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Sheila E. Jelen, Director of the Program in Jewish Studies

Research Interests:
Gender and Jewish literature
Popular Ethnography and American Jewish Identity
Post-Holocaust Jewish Identity
Hassidic Narratives and Secular Culture
Documentary Photography and Post-Holocaust Identity
Translation and Jewish American Identity
Literature of the Holocaust
The Ethics of Representation
Testimony and Trauma

My scholarship is in the field of modern Jewish literature and culture, with a particular emphasis on gender and Jewish literacy, and the intersection betweeen ethnographic, photographic and literary discourses in popular reconstructions of pre-Holocaust East European Jewish life in Israel and the United States. My teaching spans courses on American Jewish Literature, Israel and the Holocaust, Gender and Jewish Literature, Representing the Holocaust, Photography and Literature, and Testimony, among other topics.

My work in modern Jewish literature and culture has taken an interdisciplinary turn of late.  I recently completed a manuscript titled “Salvage Poetics” that grapples with the question of how Americans in the latter part of the twentieth century pieced together a popular ethnography of pre-Holocaust East European Jewish life out of documentary photographs taken before the war as well as out of Yiddish literature in English translation. I am particularly interested in how literary scholars deploy the notion of “ethnography” in their readings of literature in languages and/or cultures that are considered “dead” or “dying” and how their definition of an “ethnographic” literary text speaks to and, in some cases, even enhances the scientific discipline of ethnography.


I received a BA at the University of Michigan in Comparative Literature and Jewish Studies (1993), and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in Comparative Literature (2001).