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Nathan P. Devir

Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, Religious Studies, and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies
Director, Middle East Center/Middle East Studies Program
Director, Religious Studies Program

Department of World Languages and Cultures
Languages and Communication Building
255 South Central Campus Drive
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT 84112

Office: LNCO 1325
Telephone: (801) 585-3000
Fax: (801) 581-7581
E-mail: nathan.devir@utah.edu

For speaking or programmatic engagements, please be in touch with the Jewish Speakers Bureau here.


Research

Photos from
Research Trips

     

 

Research

I was hired by the Department of World Languages and Cultures at the University of Utah in July 2011, after having worked for three years as a Visiting Instructor/Assistant Professor of Modern Hebrew and International Studies in the Department of Religion at Middlebury College. I completed my Ph.D. in the Department of Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University in 2010, with a specialization in Comparative Jewish Cultures. I also hold a B.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Haifa (Israel), where my field of study was Judeo-Maghrebian Literature and Culture.

My scholarly interests focus on the intersections of narrative, praxis, identity, and ethnicity in the modern Jewish paradigm. Specifically, I am concerned with how sub-cultural particularities among divergent Jewish groups help to illustrate the ways in which varied interpretations of Jewish peoplehood are codetermined. To put it another way, I am interested in how individuals and communities articulate their own senses of what constitutes Jewishness—their typologies, taxonomies, and plain gut feelings about what that kind of belonging means to them in their daily lives. Highlighting how such codetermination takes place is the uniting thread throughout all of my work. To do this, I have examined the conceptual and geopolitical frameworks through which Jews from differing backgrounds reference or reenvision sacrosanct themes and ideologies informed by Judaism’s discursive reservoir and narrative tradition.

In my doctoral research, I focused on the interplay between literary discourse, ethnocultural affiliation, and biblical exegesis in modern Jewish cultural production. My dissertation demonstrated how subversive hermeneutic devices found in the reconstructions of Jewish themes, tropes, characters, and imagery employed by Modern Hebrew, Francophone North African, and Anglo-American Jewish writers function as transformative responses to sometimes controversial stories from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Talmud, and the Kabbalah. My first publications, which grew out of this work, all showcase close readings of specific texts in which each author attempts to respond, through politicized and ethnically-specific exegetical means, to the foundational narratives of Judaism’s sacred textual tradition.

An outgrowth of my work on such cultures during my dissertation was the discovery of research on so-called “neo-Jewish,” “Judaizing,” or “self-defining” Jewish communities from the developing world. Whether through an identification with a Hebraic or Israelite ancestry, or simply out of a newfound spiritual volition to follow Mosaic Law, these communities are increasingly seeking to become part of what is called in Hebrew klal yisrael: the worldwide Jewish community. Prior to finishing the Ph.D., I began to immerse myself in scholarship about these emerging groups with heretofore unknown or hotly disputed ties to established Jewish communities elsewhere in the world. These nascent communities captured my imagination, and I began to incorporate my own research on them into my scholarly profile. I have been fortunate to receive funding for this research from, among other places, the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, the Reed Foundation, the Council for American Overseas Research Centers, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Earhart Foundation, the Lucius N. Littauer Fund, the University of Leipzig’s Simon-Dubnow-Institut für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur, and the University of Utah Research Committee.

The theoretical concerns explored in my earlier work remain unchanged: they are still on the sub-cultural specificities and ethnic variations in global Jewry, but now involve field-based, ethnographic analysis (a domain in which I possess institutional certification), as well as methodologies acquired through my earlier training, such as socio-historical criticism (especially involving postcolonial approaches) and hermeneutic, discourse, and communicative interaction analyses. Looking ahead toward future scholarly projects, I see myself continuing to focus on interdisciplinary approaches to identity formation and notions of belonging among minority communities worldwide, both Jewish and non-Jewish.


Books:

Between Law and Grace: Messianic Jewish Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa (in progress; expected completion date: 2018).

New Children of Israel: Emerging Jewish Communities in an Era of Globalization. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2017.

https://www.amazon.com/New-Children-Israel-Communities-Globalization/dp/1607815842


Selected Journal Articles:

“African Judaizing Movements and the Question of Polygamy: Perspectives from Cameroon.” Journal of the Middle East and Africa 8.1 (2017): 75–96.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21520844.2017.1289496?journalCode=ujme20

“Exposing Pathology, Playing God: Parsing Psychosocial Discourse in ‘The Last Commander’ by A. B. Yehoshua.” Jewish Culture and History 15.3 (2014): 188–211.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1462169X.2014.973261

“Conceptions of Idolatry and Secular Art in Chaim Potok’s Asher Lev Novels.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 13.2 (2014): 150–166.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14725886.2014.918715

“History and Its Contagions: Rethinking the Legacy of Genesis 22 in A. B. Yehoshua’s ‘Early in the Summer of 1970.’” Biblical Reception 2 (2013): 229–251.

http://www.sheffieldphoenix.com/showbook.asp?bkid=241

“Maghrebian Feminism Meets the Bride of God.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 29.2 (2013): 47–73.

http://www.fsrinc.org/article/1457/

“Reexamining the Allegorical Hermeneutic in A. B. Yehoshua’s A Late Divorce.” Religion and the Arts 16.5 (2012): 507–538.

http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/15685292-12341237


Selected Book Chapters:

“Popular Perceptions of Israelite Genealogy in Madagascar: Dissociating Bio-racial Signifiers from Mainstream Jewish Religious Practice.” In African Jewish Journeys. Eds. Marla Brettschneider, Edith Bruder, and Magdel le Roux. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, forthcoming 2018.

“Propagating Modern Jewish Identity in Madagascar: A Contextual Analysis of One Community’s Discursive Strategies.” In Connected Jews: Expressions of Community in Analogue and Digital Culture. Eds. Caspar Battegay, Simon J. Bronner, and Andrea Lieber. Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, forthcoming 2018.

“The ‘Internet Jews’ of Cameroon: Inside the Digital Matrix of Globalized Judaism.” In The Shadow of Moses: New Jewish Movements in Africa and the Diaspora. Eds. Daniel Lis, William F. S. Miles, and Tudor Parfitt. Los Angeles: African Academic Press/Marymount Institute Press/Tsehai Publishers, 2016. 113–130.

http://www.store.tsehaipublishers.com/product_info.php/religion-spirituality/in-the-shadow-of-moses-p-168

“Origins and Motivations of Madagascar’s Normative Jewish Movement.” In Becoming Jewish: New Jews and Emerging Jewish Communities in a Globalized World. Eds. Netanel Fisher and Tudor Parfitt. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016. 49–63.

http://www.cambridgescholars.com/becoming-jewish

“History and Responsibility: An Assessment of Potok’s ‘Non-Jewish’ I Am the Clay.” In Chaim Potok: Confronting Modernity through the Lens of Tradition. Ed. Daniel Walden. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013. 97–115.

http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-05981-5.html


Selected Presentations and Invited Lectures:

“Emerging Jewish Movements and the State of Israel: Interactions and Intersections.” Colloquium on Intersections between Jewish Studies and Israel Studies in the 21st Century, University of Graz, May 2018.

“Jewish Africa: World Jewry’s Next Watershed Moment.” Jewish Museum of Florida, Miami Beach, February 2018.

“African Judaizing and Adventist Religious Movements: Increasingly Interconnected Histories.” Colloquium on Situating Adventist History, Washington Adventist University, January 2018.

“The Role of Social Media in the Transnational Promulgation of Central African Judaism.” Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, Washington, D.C., October 2017.

“The Lost Tribes of Israel: Yesterday and Today.” Brigham Young University, April 2017.

“‘Dispersed among the Nations’: The Lost Tribes of Israel in Madagascar?” Jewish Museum of Florida, Miami Beach, January 2017. 

“Messianic Jewish Communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.” African Studies Association, Washington, D.C., December 2016.

“Ideological Points of Contention between African ‘Neo-Jewish’ and Normative Global Northern Jewish Communities.” Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, Washington, D.C., October 2016.

“Notions of Peoplehood among Emerging Jewish Communities: Historical, Religious, Political.” Colloquium on Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood, Temple University, April 2016.

“Black Judaism: A Growing Religious Movement in Africa.” Symposium on Africa in the Twenty-First Century, Tennessee State University, March 2016.

“Israel and Color: Views from the Ivory Coast.” Second Annual Symposium on Jews and Color, Florida International University, January 2016.

“A Case Study of an Emerging Jewish Community: The ‘Beth Yeshourun’ of Saa, Cameroon.” Modern Language Association, Vancouver, British Columbia, January 2015.

“Online Spiritual Volition: The ‘Internet Jews’ of Cameroon.” African Studies Association, Indianapolis, Indiana, November 2014.

“Identity Politics among Emerging Jewish Communities from the Developing World.” Religious Research Association/Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Boston, Massachusetts, November 2013.

“Visual Arts and the Judaic Tradition in Chaim Potok’s Asher Lev Novels.” Colloquium on Traditions and Perspectives in the History of Jewish Art, Bar-Ilan University, September 2012.

“Mourning a Coexistence Lost: The Ethics of Judeo-Arabic Identity in Tunisian-Jewish Francophone Fiction.” African Literature Association, Southern Methodist University, April 2012.

“Une histoire perdue: L’identité judéo-maghrébine dans l’œuvre de Chochana Boukhobza.” Colloquium on Le sens de l’Histoire dans les littératures francophones, Université de Sousse, April 2010.

 

Selected Media Coverage:

Dolsten, Josefin. “In This West African Country, a Jewish Community Is Forming.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, January 26, 2018 [https://www.jta.org/2018/01/26/news-opinion/world/in-this-west-african-country-a-jewish-community-is-forming].

Rosner, Shmuel. “The ‘Becoming Jewish’ Exchange, Part 3: ‘Millions of Africans Believe They Are of Israelite Ancestry.’” Jewish Journal, March 1, 2017 [http://jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain/215832/becoming-jewish-exchange-part-3-millions-africans-believe-israelite-ancestry/].

Dolsten, Josefin. “In Madagascar, ‘World’s Newest Jewish Community’ Seeks to Establish Itself.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, November 25, 2016 [http://www.jta.org/2016/11/25/life-religion/in-madagascar-worlds-newest-jewish-community-seeks-to-establish-itself].

Kestenbaum, Sam. “‘Joining Fabric of World Jewish Community,’ 100 Convert on African Island of Madagascar.” Forward, May 24, 2016 [http://forward.com/news/341106/joining-fabric-of-world-jewish-community-100-convert-on-african-island-of-m/].

Kestenbaum, Sam. “The New Jewish Diaspora?” Forward, April 28, 2016 [http://forward.com/news/339682/the-new-jewish-diaspora/].

Lidman, Melanie. “Ghana’s Deep Spirituality Points Some, Joyfully, Back to Judaism.” Times of Israel, April 14, 2016 [http://www.timesofisrael.com/ghanas-deep-spirituality-points-some-joyfully-back-to-judaism/].

Miles, William F. S. “The Secrets of the Malagasy Jews of Madagascar.” Jerusalem Post, September 26, 2015 [http://www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report/The-Malagasy-secret-415164].

Last Updated: 10/22/18