “more continents, peoples, ideas, and religions count than perhaps ever before.” Within this global frame, historians are trying to deal with difference in narratives of boundaries that remain fuzzy and porous. Our conference seeks to contribute to this discussion on the “forms of cultural mixture, metissage, and exchange” as it was expressed within the context of Renaissance Italy.

In four intense days of scholarly presentations, our speakers will address the blurred borders between the discourses of hegemonic groups and those of minorities, and where the narratives of sharp opposition between Jews, Christians and Muslims are challenged and shown to be “fuzzy and porous” rather than simply enforced, legislated and consolidated by social limitations. This conference wishes to show how traditionally accepted concepts such as Jewishness, ghettoes, conversions, and religious identity, were never as solid and unchanging as claimed by modern historians of the Renaissance, who looked to canonize oppositional definitions by writing “about belief systems that claim one or another kind of group superiority.” Our objective will thus be to foreground the increasing complexity in the definition of the “I” and the “other” in the period. As the named “other” responded and reacted to the majority in entangled moments and loci of cultural self-realization, there was also a process of mutual (self-)fashioning. It is the goal of our conference to explore that process within an interdisciplinary discussion focused on Renaissance Italian Jewry and against the background of Mediterranean cultural mobility and of broader global dynamics and interactions.