New publication by Chad Alan Goldberg, EURIAS Fellow 2014-2015


Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought

Chad Alan Goldberg, University of Chicago Press, 2017.

256 pages.



This book investigates how Jews became a pivotal reference point for defining modernity and national identity in French, German, and American social thought from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. The social thinkers examined in its chapters worked within different national sociological traditions, emphasized different features of modern society, and disagreed about whether Jews were synonymous with or antithetical to those features, but they all invoked real or purported differences between Jews and gentiles to elucidate key dualisms of modern social thought. The Jews thus became an intermediary through which these social thinkers discerned in a roundabout fashion the nature, problems, and trajectory of their own wider (French or German or American) societies. The book’s concluding chapter proposes a novel explanation for why Jews became such an important cultural reference point yet signified such varied and inconsistent meanings; it suggests a rethinking of previous scholarship on Orientalism, Occidentalism, and European perceptions of America; and, through a comparison with contemporary discourse about Muslims, it addresses how modernity and European and American identities are defined today. The book was selected as a finalist for the 2017 National (U.S.) Jewish Book Awards in the category of Modern Jewish Thought and Experience.



“Goldberg’s original and provocative thesis—based on case studies of foundational figures in sociology from France, Germany, and the United States—is that Jews and Jews alone came to be treated as the signifiers of the pre-modern/modern binary. And as such, for scholars such as Durkheim, Marx, Weber, Sombart, Simmel, and Park, Jews were viewed as occupying a unique social space, being an Other unlike any other Other. Cogently argued and spelling out the implications for the discipline, this is a must-read book, deserving of serious scholarly reflection.”

Peter Kivisto, Augustana College and St. Petersburg State University