Course level: Graduate
God stands as the central pillar of all monotheistic religions. But what kind of being is God (if any kind of being at all)? Jewish philosophers and theologians in the twentieth century have offered wide-ranging answers to this question; and their different answers have shaped their different approaches to religious life and thought as a whole. This course will investigate the different conceptions of God that have been proposed by Jewish philosophers and theologians in the twentieth century. These conceptions will range from God conceived as transcendent and ineffable (negative theology), to God conceived as an unlimited whole encompassing everything (pantheism); from God conceived as the unique and perfect being (ethical monotheism), to God conceived as the Eternal Thou or face of the other (Jewish existentialism) – and many more. We will also consider how these conceptions of God relate to and emerge in response to previous conceptions, and we will broach the question whether political, cultural, or economic conditions pose special challenges for the formation of conceptions of God. In studying these conception, we will be drawing on works by philosophers such as: Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, Emil Fackenheim, Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, Hans Jonas, and others. For each of the conceptions of God that we study, we will ask: What is its content? What is its rationale? What kind of life does it call forth? What is its religious or spiritual significance? By broaching one of the most fundamental issues in the philosophy of religion, this course also introduces students to some of the key figures in twentieth century Jewish philosophy.
I would like to gratefully acknowledge Gabriel Citron’s help in designing this course. He kindly shared materials from a similar course he taught at Yale University in 2013.