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Dr Devorah Baum

Associate Professor

Research interests

  • Marriage – in literature, memoir, film, art, psychoanalysis, feminism and philosophy.
  • Docufiction (cinema) and life-writing/autofiction (literature).
  • Humour – joking, comedy (especially in relation to e.g. language theory, politics, religion, sex).

More research

Accepting applications from PhD students.

Email: d.m.baum@soton.ac.uk

Address: B65, Avenue Campus, Highfield Road, SO17 1BF

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About

My latest book, On Marriage, crosses serious research with more creative elements. It came out with Hamish Hamilton for Penguin Random House in the UK in May 2023 and with Yale University Press in the US in October 2023 (with forthcoming publications for CITIC in China among other territories). The book is an enquiry into the idea and practice of marriage today, combining philosophy, cultural criticism, psychoanalysis and memoir, and analysing how a conservative and patriarchal institution might also contain unexpectedly radical possibilities. Named one of the best books of 2023 by both The New Yorker and Kirkus Reviews, it was launched at the LRB Bookshop in conversation with Hisham Matar, and in the US at McNally Jacksons in conversation with Orna Guralnik. It has also led to numerous podcasts (e.g. for NPR, for Berkeley) as well as op-eds (e.g. for the Guardian), essays, extracts, and many other public interviews, festival appearances, and scholarly events.

Feeling Jewish (A Book for Just About Anyone) (Yale University Press) came out in 2017. It explores 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 NPR.

My work on feelings has led to other projects, including my guest coediting of a special issue of Granta, Granta 146, on 'The Politics of Feeling', which draws together an anthology of responses to our contemporary moment.  The issue includes an introductory essay and my long interview with Adam Phillips about 'Politics in the Consulting Room'.

The Jewish Joke (Profile Books) also came out in 2017 and has been the subject of radio and press interviews (e.g. for the BBC, for ABC radio in Australia) and the focus of public events where I’ve been in conversation with comedians (such as David Baddiel, David Schneider and John Fugelsang). I’ve also lectured on joking and comedy at various events, including keynotes at the annual conference of the International Society for Heresy Studies at Senate House (2018) and UCL’s Institute of Advance Studies conference on ‘Laughter’ (2019).  I have also presented three short informal talks on joking - and i) politics ii) religion and iii) sex - for the online publishing platform EXPeditions (all available both as video and transcript). This book was slightly revised and reissued as a paperback in 2023.

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. 

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.

The unofficial sequel to that film, another creative documentary/ remarriage comedy’ feature called Husband, had its premiere at the Edinburgh international film festival (official competition) in August 2022 (trailer) and was on general release in theatres from Feb 2023.  It led to numerous reviews and media and podcast interviews, including for e.g. The Sunday Times and for Radio 4's Loose Ends. Josh Appignanesi and I were also interviewed by the Feeld online dating app and for TANK TV to had a videoed conversation. I was interviewed by Tortoise Media for one of their ‘Tortoise Lates’ on modern love here.

Another film I helped to produce and also feature in is Josh Appignanesi’s climate activism documentary feature, My Extinction, which includes some footage of a talk I gave for Extinction Rebellion during one of their public protests (XR Writers Rebel).  The film was released in 2023 on screens up and down the country. It then went to COP28 in Dubai. I was also invited to write and record a short piece reflecting on where multiculturalism meets or complicates responses to the climate catastrophe for the Royal Literary Fund’s Writers Mosaic project. You can find my mini essay ‘Distinctions and Extinctions’ here.

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), Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research, JW3, The Freud Museum, The London Review Bookshop (with Adam Phillips, and here, with Jacqueline Rose, with Peter Pomerantsev), The Jewish Museum, The Edinburgh Film and Book Festivals, Adelaide Writers Week, The London Literature Festival, Essex Book Festival, Poetry in the City, Libreria Bookshop, The Belarus Free Theatre, Jewish Book Week (e.g. with Amy Bloom and many others), Melbourne JBW, UCL's Institute of Advances Studies, McNally Jackson Bookshop (Manhattan), Daunts BookshopKing'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 BBC programmes), BBC2’s Newsnight, Radio 4’s Front Row, Radio 4's Loose Ends, news programmes, and TV and Radio documentaries in the UK, America and Australia.  And I’ve written and reviewed for a range of publications including Tate Etc, The JC, the Jewish Quarterly, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Guardian, Times Higher Education, Granta Magazine and History Today.  

I have also given broader researched based interviews for different platforms, as here.  And in October 2017 my research was the subject of a feature profile in Times Higher Education.

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