Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture

The Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture Program is administered by the School of Languages and Cultures (SLC).

About the major

Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture is an interdisciplinary program which covers history, philosophy, literature, religion, ethics and cultural studies. The major covers two millennia of Jewish Civilisation. You explore the development of the Jewish people from the time of Alexander the Great, experiencing their history, philosophy, literature and ethics. The major focuses on the historical evolution of Judaism, and how Jewish identity has been moulded by key Jewish thinkers and the Jewish historical experience. It traces this experience over five continents Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas and Australia, looking at communities as far flung as the Jews in Kaifeng in China, Spanish Jewry and the history of Jews in Australia. It aims to provide insight into the rich cultural heritage of a small minority and their significant contributions to broader world culture in both the Christian and later Muslim worlds in terms of three basic periods: the Classical (Talmudic and post-Talmudic periods in Palestine, the Middle East and Asia); the Medieval, with a focus on the key centres which developed first in Spain and later in Poland; and finally the Modern Era, with emancipation and the challenges of modernity, the Holocaust, Jewish nationalism and statehood.

There are no foreign language requirements for undergraduate study as all units of study are conducted in English and use texts in English. Study of Hebrew is, however, encouraged in conjunction with JCTC units of study, and a basic knowledge of at least one language associated with the Jewish experience (either Hebrew Classical or Modern, or German) is required for honours and postgraduate study.

Pathway through the major

A major in Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture requires at least 36 senior credit points including 24 credit points from core units of study and of which 6 must be at 3000 level.

The units of study for the major can be found in the Table A unit of study table for Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture. The table shows units of study on offer in the current handbook year. You may find information regarding a full list of units of study available to the major on the departmental website.

Junior units of study (1000 level)

Junior units of study focus on the two interrelated areas of the Jewish experience, through the land of Israel and the Jewish diaspora experience, during and after the period of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70CE.

These foundational units seek to provide a basic knowledge of the Jewish religion and practice as well as the Jewish historical experience during what we call the ‘Classical Period’. JCTC1001 Palestine: Roman Rule to Islam focuses on Palestine during the Roman rule from the first century BCE until the Muslim conquest in the seventh century. JCTC1002 Jewish Settlement Outside Israel explores the broader Diaspora experience, particularly in Babylon, Egypt and further to the East in India and China.

Senior-intermediate units of study (2000 level)

Senior-intermediate (2000 level) units trace the subsequent historical evolution of the Jewish people, with a particular focus on the European experience.

You first complete two medieval units of study: JCTC2603 ‘Jews Under the Crescent and the Cross’ and JCTC2604 ‘From Expulsion to Regeneration’. These units follow on from the Classical period and explore both the positive developments in Jewish thought and culture, as well as the emergence of Christian antisemitism and the negative Jewish experiences during the Middle Ages. The emergence of the negative Jewish stereotype in Christian Europe, as well as the Jewish responses to persecution from both a practical and theological perspective are crucial to a full understanding of the modern period. Many of the persecutory measures Hitler was able to introduce, for example the Jewish badge, segregation and ghettoization were legacies of the medieval period.

You then undertake three units of study dealing with the modern period to complete the major. The first: JCTC2605 ‘From Emancipation to the Holocaust’ centres on the modern European Jewish experience within the framework of political emancipation and enlightenment. The second: JCTC2606 ‘The Holocaust: History and Aftermath’ focuses on the background, events and aftermath of the Holocaust, one of the major events of the twentieth century. The third unit deals with the emergence of the modern state of Israel: JCTC2607 ‘Israel in the Modern Middle East’.

Senior-advanced units of study (3000 level)

You complete 6 credit points at senior-advanced (3000) level. You have a choice of JCTC3601 'Unravelling the Arab-Israeli Conflict' or EUST3602 'Cultures in Contact.'


A number of students who major in Jewish Civilisation continue to an Honours year in Jewish Studies. Admission to honours requires completion of 48 senior credit points at Credit average or above. This requirement includes the six senior units of study required for the major and two language units, from either Modern or Classical Hebrew. The language units can be studied in a semester abroad at the Hebrew University, and participation in a semester in-country exchange experience is encouraged. An honours year allows you to focus on a specific area of specialisation within the broad spectrum of the Jewish experience.

Most students choose a thesis topic within the modern Jewish experience, usually relating to the Holocaust, Israel or Australian Jewry, which are the specialist areas of academics within the Jewish Studies program. You are encouraged to place your Honours thesis within the broader context of Jewish Civilisation and to continue with your language studies during an Honours year. This represents the department’s philosophy of the close connections between language, culture and in the Jewish case the Hebrew language and religious belief and practice. At the higher levels, whether relating to Biblical Studies or Jewish Civilisation, some knowledge of the Hebrew language is considered vital to a full understanding of the Jewish literature and heritage.

Please note: from 2015 the minimum requirement for entry into Honours will increase to an average of 70% or above across 48 senior credit points in the intended subject area/s.

Contact/further information

Department website:

Course Coordinator: Professor Suzanne Rutland, Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies
Room 618 Brennan MacCallum Building A18
Phone: +61 2 9351 6662

or contact the SLC office,