Blau, Joseph Leon

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BLAU, JOSEPH LEON (1909–1986), U.S. educator and historian of ideas. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Blau was educated at Columbia University. He taught at Columbia from 1944, where he later became a professor of religion (1962–77). In 1966 he became vice president of the Conference on Jewish Social Studies. Blau followed the philosophic tradition of naturalistic humanism in the line of John Dewey and his school at Columbia. He carried on their interest in the history of philosophy in America in his book Men and Movements in American Philosophy (1952) and in monographic studies.

As Blau was a student (and, later, collaborator) of Salo W. *Baron, his approach to Jewish history emphasizes interdisciplinary and cross-cultural influences. He opposes the conventional interpretation that the development of the Jewish religious and philosophical tradition is mainly linear, maintaining that the Jews were not cut off from cross-cultural contact for any significant period of their history. He compiled The Jews of the United States, 17901840 (ed. with S.W. Baron, 1963), and wrote Judaism in America (1976). His book The Story of Jewish Philosophy (1962) explores the ways in which Jewish thinkers absorbed and modified the ideas current in their cultural environment. In Modern Varieties of Judaism (1966), Blau demonstrates the same principle of interplay of tradition and environment in the shaping of Jewish religion since the 18th century. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (1944) investigates the flow of ideas in the reverse direction – that is, from Jewish to Christian thinkers.

Blau also edited the book Essays on Jewish Life and Thought: Presented in Honor of Salo Wittmeyer Baron (1959).

add. bibliography:

M. Wohlgelernter, History, Religion, and American Democracy (1993).