The Jewish Origins of Cultural Pluralism

The Jewish Origins of Cultural Pluralism

The Menorah Association and American Diversity
Daniel Greene
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 04/15/2011
Format: Paperback 12 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-22334-0
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Winner, American Jewish Historical Society's Saul Viener Book Prize for 2011-2012

Daniel Greene traces the emergence of the idea of cultural pluralism to the lived experiences of a group of Jewish college students and public intellectuals, including the philosopher Horace M. Kallen. These young Jews faced particular challenges as they sought to integrate themselves into the American academy and literary world of the early 20th century. At Harvard University, they founded an influential student organization known as the Menorah Association in 1906 and later the Menorah Journal, which became a leading voice of Jewish public opinion in the 1920s. In response to the idea that the American melting pot would erase all cultural differences, the Menorah Association advocated a pluralist America that would accommodate a thriving Jewish culture while bringing Jewishness into mainstream American life.

Author Bio

Daniel Greene is Director of the Dr. William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture at the Newberry Library in Chicago and a former curator and historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.


“Traces the emergence of cultural pluralism to the experiences of a group of Jewish college students, who advocated a pluralist America that would accommodate a thriving Jewish culture while bringing Jewishness into mainstream American life.”

“Greene lucidly exposes one of the central tensions in American Jewish history--between the desire for acceptance and the commitment to difference--and shows how this tension . . . took on a new life in the minds of these highly self-conscious and intellectual Jewish men. . . . He does a wonderful job mediating between the broader American context and the more specific contexts of his actors.”
 — Lila Corwin Berman, Temple University

“Greene makes visible the Jewish strand of a larger American story, an intervention that will help readers to better understand how and why the concept of cultural pluralism came about in the way it did. . . . It adds in important ways to the conversation about racial and ethnic differences and the way they have been understood in American culture.”
 — Eric Goldstein, Emory University

“The Jewish Origins of Cultural Pluralism illuminates our understanding of American-Jewish culture and what we call the American experience. It is a grand study of the IMA's [Intercollegiate Menorah Association] enduring achievements. Vol. 63.1, 2011”
 — American Jewish Archives Journal

“Private or public, school, synagogue or academic collections—if you are interested in the history and the formation of Jewish culture in America, the ongoing debate between the need for pluralism and the fear of assimilation, the differing ideologies and literature of identity formation—you must have (and read!) this book. ”
 — AJL Reviews

“This ambitious work . . . rewards the reader with a greatly enriched understanding of American cultural pluralism and the context that gave rise to it. ”
 — American Historical Review

“Greene recovers the lost efforts of the Menorah Journal association and demonstrates their shared interest in notions of pluralism. Hopefully this work will spark new conversations about the relationship between Jews, pluralism, and the United States in the past and the future.”
 — American Jewish History

“In his excellent book, The Jewish Origins of Cultural Pluralism . . . Daniel Greene tells the story of [the Harvard Menorah Society] which spread from Harvard to campuses across the country and became the Intercollegiate Menorah Association in 1913 . . . But beyond that, Greene tells the tale of the birth and development of cultural pluralism, the idea that undergirded the Menorah Association. Cultural pluralism, emerging out of a small Jewish student movement, would shape the way Americans understood their diverse nation, and provide the intellectual basis for modern multiculturalism. ”
 — Journal of Jewish Identities

“This well-written text not only lays out the ideas associated with cultural pluralism as defined by Kallen and others but also offers readers an insight into the world of American higher education and its engagement and connection to the rise of Jewish intellectualism.”
 — Menorah Review

“Greene’s text has done a great service by placing the social lives of Jews like Horace Kallen back into our consideration of a crucial term in American intellectual life. Grasping the Jewish origins of 'cultural pluralism' allows us to better ground its abstract claims, and to understand its flaws as well as its possibilities.”
 — AJS Reviews

“Greene makes out a good case for his contention that what happened to American Jewish college students is a good representation of what happened to American Jews generally during the early part of the 20th century. More significant is his analysis of cultural pluralism. These two elements of the book make for a useful addition to our comprehension of American Jewish history. ”
 — Buffalo Jewish Review

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Table of Contents


Introduction: "Kultur Klux Klan or Cultural Pluralism"
1. The Harvard Menorah Society and the Menorah Idea
2. The Intercollegiate Menorah Association and the "Jewish Invasion" of American Colleges
3. Cultural Pluralism and Its Critics
4. Jewish Studies in an American Setting
5. A Pluralist History and Culture
6. Pluralism in Fiction
Epilogue: "The Promise of the Menorah Idea"


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