Skip to main content

Jews and Antisemitism in Modern Europe: Histories and Approaches


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Marc Volovici
  • Assessment: one essay of 5000-5500 words (100%)

Module description

After centuries of routine discrimination and sporadic persecution, the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution introduced the principle that Jews should be treated as equal members of society. Throughout the nineteenth century, European states took different measures to advance Jews’ legal emancipation and integration into society. Such efforts met with diverse responses from Jews and non-Jews, including a backlash of racial and other forms of anti-Jewish agitation. This module will explore the entangled histories of Jews and antisemitism in Europe from the Enlightenment to the present. 

While the term ‘antisemitism’ started to circulate only in the 1870s and 1880s, it is perceived by many as denoting a much longer, religious tradition of anti-Jewish sentiments. The question of what is new and what is not about modern antisemitism touches on major aspects of modern European history: the rise of the nation-state, the emergence of industrial capitalism, as well as processes of urbanisation, secularisation and the decline of traditional religious authorities. In this module we will investigate different facets of the place of Jews - both real and imagined ones - in the history of modern Europe. We will ask how and when Jews started to be perceived as constituting a ‘problem’ and how different parts of societies engaged with the ‘Jewish question’. We will inquire into the social, economic and religious roots of antisemitism, and study its manifestations in various social and political contexts. We will pay close attention to the different ways in which Jews responded to anti-Jewish discourses, policies and outbursts of violence: from the establishment of Jewish national movements, to joining socialist movements, advancing liberal ideology, and mass emigration. More broadly, this course will investigate how ideas of social difference have operated in key moments of modern European history. We will examine how contested notions of culture, nation and race shaped the relation between Jews and non-Jews in different periods. We will ask how prejudice and racism emerge and transform, and how they are disseminated, internalised and combatted.

Indicative Module Content

  • The idea of Jewish emancipation
  • Religion, ‘race’ and the Jewish problem
  • Post-emancipation French Jewry
  • Jews and antisemitism in a liberal state: the case of Britain
  • Emancipation and antisemitism in late nineteenth-century central Europe
  • Russia and the Jews: modernity without emancipation
  • Socialism and Zionism
  • The impact of war and Bolshevism
  • The Holocaust
  • Antisemitism and islamophobia in the twenty-first century