photo of Sarah Imhoff

Read my post in on "Reflections on Jewish Studies" in the Bulletin for the Study of Religion

listen to me talk about "Jews, Christians, Muslims"

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Sarah Imhoff

Assistant Professor, Religious Studies and Borns Jewish Studies Program

Affiliated Faculty, Gender Studies Department

Affiliated Faculty, Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society

Adjunct Faculty, History Department

Sycamore Hall, Rm. 223


Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2010

Research Interests

Professional Biography

Both my research and teaching reflect my interest in the ways that texts and representation create possibilities for constructing Jewishness in historical context. How, for instance, have categories like religion, race, and gender worked to determine who is Jewish or what constitutes the essence of Jewishness? How have particular hermeneutical strategies defined Jews or Judaism? My interests range from the ways that Midrash and Talmud use a unique interpretive style to craft Judaism to the ways contemporary American norms can create (or foreclose) possibilities of Jewish identity or belonging.

I am currently completing my first monograph, Masculinity and the Making of American Judaism, which argues that American Jewish men in the early twentieth century were gendered differently from American norms, and that this masculinity helped acculturated Jews argue for the value of an enlightened Judaism.

I also research the meaning of Jewishness in contemporary American contexts. I am especially interested in the ways that race, DNA, and medical knowledge shape what it means to be Jewish—or even who is a Jew—today.

My next research project is a study of religion and the body, centering on Jessie Sampter, an early twentieth-century American Zionist. But Sampter’s own life and body hardly matched typical Zionist ideals: while Zionism celebrated the strong and healthy body, Sampter spoke of herself as “crippled” from polio and plagued by weakness and sickness her whole life; while Zionism applauded reproductive (women’s) bodies, Sampter never married or bore children—in fact, she wrote of homoerotic longings and had same-sex relationships we would consider queer. So how did a queer, “crippled” woman become a leading voice of American Zionism, and why has history largely overlooked her? This microhistory explains how we make of a Zionist whose embodied experiences did not conform to Zionist ideals— and suggests that this conflict between embodiment and religious thought was far from unique in American religious experience.

My work has appeared in the Journal of Religion, American Jewish History, Religious Studies Review, and other academic journals and edited volumes. I am also a contributor to Sh’ma, Occasional Religion, and Sightings.


Courses Recently Taught

Publication Highlights:

“The Creation Story of Religious Studies, or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Schempp” Journal of the American Academy of Religion (forthcoming, March 2016)

"Half-Jewish, Just Jewish, and the Oddities of Religious Identifications" Journal of Religion and Society (January 2016)

“DNA and the Problem of Jewish Embodiment” Critical Research in Religion 2.2 (Aug 2014)

“Wild Tribes and Ancient Semites: Israelite-Indian Identification and the American West” Culture and Religion (May 2014)

“Traces of Race: American Jewish Identity” in Leonard Greenspoon, ed. Who Is A Jew? Reflections on History, Religion, and Culture (Purdue Unviersity Press, 2014)

“Manly Missions: Jews, Christians, and Religious Masculinity in Progressive Era America” American Jewish History 97.2 (dated Winter 2012)

“My Sons Have Defeated Me: Walter Lippmann, Felix Adler, and Secular Moral Authority” Journal of Religion 92.4 (Oct 2012).

“The Man in Black: Matisyahu, Identity, and Authenticity” Religion and Culture Web Forum. University of Chicago, (Feb 2010).

“The Spirit and the Law: American Jewish Spirituality” Spirituality in America, Charles Lippy, ed. (Westport, CT: Praeger Press, 2006).

Op-Eds and Blogs

"Religious freedom in the United States: The Supreme Court’s faith in belief", Imanent Flame

Bulletin for the Study of Religion, "Reflections on Jewish Studies," May 30, 2014

“All Religion is Local,” Jewschool, May 2014

“Marrying Out, or Marrying In? Jewish-Chinese American Marriages” Sh’ma. November 2013.

“Is Male Model Posing on Bed Sexy? Not If He’s a Hasid” Sightings. October 3, 2013.

“Choosing Twice: Conversion and the Americanization of Judaism” in Sh’ma. April 2013.

"Celebrating Purim Like a West Coast Mystic" in Religion in the American West. March 12, 2012.

"Homesteaders and High Holidays" in Religion in the American West. September 17, 2012.

“Violence and Secrecy: On Masculinity and the Akedah” in Sh’ma. September 2011.

“The Shtetl Strongman.” Sightings. Published by Martin Marty Center. December 9, 2010.

“Hyphen Nation” in Tablet. July 16, 2009

“Jewish Girl, American Doll.” Sightings. Published by Martin Marty Center. June 18, 2009.


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