Eisen, Arnold

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EISEN, ARNOLD (1951– ), U.S. professor of religious studies and author of works on Judaism in modern America. Raised in Philadelphia, Eisen received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania; he earned a degree in the sociology of religion from Oxford University and a doctorate from the Hebrew University. He taught at Tel Aviv University and Columbia University, then was recruited by Stanford University in 1986 to help plan a program of Jewish studies. He was subsequently the Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and Religion at Stanford.

Eisen is well known as an expert in modern Judaism. A trained sociologist, he considers the relationship between social and cultural contexts and religious ideas, and in particular examines the contemporary American Jewish experience. His work The Chosen People in America: A Study in Jewish Religious Ideology (1983) suggested that the conception of the Jews as God's chosen people faced a unique challenge in America, where Jews became integrated into the larger society to a greater extent than in Europe. Called a complex work, it nevertheless received critical praise.

Galut: Modern Jewish Reflection on Homelessness and Homecoming (1986), one of Eisen's best-known works, received the National Jewish Book Award in 1987. The work examines the concepts of exile and return, and presents the Jewish problem of living apart from and within a society of others. Eisen discusses three major aspects of Jewish life: religion (Judaism), ethnicity (Jewishness), and nationality ("Israeliness"). Galut has been considered an original contribution to the field of religious studies.

Eisen again won the National Jewish Book Award in 1998, for Rethinking Modern Judaism: Ritual, Commandment, Community. Here Eisen examines the transformation and evolution of modern Jewish religious belief and practice, considering the effects of secularization and modernity on Judaism, even among the Orthodox. Eisen's other works include Taking Hold of Torah: Jewish Commitment and Community in America (1997) and The Jew Within: Self, Family, and Community in America (with coauthor Steven M. Cohen, 2000). In The Jew Within Eisen and Cohen explore the new emphasis on personal Jewish identity characteristic of the Jew in the late 20th and early 21st century, an identity so different than the Holocaust-centered, Israel-centered portrayal of Jewish identity only 15 years earlier.

In 1999 Eisen received the Koret Prize for outstanding contributions to the Jewish community. He is a fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research and also serves on its executive committee. His recent work includes the study of the increased involvement of women in modern American Judaism. In 2006 he was named chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

[Dorothy Bauhoff (2nd ed.)]