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Secularism, Education, and Emotions

Cultural Tensions in Hebrew Palestine (1882–1926)

Yair Seltenreich

Secularism, Education, and Emotions: Cultural Tensions in Hebrew Palestine (1882–1926) aims to explore the sources of secularism, its social and emotional significances, its various expressions, and its thorny frictions with different religious environments during the first decades of modern settlement of Jews in Eretz-Israel (Palestine). Accordingly, this book develops four main concepts about secularism in Eretz-Israel: (1) Secularism was, in large part, a reaction against religion; (2) Secularism was not an isolated local occurrence but rather a product of the wider European cultural stage, influenced by ideas of contestation against religious dominance and nascent nationalism; (3) Secularism was essentially an emotional phenomenon in Europe and in Eretz-Israel likewise; (4) In the struggle between religious and secularists in Eretz-Israel, education occupied a major place as the main vehicle for the promotion of ideas.
Utilizing these four main concepts, Yair Seltenreich analyzes the general European frameworks of secularism. His studies illuminate secularist features within European Jewry and its subsequent translation into the Zionist movement and the Eretz-Israeli arena. Lastly, he examines the specific struggles between religious and secularist teachers in Galilee, where the culmination of tensions and of emotional expression allows a deeper understanding of secularism as a cultural issue.
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Chapter Two: Secularism in European culture

Extract

CHAPTER TWO

Secularism in European culture

Influences of modernity

If some features of religion, analyzed in the previous chapter, helped to evoke secular responses, modernity has greatly contributed to its rise on the stage. It is customary to see in rationalism a precursor of modernity, but the subtle connection of both terms should be thoroughly evaluated, as rationalism was in fact only one and not sole component of modernity which in many phases bore completely irrational aspects. Nineteenth century, which separates the Enlightenment period from the belle Époque, saw the resurgence of romanticism which has perhaps contributed to secularism no less than did modernity, as it legitimated sentimental extremities and exaltations in domains other than religion. Romanticism has liberated the soul in the same manner as rationalism emancipated the mind. Only the combination of both currents could have created modernity, in which the thrive for progress went hand in hand with apprehension from its precipitous pace, and where great hopes where mixed with deep anxieties. Modernity found its sources also in the powerful imaginative view of symbolism, considered genial by some, degenerating by others. Positivism, another modern current, while treating science with adoration, still could combine scientific appearances with irrational occultism.1 Secularist sentiments and notions preceded modernity, yet modernity gave them a tremendous impact, by transforming secularism from a state of mind into ← 25 | 26 → a remarkable cultural and social power, which became a threat and an alternative to religion.

Religious authority...

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