Paul E. NahmeDorot Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
Paul E. Nahme (Ph.D., University of Toronto) is the Dorot Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University. He has studied Rabbinic Literature and Jewish Law at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He taught previously at the University of Kansas and was formerly a fellow at the NYU School of Law and Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University. His research interests focus mostly on modern Jewish philosophy (Cohen, Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Strauss) and Rabbinic thought (particularly the traditions of Brisk and Telshe), intellectual history, religion, ethics, and politics, and the philosophy and hermeneutics of law. His current book project examines the philosophy of Hermann Cohen in the context of late 19th-century Wilhelmine Germany and interrogates Cohen’s response to the philosophical problem of secularity for German-Jews living in a Protestant state.
Spirits of the Secular: Hermann Cohen, the Secular-Modern, and the Legacy of Protestant Judaism (manuscript in preparation)
“Wissen und Lomdus: Idealism, Modernity, and History in some Nineteenth-Century Rabbinic and Philosophical Responses to the Wissenschaft des Judentums” (Harvard Theological Review, Forthcoming)
I am particularly interested in the question of "methodology" in the humanities and social sciences as a vehicle for understanding the larger questions of secularization, power, and objectivity in our methods of knowing and knowledge producing. I am currently completing articles that address these problems through the lens of "idealism" as a philosophical expression of critique and self-reflexivity in knowledge.
My manuscript on Cohen places his thought within larger conversations that treat religion as a constellation of ideas, practices, disciplines, and methods of knowing in modernity. Thus, I interpret Cohen's idealism as a cultural hermeneutic with which to negotiate the problems of the secular-modern, including nationalism, religious practice, communal belonging, and participation in the culture of the state. By situating Cohen's thought within debates of nineteenth-century liberal Protestant theology over historicism, materialism, and what would become a theory of secularization, as well as the cultural location of German Jews in the Wilhelmine Reich, I suggest that Cohen's idealization of Protestantism and Judaism enables him to sketch a transcendental philosophy of culture. This "normative" idealism of culture presents religious concepts as "norms" that ground our social and ethical reasons for acting and developing our modern selves, and I therefore engage Cohen's ethics in particular as a theory of cultural and civic participation and suggest that his idealism presents a model for discussing religious pluralism within a post-secular world.
I am also beginning to develop a project that assesses the methodological modernization of Talmudic learning in Eastern-European rabbinic thought as an analogous form of idealism and conceptual justification. In this project, I am interested in how Talmudic concpetualism, or "Lomdus," presents Jews with a strategy for encountering Enlightenment modernity with a turn toward immanently justifying Judaism through its own internal concepts and ideas, understood as "pilpul" or "hokhmat talmud" and located within an particularly normative history, as tradition (mesorah).