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Unfinished Business: Antisemitism, Racial Capitalism, and the Long Age of Empire

Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, University of London in collaboration with the Centre for Nineteenth Century Studies at Durham/Newcastle and Northumbria Universities.

Event Information

15th October, 2021
5:00 pm - 6:15 pm
Dorian Bell, University of California, Santa Cruz
Free seminar for scholars: please contact bisa@bbk.ac.uk for further information

The historical relationship between antisemitism and Orientalism is usually understood according to their overlapping representations of Jews and Muslims. In this talk, I begin by asking whether nineteenth­ century French antisemitism and Orientalism might also be considered from the standpoint of a functional continuity. Reading an 1888 trio of antisemitic, imperialist novels by Louis Noir, I propose that empire offered modern antisemitism the solution to a problem vexing Orientalists and antisemites alike: how to denounce capitalism from a position immanent to the system. The result—what I call imperial antisemitism—in turn invites us to examine antisemitism’s contested place among racial capitalism’s global logics. Seeking to understand antisemitism’s twenty-first century resurgence, I make a case for antisemitism’s ongoing pertinence to the capitalist world order.

Dorian Bell is Associate Professor of Literature and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His first book, Globalizing Race: Antisemitism and Empire in French and European Culture (Northwestern University Press, 2018), traces intersections between antisemitism and imperialism that shaped the emergence of European racial thought.

This seminar is one in the series, Race, Religion and Difference in the Nineteenth Century, a collaboration between Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, University of London and the Centre for Nineteenth Century Studies at Durham/Newcastle and Northumbria Universities.

This interdisciplinary seminar programme explores how multiple discourses on race and religion intersected in the global nineteenth century, and generated, reinforced and/or challenged notions of human difference. How did nineteenth-century anti-Catholicism conjugate with opposition to antisemitism? In what ways were campaigns against the enslavement of Black people and Islamophobia mutually constitutive? These are the kinds of questions we seek to investigate, across different disciplines, geographies and media. Our discussion also aims to complicate our scholarly understanding of a number of working categories – nation and empire, barbarism and civilisation, domination and resistance – and is given added urgency by the pressures of the contemporary moment.

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