Nathan P. Devir, Ph.D.

Devir photo

Biography

Biography

I was hired by the Department of World Languages and Cultures at the University of Utah in July 2011, after having worked for three years as a Visiting Instructor/Assistant Professor of Modern Hebrew and International Studies in the Department of Religion at Middlebury College. I completed my Ph.D. in the Department of Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University in 2010, with a specialization in Comparative Jewish Cultures. I also hold a B.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Haifa (Israel), where my field of study was Judeo-Maghrebian Literature and Culture.

My scholarly interests focus on the intersections of narrative, praxis, identity, and ethnicity in the modern Jewish paradigm. Specifically, I am concerned with how sub-cultural particularities among divergent Jewish groups help to illustrate the ways in which varied interpretations of Jewish peoplehood are codetermined. To put it another way, I am interested in how individuals and communities articulate their own senses of what constitutes Jewishness—their typologies, taxonomies, and plain gut feelings about what that kind of belonging means to them in their daily lives. Highlighting how such codetermination takes place is the uniting thread throughout all of my work. To do this, I have examined the conceptual and geopolitical frameworks through which Jews from differing backgrounds reference or reenvision sacrosanct themes and ideologies informed by Judaism’s discursive reservoir and narrative tradition.

In my doctoral research, I focused on the interplay between literary discourse, ethnocultural affiliation, and biblical exegesis in modern Jewish cultural production. My dissertation demonstrated how subversive hermeneutic devices found in the reconstructions of Jewish themes, tropes, characters, and imagery employed by Modern Hebrew, Francophone North African, and Anglo-American Jewish writers function as transformative responses to sometimes controversial stories from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Talmud, and the Kabbalah. My first publications, which grew out of this work, all showcase close readings of specific texts in which each author attempts to respond, through politicized and ethnically-specific exegetical means, to the foundational narratives of Judaism’s sacred textual tradition.

An outgrowth of my work on such cultures during my dissertation was the discovery of research on so-called “neo-Jewish,” “Judaizing,” or “self-defining” Jewish communities from the developing world. Whether through an identification with a Hebraic or Israelite ancestry, or simply out of a newfound spiritual volition to follow Mosaic Law, these communities are increasingly seeking to become part of what is called in Hebrew klal yisrael: the worldwide Jewish community. Prior to finishing the Ph.D., I began to immerse myself in scholarship about these emerging groups with heretofore unknown or hotly disputed ties to established Jewish communities elsewhere in the world. These nascent communities captured my imagination, and I began to incorporate my own research on them into my scholarly profile. I have been fortunate to receive funding for this research from, among other places, the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, the Reed Foundation, the Council for American Overseas Research Centers, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Earhart Foundation, the Lucius N. Littauer Fund, the University of Leipzig’s Simon-Dubnow-Institut für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur, and the University of Utah Research Committee.

The theoretical concerns explored in my earlier work remain unchanged: they are still on the sub-cultural specificities and ethnic variations in global Jewry, but now involve field-based, ethnographic analysis (a domain in which I possess institutional certification), as well as methodologies acquired through my earlier training, such as socio-historical criticism (especially involving postcolonial approaches) and hermeneutic, discourse, and communicative interaction analyses. Looking ahead toward future scholarly projects, I see myself continuing to focus on interdisciplinary approaches to identity formation and notions of belonging among minority communities worldwide, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

 

In the Media

Geographical Regions of Interest

  • Africa
  • Israel