David Lipson Memorial Lecture: Susan Shapiro, "Reading for Gender in Jewish Philosophy"

Among other questions, I will address the following: 

I.  What is “Reading for Gender”?  

II.  How can one read Jewish philosophical texts for gender and with what results, purpose, and consequences? 

Here are some introductory responses to these questions.

I.  "Reading for gender" requires attending to the patterning of metaphors and other figures and tropes, and not only to the logic, of a work. This already represents a shift in certain, although not all, traditional philosophical practices.  While rhetoric and poetic may be marginalized in some Anglo-American philosophical styles of analysis and argument, Jewish philosophy has long paid close attention to the role of stories and metaphors in its texts. Contemporary Continental thoughtfor example, philosophical hermeneuticsis concerned with the role of poetic in interpretation. However, even those who have explicitly reflected on the role of poetry or have noticed these metaphors and stories as part of their critical practice, ultimately have made these aspects of texts serve merely pedagogical, secondary functions in their interpretations.

II.  Reading for gender does not mean either reading for women or as a woman. To read for metaphors of "woman," "body," "gender relations," or "sexuality" is not to read for some actual woman or women that the text, somehow, re-presents; nor is it to read as an "essentialized" woman reader whoas a womancan (supposedly) locate the "feminine" stratum of the text. Rather, to read for gender is to read for constructions and performances of gender with an interest in the intellectual, religious, and cultural labor these tropes enact in these texts. It is to read, as well, with an interest in the social, political, and cultural consequences of these figures and tropes, both within these texts and for women and men in the past as well as for readers today. That is, the work performed by these gendered tropes, I argue, is philosophical, requiring a re-thinking of what we understand (Jewish) philosophical texts to be and, therefore, how they can best be read.

Susan Shapiro is Associate Professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies and Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Date & Time
Monday, March 24, 2014 - 4:00pm

Jackman Humanities Building, Room 100, 170 St. George Street