Ellie R. Schainker
Arthur Blank Family Foundation Assistant Professor of Modern European Jewish History
Department of History
Office: Bowden 114
Phone: (404) 727-2822
Ellie Schainker, Arthur Blank Family Foundation Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 2010; B.A. University of Pennsylvania, 2000). East European Jewish History; Modern European Jewish History; Imperial Russian history; religious conversions and confessional politics in Russia’s western borderlands.
My current book project, “Jewish Conversion in an Imperial Context: Confessional Choice and Multiple Baptisms in Nineteenth-Century Russia”, grows out of my dissertation research on Jewish conversions in nineteenth-century imperial Russia (Imperial Hybrids: Russian-Jewish Converts in the Nineteenth Century, Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2010). My dissertation is an archive-based social history of converts in Russian-Jewish society against the backdrop of a confessional state that was more interested in supporting religious orthodoxies than in actively promoting Russian Orthodoxy among its diverse subjects. With a post-doctoral fellowship last year at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, I have expanded the scope of my research to ask how religious choice, a sine-qua-non of modernity for Europe’s Jews, took the form of confessional choice in imperial Russia, whereby Jews could and did convert to a variety of non-Orthodox denominations of Christianity. By studying religious boundary crossers and the ongoing relations between converts and Jews, I try to provide some sense of the evolutionary nature of Jewish community in Eastern Europe from the traditional pre-WWI shtetl to its radically secular Soviet counterpart marked by high rates of intermarriage and conversion. In connection to this project, I am currently working on two articles. The first looks at Jewish publicists and lawyers in the late imperial period who tapped into the emerging imperial discourse on freedom of conscience to legitimize reversions to Judaism (a criminal offense according to imperial law) and coercive Jewish practices of hunting down apostates and returning them to their families and communities. The second article analyzes late imperial literary and journalistic portrayals of Jewish conversions for what they reveal about the practice of conversion, especially the inter-confessional social and religious networks in the Pale of Settlement that facilitated the actual conversion process.
My second book project will be a history of religious reforms in Eastern Europe, a region generally considered beyond the geographic boundaries of religious denominationalism in the nineteenth-century Jewish world. Aside from imperial legal acknowledgment of “Hasidic” and “mitnagdic” sects of Judaism since 1804, the development of multiple ways of being Jewish in the Russian empire is evidenced, in part, by: Ministry of the Interior discussions in the 1870s of “reform” Judaism in Russia as a legitimate sect of Judaism; the proliferation of Christianizing Jewish sects in the southern Ukraine in the 1880s that incited a lively public debate in the Jewish press on religious reforms; and missionaries to Jews (often converts themselves) who lamented the rise of reform Judaism and its negative impact on Jews’ belief in the messiah and thus affinity to Christian doctrine. By looking at non-institutional modes of denominationalism, I hope to bring Russian Jewry into the larger discussion of Jewish religious reforms in the modern era.
My Curriculum Vitae