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College of Arts & Sciences
Jewish Studies Program

2012 Solomon-Tenenbaum Lectureship

 Solomon-Tenenbaum Lecture 2012


Todd Gitlin

Photo:  Jill Krementz 

Professor of Journalism and Sociology
Chair, Ph.D. Program in Communications
Columbia University

October 4, 2012

"The Chosen Peoples:
America, Israel and the Ordeals of Divine Election"
8:00 p.m.
Campus Room at Capstone House, USC Columbia
*Free and Open to the Public*


"The Belief in Divine Election and the History of Nations"
1:30 - 2:45 p.m.

Rutledge Chapel on the Horseshoe
*Free and Open to the Public*


Todd Gitlin
Professor of Journalism and Sociology 
Chair, Ph.D. Program in Communications
Columbia University 

"The Wild and Crazy Idea of Chosenness"

  Carol E. Harrison
Associate Professor of History
University of South Carolina

"The French Revolution and the Expulsion of God"
  W. Dean Kinzley
Associate Professor of History 
Director, Center for Asian Studies 
University of South Carolina

"No Election Required: Japan’s Divine Emperor(s)"
  Adam M. Schor
Assistant Professor of History 
University of South Carolina

"Early Christian and Roman Chosen-ness: Confidences and Anxieties"
  David Shields
McClintock Professor of Southern Letters
Department of English Language & Literature 
University of South Carolina

"The American New Jerusalem"

Lawrence B. Glickman
Carolina Trustee Professor & Chair
Department of History 
University of South Carolina



Lecture Description:

The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel and the Ordeals of Divine Election 

America and Israel share the deep—some would say sacred—idea that their nations were chosen, in perpetuity, to do God’s work. What unites the two allies in a “special friendship” is less a joint strategic interest than this lasting, burdensome, and inspiring belief that they were chosen by God. Both rivals and adversaries have adapted this idea for their own purposes. 

The Jewish people take as their origin God’s promise to Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation.” The idea of chosenness gave rise to the Jewish people, sustained them in exodus and exile, and, centuries later, animated even secular Zionists and coaxed them to embrace religious settlements on the West Bank. Seventeenth-century British settlers thought they were founding “God’s new Israel” in the New World. But the belief in divine election is far more than a fanciful idea; it’s a living force, sometimes dangerous, always enticing. Even when disguised by secular language, even when the meaning of divine election is disputed, the idea of a providential destiny operates behind our backs. This seductive idea was at work when Americans made a revolution against Britain, went to war with the Indians, expanded westward, built an empire, waged war in Iraq, and proposed messages of enlightenment to a benighted world. 

The Chosen Peoples digs deeply beneath the controversies of the moment to show how deeply ingrained is the idea of a chosen people—and yet how complicated it really is. Weaving together history, theology, and politics, The Chosen Peoples vividly retells the dramatic story of two nations bound together by a wild and sacred idea, and offers an unexpected conclusion: only by taking the idea of chosenness seriously, wrestling with its meaning, and taking on its responsibilities, can both nations thrive.

Todd Gitlin, Guest Lecturer: 

Todd Gitlin, an American writer, sociologist, communications scholar, novelist, poet, and not very private intellectual, is the author of fifteen books, including Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street, from HarperCollins. Before that, he published the novel Undying and (with Liel Leibovitz), The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election. Other titles include The Bulldozer and the Big Tent: Blind Republicans, Lame Democrats, and the Recovery of American IdealsThe Intellectuals and the FlagLetters to a Young ActivistMedia Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our LivesThe Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked by Culture WarsThe Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of RageInside Prime TimeThe Whole World Is WatchingUptown: Poor Whites in Chicago (co-author); three novels, UndyingSacrifice and The Murder of Albert Einstein; and a book of poetry, Busy Being Born. These books have been translated into Japanese, Korean, Chinese, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. He also edited Watching Television and Campfires of the Resistance. 

In 2000, Sacrifice won the Harold U. Ribalow Prize for books on Jewish themes. The Sixties and The Twilight of Common Dreams were Notable Books in the New York Times Book ReviewInside Prime Time received the nonfiction award of the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association; The Sixties was a finalist for that award and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. 

He holds degrees from Harvard University (mathematics), the University of Michigan (political science), and the University of California, Berkeley (sociology). He was the third president of Students for a Democratic Society, in 1963-64, and coordinator of the SDS Peace Research and Education Project in 1964-65, during which time he helped organize the first national demonstration against the Vietnam War and the first American demonstrations against corporate aid to the apartheid regime in South Africa. During 1968-69, he was an editor and writer for the San Francisco Express Times, and through 1970 wrote widely for the underground press. In 2003-06, he was a member of the Board of Directors of Greenpeace USA. 

He is now a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph. D. program in Communications at Columbia University. Earlier, he was for sixteen years a professor of sociology and director of the mass communications program at the University of California, Berkeley, and then for seven years a professor of culture, journalism and sociology at New York University. During 1994-95, he held the chair in American Civilization at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

Click here for more information on Todd Gitlin.