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Dr Devorah Baum 

Associate Professor in English Literature and Critical Theory

Dr Devorah Baum's photo

Dr Devorah Baum is an Associate Professor in English Literature and Critical Theory at the University of Southampton. She is also attached to the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non Jewish Relations.

My book Feeling Jewish (A Book for Just About Anyone) (Yale University Press) came out in 2017. It delves into fiction (especially American), film, and memoir to explore feelings that have been stereotypically associated with modern Jews – self-hatred, guilt, resentment, paranoia, anxiety, hysteria, overbearing maternal love - and analyses why such feelings may be increasingly common to us all as the pace of globalization leaves many feeling marginalized, uprooted, and existentially threatened. One chapter from the book has been extracted and adapted for a long read essay in The Guardian, and the book has also inspired a New York Times Sunday Review essay and other essays, talks (with Zadie Smith at McNally Jacksons in Manhattan, with Josh Cohen at King's Place in London, with Adam Phillips at Lutyens & Rubinstein in London) and blogposts, e.g. here, as well as this guilty podcast for an American public radio station's show, To the Best of Our Knowledge.

My work on feelings in my book for Yale as well as my representation of my marriage in my codirected feature film, The New Man (see below), has led to numerous other projects, including an essay for (Granta 144), What Do Women Want?: reading Grace Paley after #TimesUp, and I have also guest coedited a special issue of Granta, Granta 146, on 'The Politics of Feeling', in which my coeditor and I have drawn together some wonderful fiction writers, memoir, graphic and nonfiction writers, poets, psychoanalysts and photographers to create an arresting and profound anthology of responses to our contemporary moment, its historical and psychological roots and its possible futures.  The issue includes an introductory essay and my long interview with the psychoanalyst and writer Adam Phillips about 'Politics in the Consulting Room'.

The Jewish Joke (Profile Books) also came out in 2017. It curates classic and new jokes and asks why it is, given that jokes tend not to travel all that well, that Jewish jokes have survived a long and treacherous history and been able to move across national, class and temporal boundaries without having to rewrite their punchlines. The book examines jokes whose precise origins are unknown as well as the work of known authors and comedians, primarily but not exclusively American. The book has been the subject of radio and press interviews and has been the focus of public events where I’ve been in conversation about jokes and how to understand them with comedians (such as David Baddiel, David Schneider and John Fugelsang).

I have also expanded on the academic interest of joking and laughter to give a number of lectures on the topic of joking in a range of institutions and for various events, including two keynote lectures at academic conferences – one for the annual conference of the International Society for Heresy Studies at Senate House, London, June 2018, and one forthcoming for IAS’s conference on Laughter in July 2019

My earlier research focussed predominantly on the role of religion in modern and contemporary politics, literature and philosophy.  In a West glossed as ‘secular,’ hostility towards migrants and diasporic groups has often been predicated on an imputed primitivism or even barbarism to their religions and religiosity – as if Western culture were not itself deeply formed by its own religious heritage.  It is this disavowal of religion that I examine at length in a number of articles and book chapters.  And by reflecting on how language as such might be said to position the subject in an inherently ‘faithful’ relation, I also suggest alternative ways of encountering religious difference and religious ideas in politics, poetics, and in the modern university. 

The documentary feature film I co-directed, The New Man (2016), funded by the Wellcome Trust, looks at a female experience, pregnancy, from a predominantly male point of view, tracking the migration of hysterical feelings into a twenty-first century man, who feels replaced by not only the prospect of a baby at his wife’s breast, but by new reproductive technologies in the bedroom, and by women in a global workplace. Theatrically released, the film has been widely reviewed across the UK print, radio and television media and has had numerous special event screenings and also been screened in academic contexts as well as in education and training contexts for use by midwives and psychotherapist groups. It has also been the subject of a conversational feature in Granta Magazine.

I have spoken about my research and interests at community centres, commercial centres and public as well as academic institutions including the Southbank Centre, The Royal Society of Literature (RSL), the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), the London Film School (LFS), the Royal Albert Hall, the Philadelphia Association (PA), JW3, The Freud Museum, The London Review Bookshop (with Adam Phillips, with Jacqueline Rose, with Peter Pomerantsev), The Jewish Museum, The London Literature Festival, Poetry in the City, Libreria Bookshop, The Belarus Free Theatre, UCL's Institute of Advanced Studies, Essex Book Festival, McNally Jackson Bookshop (Manhattan), Daunts Bookshop and King's Place.

I have written about and been interviewed about my research and interests for a number of press as well as BBC TV and Radio programmes, including The Financial Times, Radio 3’s Free Thinking (and here), BBC2’s Newsnight, Radio 4’s Front Row, news programmes, and TV and Radio documentaries.  And I have written and reviewed for a range of publications including The Tate Magazine, The JC, the Jewish Quarterly, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Guardian, Times Higher Education, Granta Magazine and History Today

In October 2017 my research was the subject of a feature profile in Times Higher Education.

Devorah Baum talks with Mark Oppenheimer about her book Feeling Jewish from jappignanesi on Vimeo.

Research interests

I plan to further develop the research undertaken in my two books for journal articles on the feelings I have dealt with only indirectly in my monograph such as nostalgia and despair, and on the use of joking, sarcasm, irony, satire and humour in a range of modern political contexts.

Following the release of my co-directed feature film, I am also researching the ‘crisis’ of C21st masculinity, gendered creativity, and the work of conception in the age of technological reproduction.

Drawing on some of my previous work, especially reflections on what might be implied by the notion of ‘being saved,’ whether by a religion, a politics, or a philosophy, and my work on ancient and modern conceptions of security, geographical, psychological and otherwise, I’m beginning to theorise a future research project concerning the highly contentious concept of ‘safe space’ in its various guises, including that of the university campus and the sanctuary city.

I will be pleased to discuss applications for postgraduate study in the following areas: feelings and affects in modern and contemporary culture and literature, in particular ‘negative’ feelings such as guilt, self-hatred, paranoia, anxiety and envy; the uses and abuses of knowledge; the rise of conspiracy theory in the information age; pregnancy and motherhood; life-writing and documentary film; the return of religion; the influence of religion on contemporary literature and philosophy; the relationship between religion and psychoanalysis; Jewish literature and philosophy; joking; essaying; as well as more generally hermeneutics, critical theory, Jacques Derrida, psychoanalysis, and post-war American literature and culture.

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Book Chapters

  • Baum, D. (2016). The return of religion: secularization and its discontents. In M. Knight (Ed.), The Routledge Companion to Literature and Religion (pp. 80-88). Oxford, GB: Routledge.
  • Baum, D. (2015). Life writing and the East End. In D. Brauner, & A. Stähler (Eds.), The Edinburgh Companion to Modern Jewish Fiction (pp. 221-236). Edinburgh, GB: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Baum, D. (2015). Nothing and the Jews. In H. Ewence, & H. Spurling (Eds.), Visualizing Jews Through the Ages: Literary and Material Representations of Jewishness and Judaism (pp. 78-90). Oxford: Routledge.
  • Baum, D. (Accepted/In press). Textuality. In N. Valman, & L. Roth (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Modern Jewish Cultures Routledge.
  • Baum, D. (2009). Nothing and the Jews. In J. Armleder (Ed.), Voids: a Retrospective (pp. 16-22). Zurich, Switzerland: JPR/Ringier.

Creative Media and Artefacts

  • Baum, D. (Author), & Appignanesi, J. (Author). (2016). The New Man. Digital or Visual Products, The Creative Life Film Company Ltd..

Journal Special Issue

  • Baum, D. (2019). Editorial. Granta Magazine, Granta Magazine(146), 10-14. [1].

For our undergraduate degree, I teach two first-year modules, The Act of the Essay and Theory & Criticism, two second year modules, Scriptwriting and Jewish Fictions (also open to third years), and two third year modules, Post-War American Jewish Literature and the Dissertation module.  I also supervise dissertations and doctoral theses on our postgraduate courses, and teach on a number of different disciplinary and interdisciplinary MA modules for English, History and the Parkes Institute (in Southampton and London). 

I am the director of taught postgraduate programmes for English.

Dr Devorah Baum
Faculty of Arts and Humanities University of Southampton Avenue Campus Highfield Southampton SO17 1BF United Kingdom

Room Number: 65/2031

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