Event Recaps | 18 May 2015

Maurice Samuels – The Helen Diller Distinguished Lecture in Jewish Studies


On May 18, 2015, Maurice Samuels gave the annual Helen Diller Distinguished Lecture in Jewish Studies, entitled “French Universalism and the Jews: Anti-Antisemitism and the Right to Difference”.

In conflicts over the veil or the return of antisemitism in France today, minority difference is often seen as a threat not only to public order but to the Republic itself. Long on the defensive, universalism has now staged a comeback in current discourse that seeks to guard against excessive communitarianism or the fantasized demon of American-style multi-culturalism. However, the universal and the particular were not always as opposed as today seems to be the case. In this paper, I look back at the history of the way the universal was theorized in relation to France’s paradigmatic minority—the Jews—from the Revolution through the nineteenth century. My goal is to show that prior to the hardening of positions during the Dreyfus Affair, French universalism was far more welcoming to minority difference than is ordinarily assumed today. Recovering this history, I suggest, might offer ways around France’s current ethnic and religious dilemmas.

Maurice Samuels is Betty Jane Anlyan Professor of French at Yale, where he also directs the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism. He’s is the author of “The Spectacular Past: Popular History and the Novel in Nineteenth-Century France,” published by Cornell University Press in 2004, and of “Inventing the Israelite: Jewish Fiction in Nineteenth-Century France,” published by Stanford University Press in 2010, which won the Scaglione Prize given by the MLA for the best book in French Studies. He also co-edited “Nineteenth-Century Jewish Literature: A Reader,” published by Stanford in 2013.


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Every year, the Jewish Studies Department honors Helen Diller, whose generous endowment continues to provide crucial support to Jewish Studies at UC Santa Cruz, by hosting a public lecture on campus by an internationally recognized scholar. See a full list of previous Diller lectures here.