Associate Professor of Sociology and Jewish Studies
Director of Undergraduate Studies, Sociology
Affiliated Faculty, American Studies and European Studies
How are cultural and religious practices mobilized to shape political identities?
What happens when governments, non-governmental organizations, and other political actors apply a means-end approach to cultural practices for political ends? By focusing a research lens on the sociology of practice and cognition, I examine the contradictions and unintended consequences of attempts to treat culture mechanistically.
In my research, I examine modern Jewish politics from the 1960s to the present, focusing on ritual, philanthropy and tourism. I primarily examine major efforts to shape how Jewish Americans understood themselves in relation to the United States, Israel, and a transnational Jewish diaspora over time. During the latter half of the Cold War, how did an American movement for Soviet Jewish human rights take religious rituals out of the synagogues and into the streets, and what were the consequences of treating sacred practice as a political mobilization tactic? During the 1980s and 1990s, how did new forms of philanthropic organization attempt to create new understandings of Jewish peoplehood that emphasized private encounters with Jewish diversity over public demonstrations of Jewish unity? And today, as state-sponsored “Birthright Israel” trips have brought almost half-a-million diaspora Jews to Israel on free tours, how do the characteristics of tourism facilitate or undermine cooptation and shape diaspora Jewish political identities?
Kelner, Shaul. 2020. “Foreign Tourists, Domestic Encounters: Human Rights Travel to Soviet Jewish Homes,” Ch. 5 in Sune Bechmann Pedersen and Christian Noack, eds. Tourism and Travel during the Cold War: Negotiating Tourist Experiences across the Iron Curtain, London: Routledge. Pp. 98-122.
Kelner, Shaul. 2019. “À la rencontre des juifs de l'autre côté du rideau de fer : récits de voyage de juifs américains et représentation du judaïsme en Union soviétique” [“Encountering Jews on the other Side of the Iron Curtain: American Jewish Travel Writing and the Representation of Judaism in the Soviet Union”], in Andreas Nijenhuis-Bescher, Susanne Berthier-Foglar, Gilles Bertrand and Frédéric Meyer, eds., Frontières et altérité religieuse : La religion dans le récit de voyage. Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires De Rennes. Pp. 253-273.
Kelner, Shaul. 2018. “The American Soviet Jewry Movement’s ‘Uneventful’ 1968: Cold War Liberalism, Human Interest and the Politics of the Long Haul.” American Jewish History 102(1), 5-35.
Kelner, Shaul. 2016. “Veneration and Critique: Israel, the Sociology of American Judaism and the Problematics of Sovereignty.” Jewish Studies Quarterly 23, 194–221.
Kelner, Shaul. 2014. “American Jewish Sociology.” Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies. Ed. David Biale. New York: Oxford University Press
Kelner, Shaul. 2011. “In Its Own Image: Independent Philanthropy and the Cultivation of Young Jewish Leadership.” Pp. 261-321 in The New Jewish Leaders: Reshaping the American Jewish Landscape, edited by J. Wertheimer. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.
Kelner, Shaul. 2010. Tours That Bind: Diaspora, Pilgrimage and Israeli Birthright Tourism. New York: New York University Press.
Kelner, Shaul. 2008. “Ritualized Protest and Redemptive Politics: Cultural Consequences of the American Mobilization to Free Soviet Jewry.” Jewish Social Studies 14(3): 1-37.