I am a Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I received my Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2016, and was previously a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis and the Mellon Assistant Professor of Political Theory at Vanderbilt University. My research grapples with questions in contemporary political theory and practice by drawing from the history of European political thought, modern and classical Jewish thought, religious studies, social theory, and literature. I serve as our department's Ph.D. Coordinator and organize the Jerusalem Lecture Series in Political Thought (JSHPT).
I am especially interested in questions at the intersection of religion and democracy. My first book, Solidarity in a Secular Age: From Political Theology to Jewish Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2022), narrates an untold history of European political theology and spotlights a neglected strand of modern Jewish philosophy to propose a new foundation for liberal-democratic solidarity. My second book, Maimonides and Jewish Theocracy: The Human Hand of Divine Rule (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), shows how the"rule of God" is central to Maimonides' thought and argues for how it might be reconciled with modern democracy.
My work has appeared in the American Political Science Review, The Journal of Politics, Perspectives on Politics, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Religions, Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, The Jewish Review of Books, and the Oxford Handbook of Civil Society. At Harvard I was awarded the Bowdoin Prize, the university's highest award in the humanities, and at Vanderbilt I received the Robert H. Birkby Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. I am currently a Golda Meir Fellow, and have previously been a Mellon/ACLS Fellow, Harvard Presidential Scholar, Fulbright Fellow, Edmond J. Safra Fellow in Ethics, and Harvard Graduate Society Merit Fellow. I graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors from Yale in 2009.
Liberal democracies need solidarity. They need citizens who sacrifice for their country, rally for justice, and help their neighbors. Yet according to critics of liberalism like Carl Schmitt, the solidarity liberal democracies need comes from sources they cannot themselves produce, like religion. Thus in a time of declining religiosity and rising nationalism, how can we form strong social bonds without racism, demagoguery, and xenophobia? Can we have not only solidarity, but liberal solidarity, in a secular age? Solidarity in a Secular Age responds to Schmitt’s challenge by proposing a new liberal-democratic solidarity rooted in personal sacrifice, shared fate, and moral destiny. Narrating an untold story of European political theology and spotlighting a neglected strand of Jewish philosophy, the book diagnoses solidarity’s pathologies, reinterprets canonical theorists, and forges a new theoretical path.
Part 1 uncovers religion’s underlying role in European thinking about solidarity since the Enlightenment through readings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Jürgen Habermas. Each thinker rejects Schmitt’s argument. Yet the way they do that, the book shows, is by secularizing different concepts from religion. Their political theologies leave behind not-fully-secularized religious remainders: Rousseau’s “general will,” Kant’s concept of “spontaneity,” and Habermas’ “linguistification of the sacred.”
Part 2 reimagines liberal-democratic solidarity by looking to the thought of Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Buber, and George Eliot. Rather than secularizing theological ideas, they propose imitating elements of religion in our everyday solidarity with others. They give us resources for responding to Schmitt’s challenge, and show how Jewish ideas can contribute to rethinking our social bond for the twenty-first century.
Maimonides and Jewish Theocracy:
The Human Hand of Divine Rule
Forthcoming from Cambridge University Press
Over the past few decades, movements with theocratic aspirations—from ISIS to Catholic integralism—have gained both intellectual influence and real power throughout the world. Why do theocratic ideas retain their appeal in a secularizing world? What has theocracy meant, and what might it still mean today? In Maimonides and Jewish Theocracy, I contribute a new perspective on these questions by elucidating Maimonides’ theocratic project. Maimonides himself never uses the term “theocracy.” Nor does he anticipate its contemporary social-scientific meaning, traceable to Max Weber, where a predatory clerical elite governs in God’s name—a “hierocracy.” What Maimonides does do, I argue, is orient human thought and action around the original theocratic idea: the rule of God.
Theocracy is often thought to quash human agency, evoking an overpowering deity and clerical domination. Yet by revisiting Maimonides’ debt to the Islamic philosopher al-Fārābī, and challenging Leo Strauss’ influential reading, I show that among Maimonides’ aims was to elevate humanity’s role in divine rule. In Maimonides’ own time, many thinkers, including Jewish ones, sought to zealously guard God’s omnipotence—minimizing human freedom, insulating revelation from reason, and making God the author of every natural cause and individual choice. For Maimonides, by contrast, individual providence is up to us. Gifted with free will, we can discipline ourselves, cultivate our virtue, and, through the careful study of the sciences and philosophy, attain theoretical knowledge of God. And when we succeed, we come not only to know and love God; we serve as agents of divine rule on earth, acting on insights gleaned from accessing the Active Intellect, the lowest level in Maimonides’ Neoplatonic cosmology. In its highest form, human reason is identical with revelation, human action with providence. God’s governance is delegated: theocracy requires human agency—the imitation of God. Maimonides focuses on philosophical-religious leaders. But he also broadens the imitation of God to anyone whose knowledge of God inspires love of God: By emulating divine goodness, we can become agents of divine rule.
By reconstructing the theocratic project implicit in Maimonides’ writings, I shed new light on Jewish political thought and medieval political philosophy, as well as contribute to current debates about theocracy’s meaning and implications. At the same time, I suggest that Maimonides’ thought offers resources for thinking about theocracy today. His complex account of divine rule—and humanity’s role in realizing it—suggests innovative ways by which theocracy and democracy might, counter-intuitively, be reconciled.
Maimonides and Jewish Theocracy: The Human Hand of Divine Rule
Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.
Radical Democracy's Religion: Hobbes on Language, Domination, and Self-Creation
Religions, 14:11 (2023). Read the article here.
The Adjectival Liberal and the Kingship of God
The Jewish Review of Books, 14:3 (2023): 20-22. Read the article here.
Response to Martin Kavka’s Review of Solidarity in a Secular Age: From Political Theology to Jewish Philosophy.
Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, 19 (2023). Read the response here.
Response to Miguel Vatter’s Review of Solidarity in a Secular Age: From Political Theology to Jewish Philosophy.
Perspectives on Politics, 21:2 (2023): 696-697. Read the response here.
Review: Divine Democracy: Political Theology after Carl Schmitt. By Miguel Vatter. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.
Perspectives on Politics, 21:2 (2023): 691-693. Read the review here.
Review: Apocalypse without God: Apocalyptic Thought, Ideal Politics, and the Limits of Utopian Hope. By Ben Jones. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2022.
Perspectives on Politics, 21:1 (2023): 353-354. Read the review here.
Solidarity in a Secular Age: From Political Theology to Jewish Philosophy
Oxford University Press, 2022. Find more information on the book here.
Review: The Priority of the Person: Political, Philosophical, and Historical Discoveries. By David Walsh. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2020.
Perspectives on Politics, 19:3 (2021), 986-988. Read the review here.
Democratic Solidarity in a Secular Age? Habermas and the "Linguistification of the Sacred"
The Journal of Politics, 81:3 (2019), 862-877. Read the article here.
Theopolitics Contra Political Theology: Martin Buber's Biblical Critique of Carl Schmitt
American Political Science Review, 113:1 (2019), 195-208. Read the article here.
What Undermines Solidarity? Four Approaches and their Implications for Contemporary Political Theory
Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 21:5 (2018): 601-615. Read the article here.
Against Politics: Walter Benjamin on Justice, Judaism, and the Possibility of Ethics.
American Political Science Review, 108:1 (2014): 218-232. Read the article here.
Civil Society and Government
The Oxford Handbook of Civil Society, ed. Michael Edwards (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), with Nancy L. Rosenblum. Read the chapter here.
Political theory comes to life in the course of dialogue with students and colleagues, and I believe passionately that teaching is both a core responsibility of faculty and crucial to progress in the discipline. I have been honored to receive strongly positive feedback as an instructor and awards for my teaching, including Vanderbilt's Robert H. Birkby Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and Harvard's Derek Bok Center Award for Distinction in Teaching.
I have designed and taught a wide range of introductory and advanced courses in political and social theory, the history of political thought, and religion and politics, including lectures on Justice: An Introduction to Political Theory, Modern Political Thought, Contemporary Political Thought, and Religion and Politics, and seminars on Solidarity, Violence and Politics, Community in a Secular Age, Classics of Social Theory, and American Political Thought. I also teach Hebrew University's seminar for M.A. students on Approaches and Theories in Political Science.
I’m a Bay Area native, diehard SF Giants fan, and go by Charlie. Here's the family at Kif Tzuba park near Jerusalem.