Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture

About the major

Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture is an interdisciplinary program which covers history, philosophy, literature, religion, ethics and cultural studies. The major explores two millennia of Jewish Civilisation focussing 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 journey through periods of continuity as well as radical change, including the seismic shifts that the Jews experience as both sovereign and diaspora peoples.

In so doing JCTC provides 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 (and contemporary) 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.

Requirements for completion

A major in Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture requires 48 credit points from the Unit of Study table including:
(i) 12 credit points of 1000-level units
(ii) 12 credit points of 2000-level units
(iii) 18 credit points of 3000-level units
(iv) 6 credit points of 3000-level Interdisciplinary Project units

A minor in Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture requires 36 credit points from the Unit of Study table including:
(i) 12 credit points of 1000-level units
(ii) 12 credit points of 2000-level units
(iii) 12 credit points of 3000-level units

First year

The units available in first year are: JCTC1003 Jewish History from Rome to New Diaspora and JCTC1004 People of the Book: Judaism Unbound. These introductory units are designed to provide a foundational knowledge of Jewish religion and practice as well as the Jewish historical experience during the classical period. Students will gain a preliminary understanding of the enduring themes of Jewish history such as the diasporic experiences of acculturation, assimilation and integration. The knowledge gained will allow students to forge the foundations for further study of the historical, cultural and socio-political complexities involved in Jewish civilisation, thought and culture. Students will also gain familiarity with major disciplinary approaches to the study of Jewish civilisation, thought and culture. Those students who wish to gain familiarity with associated languages may also choose to study HBRW1011 Hebrew Modern B1 and HBRW1102 Hebrew Modern B2.

Second year

The 2000-level units build on the knowledge base and methodologies taught in the first year as well as challenging students to consider Jewish civilisation, thought and culture within a global context. Students will gain knowledge of medieval Jewish thought and practice and the Jewish historical experience during the medieval and modern periods. They will also begin to grasp how these schools of thought and historical experiences contribute to the development of modern Jewish movements such as modern Zionism. Students will gain the ability to contextualize their knowledge of Jewish society, history, culture and politics with regard to the global forces that shaped these developments. This can be achieved by taking the JCTC 2000 units as stand alone or in concert with a selection of co-tabled units in European Studies, History and Government. Finally, students will learn to apply one or more specific disciplinary perspectives and associated theoretical tools to their study of Jewish civilisation, thought and culture. For those students who wish to continue language study there is a continuing pathway through Hebrew Modern and for those students wishing to advance their knowledge of Ancient Jewish history in particular, Hebrew Classical is also offered.

Third year

The 3000-level units focus primarily on the modern period, allowing students the opportunity to examine in depth the seismic shifts that have defined the modern Jewish experience. Students will be encouraged to develop specialised, in-depth knowledge of one or more aspects of modern Jewish civilisation, thought and culture (e.g. Holocaust history, modern Jewish thought, Israel studies). They will continue to develop and apply sophisticated theoretical tools to their study of Jewish civilisation, thought and culture such as intellectual and transnational history and/or religious studies. Again, there is the opportunity to take a selection of European Studies and History units to complement the JCTC 3000 units and for those students who wish to continue language study there is a continuing pathway through Hebrew Modern and Hebrew Classical.

Honours

If you commenced your degree prior to 2018, admission to honours requires a major in Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture with an average of 70% or above, and a basic knowledge of at least one language associated with the Jewish experience (either Hebrew Classical or Modern, or German) is required.

If you commenced your degree in 2018, admission to honours is via the Bachelor of Advanced Studies and requires the completion of a major in Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture with an average of 70% or above, and a basic knowledge of at least one language associated with the Jewish experience (either Hebrew Classical or Modern, or German) is required. You will need to ensure you have completed all other requirements of the Bachelor of Advanced Studies, including Open Learning Environment (OLE) units and a second major, prior to commencing honours.

A high proportion of students who major in Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture continue to an Honours year.

The honours program allows students to undertake advanced seminars on Jewish thought, practice and history, and write a research thesis on a topic of their choice.

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.

Advanced coursework

The BAdvStudies advanced coursework option consists of 48 credit points, which must include:

  • A minimum of 24 credit points in a single subject area at 4000-level, including a project unit of study worth at least 12 credit points
  • Where the student is completing a pathway (e.g. Media and Communications, Politics and International Relations), the 4000-level requirements of the pathway
  • Space for 12 credit points towards a second major (if not already completed).
Contact/further information

Department website: sydney.edu.au/arts/hebrew_biblical_jewish_studies

For further information on the Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture major, contact:
Dr Avril Alba at
Dr Michael Abrahams-Sprod at

Learning outcomes
  1. Demonstrate a comprehensive and in-depth knowledge of the Jewish people, their culture, religion and history from antiquity to the present.
  2. Employ a range of approaches to the study of Jewish history, culture and thought.
  3. Exhibit advanced critical reading, academic writing and oral presentation skills.
  4. Demonstrate the confidence to work both independently and collaboratively on materials (in translation) from or related to Jewish history, culture and thought including: historical records, literary works, religious texts, academic studies, images and practices in relation to their cultural, political and religious context.
  5. Demonstrate critical awareness of the key historical and social developments that have shaped the Jewish experience, including the complex interplay between external and internal forces in forging both ancient and modern Jewish identity.
  6. Exhibit the research and critical inquiry skills to construct and defend valid arguments employing a range of forms of evidence from Jewish societies and cultures, including critical analysis of the ways that ‘Jewish civilisation’ has been perceived and constructed across time and place.
  7. Demonstrate the ability and skills to undertake collaborative work including classroom discussion and oral and written presentations.
  8. Demonstrate research and enquiry skills that foster a deep engagement with and, at the higher levels, the ability to critique and contribute to, ongoing scholarly debates in the broad area of Jewish studies.
  9. Exhibit, as a result of exchanges, project work, interdisciplinary study and /or internships for credit, the capacity to confront new situations demanding adaptability, cultural competence and personal resourcefulness.