Boundaries, Margins, and Norms: The Intellectual Stakes in the Study of American Jewish Culture(s)

Riv Ellen Prell

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5 Scopus citations


This paper lays out two research approaches to the study of American Jewry in order to examine the intellectual foundations of each approach. In the contrast between research focused on behavior and boundaries and research focused on subjectivity and sentiment, two different understandings of identity and culture are evident. The latter approach developed out of an interest in Jewish practices that can be traced to Marshall Sklare, Herbert Gans, and Charles Liebman. Equally important to this work is the "decentering" of social science categories that emerged in the 1970s. As important as this rethinking of Jewish life has been for its greater focus on gender and sexuality as part of a dynamic view of identity and culture, it raises other issues. What is the place of boundaries in the study of American Jewish life, and what are the most effective ways to study the reproduction of Judaism and Jewishness across generations?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-204
Number of pages16
JournalContemporary Jewry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • American Jewish culture
  • Anthropology of Jews
  • Gender
  • Methodological debates


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