ATCJS-affiliated Professors Awarded 2021 SSHRC Insight Grants

July 21, 2021 by CJS

The ATCJS would like to congratulate its affiliated faculty who have been awarded a SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council) Insight Grant in the 2021 competition.  The Insight Grant program aims to support and foster excellence in social sciences and humanities research intended to deepen, widen, and increase our collective understanding of individuals and societies, as well as to inform the search for solutions to societal challenges. 

Among this year’s recipients are ATCJS-affiliated Professors Anna Shternshis (Department of Germanic Languages & Literature), Michael Rosenthal (Department of Philosophy), and Robert Gibbs (Departments of Philosophy and the Study of Religion), who will be furthering their research projects in the area of Jewish Studies. Prof. Shternshis’ research examines the Holocaust through the lens of Yiddish song.  Prof. Rosenthal examines the philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s arguments for religious toleration and their subsequent reception among Jewish thinkers.  Prof. Gibbs will examine Martin Buber’s and Franz Rosenzweig’s project to translate the Hebrew Bible into German.   

Several other ATCJS-affiliated faculty also won Insight Grant awards for their work on other important areas of research.  These recipients include:  Esther Geva (Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology), Nicholas Stang (Department of Philosophy), Tim Harrison (Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations), and Robert Holmstedt (Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations). 

Prof. Anna Shternshis received the SSHRC Insight Grant for her project, “Singing the Archive: How Lost Yiddish Songs Documented Holocaust in the Soviet Union.” As Shternshis explains, the project’s goal is to document the history of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union through Yiddish songs created during World War II. Based on archival documents from the Ukrainian National Library, the project focuses on history of the most vulnerable victims of the war — women, children, and the elderly — who created the songs, sometimes only days before they were murdered. These musical pieces represent some of the earliest extant Jewish eyewitness accounts of World War II in the Soviet Union. This project will also include a new multi-media installation of video-recordings, audio files, photographs of archival documents, and selected stories about the songs, their authors, and the scholars who risked their lives in the 1940s to collect the materials. 

Anna Shternshis holds the position of Al and Malka Green Professor of Yiddish studies and the director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto (on leave for 2021). She received her doctoral degree (D.Phil) in Modern Languages and Literatures from Oxford University in 2001. Shternshis is the author of Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923 - 1939 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006) and When Sonia Met Boris: An Oral History of Jewish Life under Stalin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). She is the co-editor-in-chief of East European Jewish Affairs. Together with artist Psoy Korolenko, Shternshis created and directed the Grammy-nominated Yiddish Glory project, which brings back to life the forgotten Yiddish music written during the Holocaust in the Soviet Union. She lectures widely around the world and is a frequent guest on radio and TV shows worldwide (CBC, NPR, BBC, and more). Her work on Yiddish Glory, has been featured in printed media, TV and radio in over 50 countries.

Prof. Rosenthal received the Insight grant for his project “Spinoza’s Arguments for Religious Toleration and the Problem of Jewish Modernity.” Spinoza wrote the Theological-Political Treatise in 1670 to justify freedom of philosophizing and religious toleration.  In his project, Prof. Rosenthal examines how Jews have subsequently used this text to advocate for and justify their own toleration in a liberal society.  Prof. Rosenthal will investigate five different interpretations of the argument—in 17th century Amsterdam, in 18th century Paris, in 19th century Berlin, in 20th century Tel Aviv, and 21st century North America—which, he claims, illustrate competing conceptions of Jewish modernity. 

Michael A. Rosenthal (PhD Chicago, 1996) holds the Grafstein Chair in Jewish Philosophy, with appointments in both the Department of Philosophy and the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies.  Prior to joining the ATCJS, he was Professor of Philosophy and Jewish Studies at the University of Washington at Seattle.  He teaches and publishes in the areas of early modern philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, and Jewish philosophy.  He was recently a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities of the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, and he gave the Martin Buber Lecture in Intellectual History and Philosophy in Frankfurt in 2017.  He is currently the acting Director of the ATCJS. 

For his SSHRC Insight Grant, Professor Gibbs proposes to examine a paradigmatic project of study: Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig's translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into German. These two leading Jewish thinkers of their time engaged in almost five years of weekly meetings and vast correspondence to create their new Jewish translation. This collaboration has long been regarded as one of the great moments of 20th Century thinking; it combines practices of translation, commentary, scholarship, theology, philosophy, and literary theory.  So much of our practice in the research university, especially in the humanities, is the work of a solitary student: the reading, thinking, writing, revising, grant proposals, are undertaken by an I. But what if study itself were dialogic: a pair of students engaged in discussion, debate? We know that such is a common experience: the reading group, the laboratory group, the seminar room, the Talmudic study with a havrusa (a companion).  

A small group of three scholars and graduate student researchers will explore these questions and begin the work of studying the unpublished manuscripts from the collaborative work. Gibbs expects that not only will the research here lay a clear conceptual foundation for further work on the Buber and Rosenzweig materials, but it will also enhance thinking about study in general. The tying together of the concrete case and the general theories will display a rich mode of thinking on the role of dialogue in study. 

Robert Gibbs recently completed a 10-year term as Inaugural Director of the Jackman Humanities Institute. He is a Professor of Philosophy and of Religion. His current research focuses on Higher Education, and he has recently completed a book length manuscript, The University in Question: Ideas in Dialogue. In it he inquires what a Research University is for and explores different models of universities by refocusing on the research capacities of students. His previous research is located on the borderlines of philosophy and religion, with a comparative and historical focus on law and ethics. He has worked on ethics in relation to the modern Jewish philosophical tradition and has numerous publications in this and in related fields in continental philosophy. 

We congratulate all SSHRC Insight Grant recipients and look forward, not only to seeing this important research take place in the coming years, but also to hearing about it in the ATCJS!