Horace Kallen Confronts America: Jewish Identity in Discursive Formation
Kaufman, Matthew Joseph
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This study of the life and thought of American Jewish philosopher Horace Meyer Kallen (1882-1974) explores the discursive fields from which American Jewish modernity developed. Through a close analysis of Kallen's writings and relationships, of his engagement with print culture, and of his understanding of science and scientific culture, I describe one trajectory in the American Jewish community's discourses concerning science, religion, and secularism from the early twentieth century to mid-century. I trace how Kallen gained social capital through the popular press, and then used that capital to negotiate a new understanding of the place of Jews in America, becoming an architect of American Jewish ethnicity. I suggest that his importance as a theorist of ethnicity is located, in part, in his anticipation of current theoretical models. I contextualize Kallen within literary modernism, and suggest a new way to interpret his discursive interventions regarding America and democracy. I seek to recover Kallen's centrality to the social circulation of ideas concerning secularism and religion in America, and argue that his significance may be assessed by analyzing his deep and extended engagement with a number of prominent, public discourses. I contend that both the positive and negative responses to Kallen helped to establish the discursive frameworks in which Jewish ethnicity and its relationship to religion were debated. I conclude that Kallen's commitment to Jewish identity, seen as rooted in an evolving and diversified ethno-cultural process, is inextricably intertwined with the formative discourses of twentieth-century Jewish American life.