Scribner Seminar Program
Popular Kabbalah and Contemporary Culture
Instructor(s): Marla Segol, Religion
Why does kabbalah, a medieval system of Jewish mysticism, suddenly seem to be everywhere in popular culture? How do these popular forms of kabbalah compare with its traditional practice? Does Madonna do “real” kabbalah? Is the Kabbalah Center a cult? Is Superman a Golem? At the end of the 19th century, artists began to use kabbalistic texts and images imaginatively, as they created literature, film, comic books, and art. Today, emerging Jewish and non-Jewish groups and even conventional congregations use kabbalistic texts and images as the basis for New Age religious practices, using portions of traditional texts to generate new understandings of the self and of the cosmos. In this seminar, we will study a small selection of traditional Jewish mystical sources in historical and cultural context, and then trace their use in 20th and 21st century culture. Students will learn to evaluate popular artistic use of kabbalah in the creation of new public symbols, and will also critically examine the cultural production of new religion as old forms interact with contemporary cultural forces.