Midrash and the Literary

deadline for submissions: 
January 6, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
The American Religion and Literature Society
contact email: 

Midrash and the Literary

The American Religion and Literature Society (ARLS) invites papers for a panel at the American Literature Association Conference, May 25-28, 2023 in Boston.

We are seeking papers that explore the relevance of Midrash to contemporary literary criticism.

Midrash teaches that there exists not one authoritative meaning that we must discover but many possible meanings in whose unfolding we must participate. We see this happening in Talmud: a midrashic reader responds to a gap in the text by creating a narrative, which is, as Sandor Goodhart describes it, “a material extension” of the original text. The reader looks in between words, as well as in the space between God and man, in keeping with the rabbinic belief that meaning comes to be in dialogue between man and God. In this panel, we seek to consider how some of the attitudes and practices of ancient Midrash find echoes in contemporary theories of literary reading. Consider reader-response arguments that a text is not self-formulated but, rather, actualized through interpretation. Consider poststructuralist models in which the structure of language itself is interrogated and separated from the functioning of the literary.

We welcome papers that address questions including but not limited to:

  • What critical approaches seem to take cues from or reinstate midrashic patterns? Or, where do you see correspondences between Jewish hermeneutics and secular criticism?
  • How can an understanding of Midrash enrich our engagement with literary texts?
  • How can the midrashic mode inform efforts to make meaning in a post-Holocaust, poststructuralist, or postmodern age, when structures of meaning have failed or been deconstructed?
  • Does midrashic reading open up avenues for literary reading of sacred texts (as argued by Geoffrey Hartman)?
  • What has been the lasting impact of what David Stern named “the midrash-theory connection” that was expressed during the 1980s? 

Please submit a 350-word paper proposal and short bio to kludwig@bsu.edu by January 6, 2023.